Sheppard 2009 / Cleopatra 2015
Also known as “Partners In Rhyme”: country veteran’s linkup with superstars for the sake of the song.
These days corralling up “name” collaborators is a surefire formula for those whose own names tend to become obscure and who’s willing to get back into the spotlight, but the strength of this T. G. Sheppard’s album lies in its music as well as the performances. For the most part written by the singer’s wife Kelly Lang, herself a Grand Ole Opry artist, the fourteen pieces on display provide a perfect vehicle for the coupling of T. G.’s voice with pipes ranging from rugged to mellifluous that brings out the best in a song.
There’s a delicate, though bold, statement in “I got a song about me and one about you” delivered in the company of Merle Haggard, and if one needed an illustration to go with “The Killer” finds its subject Jerry Lee Lewis pouring a boogie piano and tremulous warble on the track. Equally eloquent come the covers, Bryan Adams’ lace of “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and Kris Kristofferson’s plea “Why Me Lord”: T. G.’s counterpart on the former is a decisively non-country Engelbert Humperdinck, while on the latter Sheppard shares a mic and hymnal uplift with Conway Twitty, who’s no longer with us, so there’s a new poignancy to it as well as to “It’s A Man Thing,” a swaggering duet with George Jones. In this context, it’s impossible to overlook Lang’s part in creating lovers’ dynamics on “Dead Girl Walking” where guitars chime in dramatic pop fashion.
Such a variety of vintage and the mood doesn’t result in a patchwork sensation, landing instead on an emotional carousel as THE OAK RIDGE BOYS wrap their host’s vocal in warm harmonies on “Down On My Knees” with its blues licks, Willie Nelson gives T. G. a leg up on the strings-drenched “In Texas” to ride a cowboy horse into the sunset, and “The Next One” is a jazzy candlelight for his and Lorrie Morgan’s croon to flutter around romantically. Still, it takes Ricky Skaggs to shift the load from Sheppard’s shoulders in “If You Knew” and bring the party to a close leaving the main man where he belongs: in the spotlight.