Don't Let Her Name Fool You
By Joe Heim
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; Page C05
Gretchen Wilson just doesn't sound like the right kind of name for a country singer. It lacks the twang of Tanya or the trill of Loretta.
Even Shania and Faith sound more "real country" than Gretchen. But don't let the name fool you. Gretchen Wilson is country to the bone, and the singer's debut album, "Here for the Party," is the best thing to happen to Nashville in a long, long time.
Originally scheduled for release in July, the album was pushed out early a couple of weeks ago by Sony after Wilson's song "Redneck Woman" jumped into regular rotation on radio and became a surprise hit. A hell-raising, honky-tonk romp, the song is a snarling, snapping anthem for fans looking for a dose of reality from their country music women. Looking like Lisa Marie Presley with a harder edge, Wilson has a tale that could easily be read as a sassy rebuke to the fairy-tale princesses who seem to dominate the industry. Here's how she tells it in the song:
I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high-class broad
I'm just a product of my raisin'
I say, "hey y'all" and "yee haw"
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big "hell yeah" from the redneck girls like me.
In addition to acknowledging Tucker, the song also salutes such rough-and-rednecky characters as Hank Williams Jr. and Kid Rock and all three have cameos in the video.
If "Redneck Woman" was the only good song on the album, it would still be worth buying. But "Here for the Party" is chock-full of good songs, including the revved-up title track on which the 30-year-old Wilson spits out: "I'm an eight-ball shooting, double-fisted drinking son of a gun / I wear my jeans a little tight, just to watch the little boys come undone." There's even more tough stuff on "Homewrecker," as Wilson lets a marital interloper know just where she stands: "Now honey I'm a Christian, but if you keep it up / I'm gonna go to kickin' your pretty little butt." Shania could never get away with a line like that.
Wilson, who co-writes most of her songs, keeps it real as well on the infectious shuffle "When It Rains," a song about turning to drink when things go bad, and on "When I Think About Cheatin' ," a wholesome tale of maintaining fidelity in the face of temptation. There are also a couple of certified weepers ("What Happened" and "The Bed") that help cement the album's country cred.
A native of tiny Pocahontas, Ill. (pop. 727), Wilson pays tribute to the village on the album's defiant closing track, "Pocahontas Proud." "I'm the biggest thing that ever came from my home town," she sings. "And I'll be damned if I'm gonna let 'em down." On "Here for the Party," there's much to make Pocahontas proud indeed. And, who knows, pretty soon the name Gretchen may start to sound as country as Dolly or Patsy after all.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company