I call them faith and hope acts.
I will pick up anything these artists put their name on because they have consistently produced records that appeal to me, records that no matter how many times I listen to them still make me feel good inside.
Cindy Church is one of the artists I place in that category.
Whether she’s flying solo or collaborating with other singer-songwriters as a member of Quartette, Lunch At Allen’s or Rankin, Church and Crow, she has always brought the goods.
So it was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I cracked open the case for Church’s latest solo offering, Sad Songs Make Me Happy, and popped it into the tray.
My enthusiasm proved justified. Sad Songs Make Me Happy could well be Church’s finest solo recording to date.
An exquisite collection of songs made all the more endearing by gorgeous arrangements, minimal orchestration, Danny Greenspoon’s flawless production and Church’s extraordinarily beautiful and richly expressive voice, this set will tug at your heartstrings.
According to Church’s liner notes, the seed for the record was planted one evening at the kitchen table when she and some friends she’d invited for dinner brought out their guitars and began to play.
“After a particularly sentimental but beloved country song I confessed that ‘sad songs make me happy,’ “ Church wrote. “And I’ve never looked back. Happy songs make me feel happy, too, but there is something about a beautiful sad song that moves me to the core.”
I suspect that many who hear her take on material like the Williams Brothers’ Can’t Cry Hard Enough, Willie Nelson’s Home Motel or Hank Cochran’s Is It Raining At Your House will find themselves experiencing the same feelings.
Church is a first-string songwriter but chose to go almost exclusively with material by other writers for this record. Included in the mix are classics from country legends like Nelson and Fred Rose and standards from musical theatre icons like Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne.
Church chose to go with just one of her own originals but it’s one of the record’s true highlights, Autumn Leaves are Blue.
Church left nothing to chance on this record.
In addition to producer Greenspoon, she brought some of this country’s top players into the studio with her, most notably guitarists Kevin Breit and Rob Piltch, drummer Ben Riley and keyboard player John Sheard.
Fellow Quartette member Gwen Zwick added background vocals.
Sad Songs Make Me Happy, which Church dedicated to the memory of her brother, Tim, is an absolute gem of a record.
You might want to have some Kleenex on hand the first time you hear it.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 629-6000, ext. 6057.