Though the hunk trend in country music is in full swing, three women with new albums have still managed to scale the charts. Lorrie Morgan has amended her ready-and-willing ”Victoria’s Secret” look to a more innocent pixie image, but her fourth album, Watch Me, preserves both her no-nonsense persona (”What Part of No”) and her dramatic flair for woman-to-woman ballads about heartache (”Someone to Call Me Darling”). As ever, Morgan is a take-charge singer with more than a little vulnerability beneath her steely surface as well as an ability to adopt pop stylings without straining her country credibility.
Kathy Mattea, on the other hand, has done almost nothing to alter the tasteful, folky arrangements with which she has had the most success over the years. But Lonesome Standard Time, her eighth bit too reverent and sluggish, and not even the driving bluegrass of the title tune is enough to transcend the album’s ultrareflective mood. Mattea’s husky mezzo-soprano remains a thrilling instrument, however, especially on the Appalachian-flavored ”Last Night I Dreamed of Loving You,” a poetic declaration of obsessive love.
If Mattea is a little too understated, Pam Tillis is overwrought. On her third album, Homeward Looking Angel, Tillis can write a sensitive line like ”She saw the ragged edge of nowhere from a fast moving train,” but her vocals can be irritatingly in-your-face. Aside from the honky-tonk shuffle ”How Gone Is Goodbye,” the bluegrassy ”Rough and Tumble Heart,” and the silky ”Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love,” her material is all angst and not much soul. Watch Me: B Lonesome: B Homeward: C+