For several months during the 1982/1983 winter, “Nobody” became one of my favourite songs. It had been a hit the year before, I knew, but I didn’t pay attention to the song until I had an early morning job driving truck for the distributor of the area daily, picking up a truckload of bundled newspapers shortly after midnight, and driving through the dark—barely awake—delivering to various drop points for carriers to distribute once dawn broke.
It was during these dark mornings of solitude, listening to AM radio, that I became enamoured with several songs I had over-looked when originally released, songs that seemingly played each time I made the trek from Edmonton through Beaumont and into and around Leduc. With no effort I can recall some of the songs: Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” “8675309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone, Karla Bonoff’s “Personally,” Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me,” Dexys Midnight Runners “Come On, Eileen,” and Sylvia’s crossover hit, “Nobody.”
Sylvia had other hits, but none came close to the widespread and universal success of “Nobody,” one of six (!) Kye Fleming/Dennis Morgan songs included on this 10-song distillation of the artist’s hit years, 1980-1985. Even hard-rockin’, FM-radio loving, 18-year old me knew that the song was ubiquitous for most of 1982. Excepting “Sweet Yesterday” (#12, 1981) and the fitting set closing “You Can’t Go Back Home” (last track, side A of Just Sylvia), the songs herein were all country top ten hits including her pair of #1’s, “Nobody” and “Drifter.”
What’s different from the compilations released over the years, including the definitive RCA-years set Anthology, is that Sylvia has elected to re-record these hits to better reflect the performer she is today. Nothing new in this as country artists have frequently done so, if for no other reason than to own masters of the songs with which they are most associated. Some have done so very successfully, including Newton, Lacy J. Dalton, and Kim Carnes all of whom have re-recorded their hits to a standard equalling if not exceeding the originals. Rather than being a rushed endeavour intended for digital or concert table sales, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined is most obviously a venture undertaken with considerable consideration.
35-plus years on, Sylvia continues to have full control of her considerable vocal talents. Deeper vocally than when Tom Collins (and later, Brent Maher) produced her, Sylvia circa 2018 appears to approach the songs with the wisdom earned with time. “Nobody” isn’t quite as buoyant as it once was, and the song is better for it: the repercussions of a husband’s cheating ways shouldn’t necessarily sound quite so much like the bouncy, synthesized anthem as, in retrospect, the 1982 rendition did.
The sound of the camera that kicks off “Snapshot” has been updated to that of a smartphone, and that isn’t the only change. As with all the songs here, “Snapshot” sounds brighter and less manufactured when compared to the RCA counterpart. The originals were of their time, of course, and they have held up over hundreds of radio listens. Compared to these new takes, they truly pale. Part of the reason is that the mature Sylvia’s voice is more powerful in every way—more forceful when necessary, more subtle, more vulnerable when suited. But it is the instrumentation that is most obviously improved, and that is a result of stripping away the gloss and dross of those (now) obviously over-produced sessions
I have spent much of the past month re-listening to Anthology and searching out online versions of Just Sylvia, Surprise, and One Step Closer and I was surprised how ‘un-country’ the songs and albums sound in retrospect. By comparison, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined is positively down-home. “Fallin’ In Love” benefits from Andy Leftwich’s fiddle, while the earliest songs—“Tumbleweed” and “Drifter” have the versatile Harry Stinson and Jim Glaser singing harmony. Album co-producer John Mock—with whom Sylvia has worked for more than twenty years—understands her music, and does much of the instrumental work across the album, playing a variety of guitars and other stringed instruments including mandolin and banjo.
Sylvia was one of country music’s premier vocalists. She was once the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year—tying her with Dolly Parton, Wynonna, and Mary Chapin Carpenter—and she had twenty charting songs, and possesses a ‘career song’ that will forever be played on commercial country radio. A new album from Sylvia—even one featuring re-recordings of decades-old hits—is a rare event, one worth celebrating.
Absorbing this album over several weeks, it becomes apparent that Sylvia has continued to evolve and grow as a singer and artist in the thirty years since the hits stopped coming. More in the line of Where In The World and The Real Story than the mainstream RCA discs, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined demonstrates that Sylvia has much to offer her fans, both those who are just discovering her and those who have been in for the long haul. That I might prefer refreshed versions of more songs—“Victims of Goodbye” or “Mill Song,” perhaps—have been included would be quibbling about an already enjoyable album.