Arkansas’ Petrella began her journey in the country music world over thirty years ago in 1988 and her fire for creating remains undimmed. Her latest release Songs of Many Colors is an eleven song collection whose emotional range covers a variety of experiences but, naturally, the pandemic has shaped much of this material. The vision of “country soul” she pursues over the course of these tracks will impress many newcomers and reaffirm her talents for longtime admirers. It is a complete and fully realized work boasting considerable commercial potential without sacrificing its artistic credibility. Songs of Many Colors easily rates among the finest country releases in 2021 but, equally, stands as one of the year’s best, regardless of genre.
Much of the underlying reason for that is its sense of completeness. Songs of Many Colors explores the many facets allowing Petrella to enjoy a three-decade plus music career without ever feeling disjointed. The unifying element, however, is her voice. The instrumental excellence is uniform across the release but Petrella’s gift for marrying multiple styles is a defining characteristic. “Bring It Here, Baby” illustrates this well with its merger of pop, soul, and country attributes and its commerciality will strike few listeners as crass. The country influences may sound like musical window dressing for some, but later tracks make it clear she is steeped in this genre.
“Be Bop Hoedown” covers similar terrain. It is an even more boisterous blending of country music with modern forms, particularly pop, and the chorus seems primed to flourish during live performances. It has all the markings of a real crowd pleaser. The scatting and background singing contributed by the supporting vocalists for “Walking Backwards” brings graceful touches to the song, but the slow build and Petrella’s evocative treatment of the lyrics are the highlights. The mid-tempo pacing of the song has an easy-going gait.
“Cart Before the Horse” has plenty of twang and steel guitar. It is one of the simpler moments included on the release, a straight-forward cut thoroughly immersed in the genre’s classic sound, but perhaps an underrated gem alongside tracks like those previously mentioned. She plants a flag in bluesy territory with the track “Down the Road I Go” and the slide guitar woven into the arrangement serves early notice she is comfortable with the style. Its sound quality shares the same overall excellence we hear in the other ten cuts and the instrumental balance is on point throughout.
The waltz-time stylings of “Waltz for Love” risks hitting a self-conscious note, but the musicians ably hold up their end of the bargain. Petrella’s voice, moreover, proves complementary with the time signature. It is a frequent staple of classic country moreso than its modern counterpart but should play well with today’s audiences. Songs of Many Colors is an especially apt title for this collection exhibiting the full range of Petrella’s talents. Her spirit further fires the eleven tracks included on this release and shows an artist far from slowing down. She is, without a doubt, at or near the peak of her powers.
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