Sara Evans, "Words" (Born to Fly)
Many musicians like to say their work is deeply personal but Sara Evans may have taken that a step further in her new, impressive album, "Words."
The country star invites her 14-year-old daughter to sing on "Marquee Sign," gathers three siblings to contribute harmonies on "Night Light" and sings about her oldest son soon going to college in "Letting You Go."
In the wrong hands, such moves might feel manipulative. Not here, with an Evans brimming with confidence and using her immensely appealing voice on a batch of very strong songs. "Words" is the first album on her own record label, Born to Fly Records, and it captures an artist in full musical flight.
Teaming up again with co-producer Mark Bright, Evans co-wrote three of the album's 14 tunes and taps some top-notch talent, including Pistol Annies' Ashley Monroe, The Isaacs' Sonya Isaacs, Claude Kelley ("Grenade"), Hillary Lindsey ("Girl Crush"), Caitlyn Smith ("Wasting All These Tears") and Heather Morgan ("Beat of the Music").
Evans may be in a family kind of mood on this, her eighth studio album, but she's also picked some songs that show off a wilder side, like the intensely lusty "I Don't Trust Myself" and a shimmering cover of The SteelDrivers' ode to a bad break up, "Long Way Down."
Standouts include the hard-driving, cross-over stunner "Marquee Sign" ("I wish you were a pack of cigarettes/'Cause you would've come with a warning"), the poppy "Rain and Fire," the world-beat friendly "Diving in Deep" and the catchy "I Need a River."
It's hard to imagine anyone else breathing so much life into the title track, a delicate slip of a song, and Evans shows off stunning vocal control on "All the Love You Left Me." Even an acoustic version of her 2011 hit "A Little Bit Stronger," co-written by Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott, might be better than the original.
Artistic freedom has never sounded so good.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits