For Pam Tillis, the songs on her first Arista/Nashville album in two years --"Thunder & Roses," due March 6 -- are like conversations. And with the release of the disc's initial single,
For Pam Tillis, the songs on her first Arista/Nashville album in two years --"Thunder & Roses," due March 6 -- are like conversations. And with the release of the disc's initial single, "Please," the gifted singer/songwriter resumes a long-running dialogue with both country radio and her fans.
"Please" is a slice of life that sounds as if it could have been ripped from the diary of any single mother. "There have been a few songs in my life that the first time I heard them I cried, and that was one of them," she says of the single, which currently resides at No. 28 on Billboard's Top Country Singles & Tracks chart. "It's not that I want to make everybody cry, but music unifies people, letting them know they aren't alone in what they're going through."
Tillis, who won the Country Music Association female vocalist of the year honor in 1994, says all the cuts on "Thunder & Roses" are intensely personal. "To me, the common thread is that they all seem like conversations that I've had," she says. "Either I've been the talker or the listener, [sometimes] with my friends [talking about] stuff they are going through in their lives and what they are dealing with.
"What do most people talk about when they get on the phone and start yakking? I know a lot of people who pick their songs and music like that -- things that have some kind of humanity to them and [are], in their own way, uplifting and positive," she continues.
Throughout "Thunder & Roses," Tillis chronicles life, love, disillusionment, and triumph in a voice that resonates with experience. "There's a group of us that aren't teeny-boppers anymore," she says, "and we want to make music for our fans, young and old.
"A friend of mine's 8-year-old daughter loves 'Space,' and another friend of mine, whose daughter runs a college station [and] does a country program in Boston, she loves 'If I Didn't Love You,' " Tillis adds, referring to songs on her new album, which was produced by Dann Huff, Billy Joe Walker Jr., Kenny Greenberg, and Paul Worley. "So, certainly, I don't think I'm making music for old fuddy-duddies."
Tillis has no qualms about confronting issues that face women, including age and perception, experience and societal pressure. In "Which Five Years," Tillis sings, "I know the cold, hard truth these days/Is everybody lies about their age/Just four or five years, there's nothing to it/But I'm the one who lived through it/Which five years would I lose/Which lessons would I choose to have to learn again, I wonder/Just to seem a little younger?"
Tillis says she appreciates that some magazines are featuring such attractive, mature women as actresses Sela Ward and Rene Russo. Still, she adds, "I think we are just bombarded with all these negative messages that women have some kind of an expiration date tattooed on their butts. I just love being able to record a song that is the opposing view, and mine is that. It's been a tough ride, but I wouldn't know what I know if I hadn't gone through what I went through."
One of the songs on "Thunder & Roses" that is likely to generate the most attention finds Tillis linking up with another voice of experience -- that of her father, legendary country vocalist Mel Tillis. The duet, "Waiting On The Wind," is something she has long wanted to do, but the pair's schedules have made it difficult. "It's hard for some people to understand," she says, "but when you have one bus going one direction and the other in another direction, it's the reality."
Prior to recording "Waiting On The Wind," daughter and father performed the song live on several occasions. "It's a motivational song," she says. "It's about making things happen instead of waiting until it comes to you, which is kind of funny, since I don't think I ever did that."
"Thunder & Roses" comes on the heels of Arista/Nashville's transition to an RCA Label Group (RLG) imprint. Tillis admits she was concerned about still being on Arista after the shift. "I went into a meeting with [RLG chairman] Joe Galante," she says. "He just looked at me in amazement like, 'You were worried?' Excuse me, but yeah."
RLG senior VP/GM Butch Waugh says Tillis needn't have been concerned. "I was in the meetings when Pam [was] talked about, and there was never one indication ever that she would not be on Arista when it joined RLG," he says. "She adds so much to this company."
According to Waugh, Tillis worked with Galante and the label's A&R department in putting together "Thunder & Roses" -- the result being a collection that Waugh stresses is album-oriented, not just a set of singles.
"In the business, trends come and go, and there'll always be someone new who's the flavor of the month," Tillis says. "What I've always tried to do is do the best work I can and try to be happy with it. I kind of please myself and then let chips fall where they may. I think that's the way you have to do your business.