MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Country singer Gretchen Wilson lived the hardscrabble life she depicts in her songs. Born to a teen-aged mother, the Illinois native dropped out of high school and worked as a bartender before getting her lucky break. She's one of a new breed of Nashville star, writing and producing her own music with a defiant viewpoint and classic country influences. Her new CD is titled "All Jacked Up." Meredith Ochs has this review.
MEREDITH OCHS reporting:
What does a self-proclaimed redneck woman do on a night out? If you're Gretchen Wilson you might get drunk, bust up a bar and then break into your own car.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
Ms. GRETCHEN WILSON (Singer): (Singing) Don't have to go home but you can't stay here that's what they said when I got my last beer. Oh, my God, it's 2:00, I can't find my keys and my truck's locked. So I grab a tire tool and I broke my widow, hurt my elbow, got me in though.
OCHS: Don't get the wrong idea about Gretchen Wilson. Throughout the plainspoken tale of debauchery that opens her new CD, she admits that she's learned her lesson, but she's not apologizing for her behavior. Just like Loretta Lynn, Gretchen Wilson sings about who she is with pride, no matter what she's doing.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) Don't drive this car, don't start no stuff in no bar. Hell, I wouldn't even tell anybody where you are when you're all decked out.
OCHS: I wouldn't want you to think that all Gretchen Wilson writes about is getting liquored up. There are also lovely brokenhearted ballads on this CD, along with Southern rock, fierce decrees of individualism and rants against our materialistic culture. But I can't resist this song on which Wilson reveals that she loves classic honky-tonk even more than beer. Wilson turns her alcohol fixation into a clever nod to George Jones, one of country music's greatest singers. She invokes words like jonesing and No-Show, the latter a nickname George Jones earned when he was too inebriated to show up to his own gigs. Wilson even borrowed some of Jones' legendary vocal phrasing and she nails it.
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) I dropped a quarter, played "Golden Ring" on the jukebox. Thank you. Placed my order with the guy behind the bar. And when he handed me a cold one, well, I said, keep the change, darlin', and as I drank it down I felt the healing start.
OCHS: Now that you know Gretchen Wilson a little better, have you decided if you can embrace a woman who loves to drink and chew tobacco? How about one who's politically incorrect? Listen to her song "Politically Uncorrect," which is also grammatically incorrect, a flag-waving duet with Merle Haggard.
(Soundbite of "Politically Uncorrect")
Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Singer): (Singing) I guess my opinion is all out of style.
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) Aw, but don't get me started 'cause I can get riled. And I'll make a fight for the forefather's plan.
Mr. HAGGARD: That's right. (Singing) And the world already knows where I stand.
OCHS: Gretchen Wilson's popular anthem may seem gratuitous in a culture dominated by red states and Fox News, but its message is one of the reasons that country music continues to be so commercially successful. And after a decade of enduring country singers who look like models and sounded like pop stars, I'm overjoyed to hear anyone sing songs with a traditional sound about things that really matter to them and I don't care if it's whiskey, politics or even chewing tobacco.
NORRIS: The album from Gretchen Wilson is called "All Jacked Up." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs.
ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)