| August 24th, 2020

This soulful and sacred, hot-rocking, and simply stunning country music album should set several charts on fire.

Having grown up on a Quarter Horse ranch in Northern California, Heidi Newfield has wholesome, cowgirl style in her blood. She also wears it well, and emits it like a champion. Which is not to say that the pint-sized powerhouse doesn’t get sexy and sassy and deeply passionate. Evidence of each of her qualities permeates every second of her nearly hour-long second solo album, The Barfly Sessions, Vol. 1.

The former front lady for the band Trick Pony, whose hit “Johnny and June” was a deserved platinum smash, Newfield has re-announced herself here with a vengeance. The gal carries a tune like a feather riding a tidal wave, the might in her voice cut with fragile tenderness. To boot, she plays a mean, melodic harmonica. She co-wrote 12 of these 14 songs with some of Nashville’s finest, including Al Anderson, Leslie Satcher and Chris Stapleton. Among the top-flight players are guitarist David Grissom, bassist Michael Rhodes and steel player Bobby Terry.

The opener, “I Won’t Wait Around,” written with Satcher and original NRBQ guitarist Anderson, blows the batwing barroom doors off this affair with the force of a hurricane. Certainly more rhythm and blues than country, with Newfield practically charring her vocal cords in the process, the song sets a tone of exciting diversity that carries through the entire album. “Three Things” settles into steamy Alabama soul. “Wrong Side of the Bottle” then kicks into the right side of genuine country music—perhaps a bit updated—with the Dolly Parton twang in Newfield’s voice matching that of Terry’s steel guitar. The oft-covered—even by Etta James—“The Blues is My Business,” surely stands out in all its funky roadhouse glory, Newfield here in duet with Delbert McClinton. She’s a fireball of defiance, and he’s all dusty, craggy Delbert perfection. Songwriter Kevin Bowe has said that no one owns “The Blues is My Business” like Newfield does. As co-written with Stapleton, “When Heaven Falls” creates a pensive interlude, Newfield smoky and tender in her delivery. By the time the final guitar notes of the confident “Come Hell or High Water Blues” ring out, an album full of real feeling and musical expertise has played out, which should ensure Heidi Newfield her rightful place.

—Tom Clarke