Alanna Nash
May 06, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sweetheart's dance

Current Status
In Season
Pam Tillis

We gave it a B+

It might have been obvious to everyone else, but it took Pam Tillis two decades to realize she really is a country singer. The daughter of Mel Tillis, Pam had twang on her tongue and sawdust in her blood, yet the disco and blues she tried early in her career proved alien to her system. Tillis finally found commercial success with her first all-out country albums (1991’s Put Yourself in My Place and 1992’s Homeward Looking Angel), but her third, Sweetheart’s Dance, signifies her arrival as a contender.

Moving beyond the attention she gained from her Kewpie-doll face and piercing soprano, she’s gone the distance to incorporate all of her musical past into the country framework for an updated, ’90s feel. The opener, the Tex-Mex-style ”Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” draws as much on rock & roll and country as it does a Spanish flavor-and adds a contemporary lyric about girl gangs.

From there, Tillis ably moves through a variety of styles, from acoustic folk to snaky country-rock, never employing the overly cute wordplay that marred Homeward Looking Angel. She shines brightest on ”Spilled Perfume”; one of three songs she cowrote, it’s a woman-to-woman ballad with a soaring, melodic chorus and a jazzy electric guitar bridge more often heard in pop than country. With Sweetheart’s Dance, Tillis has now placed herself among country’s most accomplished modern women. That she can strike this kind of % synthesis, both musical and personal, suggests that Tillis, like her father, is in it for the long haul.

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