|Olivia Newton-John - Back with a Heart|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Wednesday, 12 August 1998|
DTS Entertainment, 1998
| Performance 8 | Sound 8 |
I am afraid I haven’t paid much attention to Olivia Newton-John in some years. I remember Steve Kipner’s classic "Let’s Get Physical." I remember "Xanadu." Apart from that, Olivia’s career has largely passed me by. But it’s lucky that I didn’t pass this album by.
Recorded in 1998, Back With a Heart marked Newton-John’s return to Nashville, somewhere she had been before. But coming from a commercial pop background, she arrived at a time when New Country had taken on all the trappings of commercial pop and rock music, and despite the lack of an official twang, she fitted right in.
Mind you, she had the help and support of some of the biggest names in Nashville. Look at the credits on this record and you’ll find the best studios, the best engineers and producers and the best songwriters. The whole thing pays off big-time, and although there isn’t really one cut that stands out on this album, it’s all very high-caliber stuff that makes up what I gather was one of her most successful releases in some time.
It would not be fair to criticize New Country of the late ‘90s as being all the same. Although the genre had taken on a lot of rock trappings, it was always the songwriting that set it apart from regular rock and pop and, with the more recent swing back to a more traditional country style, that’s become even more the case than before. Back With a Heart showcases several of those styles, each presented impeccably, and Newton-John does them well. She does not have a truly distinctive country voice, but she does well here.
The lineup of musicians varies quite considerably through the course of the album, and neither is there often more than one song by the same writing team. Newton-John co-writes several of the numbers, and she has chosen some great co-writers, notably Gary Burr, whose unmistakable way with a song turns up in "Spinning His Wheels" and the title track, both of which he produced. John Farrar also wrote a couple, and beyond that there is a good spread of writing talent.
Production too, is top class. Nashville legend Tony Brown handled two of my favorites on the album, "Love Is A Gift" and "Attention" (my third fave is "Don’t Say That," with its cool string arrangement). Burr produced his numbers, and Farrar handled his own. Don Cook produced three tracks, all recorded at Ocean Way – in fact, no less than six of the 11 cuts were recorded there, others being done at places like Masterfonics.
Chuck Ainlay, who recorded several of the tracks, handled the surround mix, which is solid, effective and entirely suitable for the material. Luckily, they were able to spell his name correctly, as the DTS credits were obviously bashed out a few moments before the deadline, with more than one spelling mistake.
There’s only one thing wrong with this album in my view: the final cut, "I Honestly Love You." It’s a nice song, I guess, but the style, the writing and above all the sound and production are not in the same league as the rest of the album. No doubt, if you came across this number on its own, you’d think it was fine, with its guitars by Dean Parks and backing vocals from Babyface. But next to the others, I’m afraid it misses the mark for me.