Pam Tillis 

It's All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

The offspring of musical icons occasionally catch pop stardom's rapidly passing spotlight (e.g., Julian Lennon, Carnie and Wendy Wilson) or toil in their parents' garden (Patsy and Peggy Lynn, John Carter Cash). A handful carve out independent careers (Liza Minnelli, Rosanne Cash), and a few display the talent and moxie to pay homage to their parents (Hank Williams Jr., Natalie Cole). Country star Pam Tillis joins the ranks of the last as she soars across thirteen compositions from the pen of her father, Mel Tillis.

Though the elder Tillis is widely known for his television and film appearances -- notably, both Cannonball Run releases -- he inked his country music immortality early on as a songwriter for Webb Pierce ("I Ain't Never"), Bobby Bare ("Detroit City"), and Ray Price ("Burning Memories"). Even as his own singing career took off, subsequent hits for Waylon Jennings ("Mental Revenge") and Ricky Skaggs ("Honey [Open That Door]") showed how well his songwriting continued to fit other voices.

Pam Tillis, much like Natalie Cole, defined herself on a series of hit singles and albums before returning to her father's work. Having steeped in these songs since childhood, she remains faithful to their emotional tenor, even as she rearranges them to suit her personal style. "Unmitigated Gall" retains its galloping beat, but gains new meaning from her playful, sarcastic anger. Even more impressive is the weeper "Violet and a Rose," previously recorded by Wanda Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Webb Pierce; Tillis squeezes out a wholly new vial of tears with an arrangement of autoharp, mandolin, and Dolly Parton's fragile harmony.

Tillis' honeyed voice has always shown a great deal of breadth, but it's her maturity as an artist that carries her through her dad's catalogue, taking in everything from Ray Price shuffles and honky-tonk dance tunes to smoky countrypolitan ballads and sorrowful mountain music. What started out as a love letter to her father has blossomed into an album that's the best of two careers at once: a father's and a daughter's.


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