Mary Sarah is truly an anomaly in today’s world of country music. It’s not everyday you see a 19-year-old female singing traditional country music with some of the biggest icons of the genre. Then again Sarah is not your normal teenager. She loves classic country music and her new album Bridges demonstrates this. Sarah covers classic songs with country music legends such as Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard throughout the album. And for some reason Big & Rich is also on the album (?). Anyway let’s take a look at what the up and comer does with some of the biggest names of the genre.
Best Songs on the Album
Bridges kicks off with a bang. Sarah duets with Dolly covering her hit song “Jolene.” It’s an excellent song choice because women of all ages can connect with this song. Dolly and Sarah’s voices go together perfectly too. Her duet with the late great Ray Price, “Heartaches By The Number” was the first single off of this album. I already named it one of the best songs of 2014 so far. Price sounds wonderful in one of the last songs he ever recorded. I’m surprised by how well Sarah and Price were together. Her duets with Willie on “Crazy” and Ronnie Milsap on “What A Difference You’ve Made In My Life” showcase how well Sarah can pull off ballads. Sarah can sing right beside a legend in Willie and not sound out-of-place at all. I love the inclusion of Milsap on the album because more people need to know how great of an artist he is.
The choice of covering “The Fightin’ Side of Me” with Merle is an interesting one. I thought it wouldn’t work before I listened to it, but I came away impressed after hearing it. She gets even bolder when choosing to cover Vince Gill’s biggest hit “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” If I had to make a list of songs that shouldn’t be attempted to be covered, this song would make the list. It’s such a difficult song that’s full of emotion. But Sarah does an admirable job. Her vocals are great on every song, but this is when her vocals really stood out to me. It obviously isn’t as good as the original, but it’s probably the best cover I have ever heard of it. And it’s always a pleasure to hear Vince Gill. Another song that stands out to me is her duet with Lynn Anderson on “Rose Garden.” This cover will get overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Not only does this song fit Mary Sarah to a T, but her voice and Anderson’s mesh great together. I wouldn’t mind hearing another duet from these two.
Worst Songs on the Album
There are a few puzzling song choices to me on the album. Her duet with Neil Sedaka on “Where The Boys Are” and Freddy Powers on “All I Want to Do is Sing My Song” are a little dated I think for Sarah. Don’t get me wrong, the vocals are great on both. But a young artist like Sarah feels out-of-place covering these songs. The biggest question on the album is without a doubt the presence of Big & Rich. They stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the lineup on Bridges. I also feel the song choice of “My Great Escape” is a mistake. It’s too boring and dry for a dynamic voice like Sarah’s. I think a better choice would’ve been “Lost In This Moment.” It’s a memorable song and would’ve once again showcased how great Sarah is with love ballads.
The Rest of the Album
The ultimate clash of styles happens when Sarah and Tanya Tucker cover “Texas (When I Die).” Tucker has a gritty, textured voice while Sarah’s is clean and high. While these clash of styles feel off at times, I feel like it works enough to make the cover sound good. I certainly appreciate both styles of their voices. Her duet with the Oak Ridge Boys on “Dream On” is solid all-around, but again feels like a clash of styles. But I can still enjoy it. The album closes out with Mary Sarah covering the Brenda Lee hit song “I’m Sorry.” It’s another dated song choice by Sarah, but I feel like she made it her own and it sounds believable enough coming from a 19-year-old artist.
Bridges high points are pretty high and the low points are a little disappointing. Nevertheless, if you’ve never heard Mary Sarah sing before you can take at least one thing away from this album. Her voice is pretty damn great. She can sing pretty much anything you throw at her. Sarah’s voice is as dynamic as Carrie Underwood’s voice. Not too many people are blessed with this type of talent. I hope unlike Underwood that she sticks to making traditional country music because I fear if she went to a big label that she would be turned into a Taylor Swift-type singing pop country songs. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Sarah, but her voice could be a harbinger of traditional country music to the younger generation. One of the reasons she made this album was for that very reason. She said the following to The Tennesseean in an interview:
“This project isn’t just about me. It’s about the legends and bringing this to a newer generation,” she said. “I didn’t wanna put my face on there. I didn’t wanna do anything cheesy.”
Sarah said she’s a big fan of country contemporaries like Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert, as well as Katy Perry and other pop stars. She said she hopes people her age will discover some traditional country music by listening to her album.
“I had friends all the time in high school tell me, ‘Who is that? Who is Merle Haggard? Who is Willie Nelson?’” recalled Sarah, who graduated last year. “And I’m sitting there like, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are legends and you don’t even know who they are.’”
Her fighting spirit for traditional country music, this album and her amazing voice has made a fan in me. I think this is a good introduction for Sarah to the country music masses and I’m looking forward to hearing original songs from Mary Sarah in the future.