Since their first recording in 1986, the Sweethearts of the Rodeo - sisters Kristine Arnold and Janis Gill - have forged an impressive record of taste and style. Perennial nominees for the Country Music Association award for Best Duo or Group, they have also had the misfortune to be steam-rollered into also-ran status, first by the Judds and later by Brooks and Dunn. That's not to say that their talent is anything but first rate, but it just goes to show that talent doesn't always receive the recognition we might think it deserves.
With any luck at all, that will change with the release of the Sweethearts' newest recording. Beautiful Lies is acoustic country music at its very best. It shares a common ancestor with bluegrass music - the brother duet. Listen to the title track, powered by Jr. Huskey's driving bass and Brent Truitt's sweet mandolin, or Janis Gill's haunting I Know Who You Are and you'll hear the legacy of the Monroe Brothers and the Louvin Brothers, similar but somehow updated and fresh sounding. Listen to the echoes of Buddy Holly in I Won't Cry. Listen as their voices weave around Stuart Duncan's fiddling on a breathtaking remake of Donovan's Catch the Wind and you'll hear both the history and the evolution of country music.
From the Irish-influenced The Inn at Innisfree to the vocal tour de force Muleskinner Blues, done all the way through as duet, Gill and Arnold's voices match perfectly in phrasing and style as only siblings can do. In addition, Gill wrote or co-wrote four of the songs and produced the recording. The sound is clean and crisp, with the emphasis on the vocals and a warm acoustic sound.
Beautiful Lies is what bluegrass music might have been had Earl Scruggs never come along. In recent years there's been an encouraging ascent of a more traditional, acoustic sound in country music, and the Sweethearts have been true to that sound from the start. It's powerful music and raises our hopes for the future of country music. It's the perfect counterpoint to most of the bland formula music coming from Nashville these days.