TAMMY WYNETTE albums are Nashville soap operas, and her fans have faithfully waited for each new segment over the course of 15 years. "Even the Strong Get Lonely" won't disappoint: It's a thematic continuation of last year's "Good Love and Heartbreak." Of course, with Wynette's aching, crying voice, it's the heartbreak that gets most of the good lines.
This is the third album produced by her current husband, George Richey, and he seems content to mimic Billy Sherrill's system: Pick good songs and overproduce 'em. Which is too bad because that tends to mask the urgent sentimentality and emotional scars of Wynette's classic country voice. On her own "Slightly Used Woman," she agonizes over a woman who sits surrounded by comfort but crumbling inside, "waiting for someone to love her and ignore all his deep fingerprints. . ." and you don't need to strain to see those bruises. "I keep paying for love overdue," Wynette concedes elsewhere; and she runs away from a reunion because "I'm so afraid that I'd live through it."
She tackles the ins and outs of marriage in several songs, including the wry "With a Friend Like You (Who Needs a Lover)," the "gotcha" of "Midnight Love" (her naughty partner's trying to wash off its scent) and the delightful "Still in the Ring," a punchy song full of boxing metaphors and a particularly wonderful chorus ("You may have won the first round / But his finger's still in the ring"). Wynette remains the best interpreter of marital agony in country music. SYLVIA, of course, is the brash newcomer, but she's got miles to go before becoming half as convincing as Wynette. In just a few years, she's had an impressive string of pop-country hits, the latest being "Snapshot," a song in which taking everything is the best revenge. Sylvia is from the Crystal Gayle school of uptown country, and though she and Wynette cover many of the same games people play, her flat voice fails to convey any real experience with anything more difficult than choosing a daily makeup regimen. "Snapshot" is the album's snappiest cut, followed by a dusky-voiced "Tonight I'm Gettin' Friendly With the Blues," a decent Gayle-style pop ballad. From there, things get downright syrupy (particularly "Gone but Not Forgotten" and "Jason") or downright silly (the bubblegum-Civil-War flash of "Bobby's in Vicksburg"). And if you puzzle over "What good is the late show without Bogey and Bacall? / What good is radio without a Fleming Morgan song?," well, just look on the album's label, where six of "Snapshot's" 10 songs bear the credits "R.J. Fleming and D.W. Morgan." That's gilt by association. TAMMY WYNETTE/SYLVIA -- "Even the Strong Get Lonely" (Epic FE38744); "Snapshot" (RCA AHL 1-4672). Wynette, Sylvia, Glen Campbell and B.J. Thomas appear Saturday at 8 at Laurel Raceway.