Country music – either you love it or you’d rather do a Vincent Van Gogh to avoid hearing it. At least, that’s the case if you live in the UK. This side of the pond, we’re missing the cultural significance that country has in North America. As a result, there has only been a sprinkling of country singers (most famously the now gay icon Dolly Parton) who’ve ‘made it’ in Great Britain.
Carolyn Dawn Johnson (or CDJ, as she’s known) is the latest to attempt this difficult manoeuvre, with a wonderful combination of memorable country/ pop songs (a mix that has worked well for fellow Canadian Shania Twain). Already big in her native Canada, 2004 saw CDJ win four prizes at the Canadian Country Awards – including Album Of The Year for this, her second album, Dress Rehearsal.
Commencing the album is the title track. It’s a catchy pop tune, with guitar twangs – synonymous of country. The lyrics are meaningful: “Life doesn’t wait for us to get it right”, explaining that life is more than just a dress rehearsal.
The emotive song He’s Mine is autobiographical, a snapshot of CDJ’s married life, though with lines like, “Makes me feel like a real live woman inside” it’s somehow reminiscent of Carol King‘s Natural Woman.
This theme of love is a chief component to the tradition of country: the pursuit of romance, finding it, losing it, etc. etc. CDJ is no different, from the ultra-attitude and funky Squeezin’ The Love Outta You to the exceptionally up-tempo Head Over High Heels, describing the joys of new love. Die Of A Broken Heart – a traditional tune of the genre (with fellow country laddie Keith Urban helping on harmony and guitar), My Little Secret, which has elements of Sheryl Crow and Complicated, about falling in love with a friend also pursue the topic.
A second theme prevalent in country is God. Again, CDJ concurs. God Doesn’t Make Mistakes – a song describing CDJ’s personal insecurities – could either be seen as inspirational or gag-worthy depending on your faith, or lack of as the case may be.
CDJ does has a nice voice – it’s exactly what you’d expect of a country singer – but she lacks the uniqueness of Dolly Parton, Faith Hill and co.
If you’re a country fan, you’ll love Dress Rehearsal. It has strong, catchy melodies, high-quality production values and a good balance of original ballads and songs that’ll have you donning your line dancing gear. However, if you’re not…don’t lob off an ear. Just turn down the radio.