There’s an ongoing debate regarding the relative merits of country music that bears rock, pop and hip-hop influences versus the old-school variety, all conducted with a Ford-versus-Chevrolet fervor. It’s usually a matter of traditionalists defending country’s roots against those who maintain that post-modernism in country equates to natural and desirable evolution. Meanwhile, in their midst, Nashville-based singer Teea Goans has been busy making albums that demonstrate what can happen when you dispense with stereotypes of either extreme and focus on the delivery of a well-written song, be it country or otherwise.
Goans, who grew up almost completely uninfluenced by the music to which her peers were listening, is by definition a traditionalist, but she doesn’t simply draw a line between rock guitars and honky-tonk bars. On Memories to Burn, she further refines the formula heard on her first two albums; namely, bringing tasteful interpretations to songs primarily of an older vintage (the 1950s through the 1980s) and representative of a peak period in Nashville songwriting. While dominated by songs from the pens of respected country tunesmiths, the album boasts a considerable range of styles, including country of the Texas, Tennessee and California varieties as well as a hymn (“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”), non-obvious Christmas bonus tracks and the occasional number not generally associated with her genre of choice. Those who favor a particular variant of country or thrive upon high-powered, adrenaline-prompting performances may find Goans either a tad too broad or too refined for their tastes, but those willing to take time to appreciate her well-developed sense of subtlety will likely find a payoff awaiting them.
Goans and producer Terry Choate endeavor to create a sense of unity from the diversity by selecting songs she connects with both personally and emotionally, including Merle Haggard’s “You Take Me for Granted” and Wynn Stewart’s “Sing a Sad Song.” The inclusion of Ray Price’s “I Won’t Mention It Again” is especially telling, as Goans draws much of her sophisticated style from the uptown cocktail-hour country Price would make a signature sound later in his long career. For those who aren’t deeply familiar with Price’s work, a more contemporary reference point would be The Time Jumpers, who, like Goans, tackle time-tested material without a trace of retro self-consciousness, affording it respect but investing it with vitality, never treating it like a decaying museum piece that must be handled gingerly.
Also reminiscent of The Time Jumpers, who are skilled studio musicians, is Goans’ hand-picked band, comprised of versatile session pros using similar instrumentation but with less emphasis on a Western-swing style. The part of Goans’ musical personality that overlaps most naturally with the Jumpers’ sensibility shows up on tracks like Harlan Howard’s Bakersfield-Sound classic “Pick Me up on Your Way Down” and a gently swinging cover of the 1940s pop standard “Sentimental Journey,” as well as the unusual pairing of “Old Fashioned Love” (a century-old tune popularized by Bob Wills) with the Louis Armstrong standard “What a Wonderful World,” done in a spry two-step tempo. While these indicate Goans’ affection for songs that significantly predate her, they also point to her affinity with both Wills’ and Armstrong’s knack for minimizing genre boundary lines.
Her stylistic flexibility aside, though, Goans keeps the traditionalist torch blazing brightly on Memories to Burn, an album most likely to attract fans of classic country—provided they’re not the closed-minded variety.