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Country sales are up, and there's whispers in some quarters that young Gretchen Wilson has a lot to do with it...
Contrary to all those passive, peaches 'n' cream types who regularly burst onto the mainstream country scene, Wilson's a brunette with a defiant stare; the girl next door to the girl-next-door who grew up listening to Back In Black and started swigging beer before the Bush twins got the idea. It was the kind of rough childhood that many country singers would give their enamel-plated white teeth for. Born to a teenage and soon-to-be single Mum, she was raised among the corn fields, pig farms and trailer parks of tiny Pocahontas, Illinois (population 727, apparently). By the time she was fifteen she was living on her own, managing a roughneck joint with a double-barrelled shotgun by her side. So when in the title track ''Here For The Party'', she announces, 'Well, I'm an eight ball-shooting double-fisted drinking son-of-a-gun' you know she's not pretending.
It's this honest approach which is so refreshing, a reminder that the big name female country stars like Martina McBride and Faith Hill have been taking the cheese-with-everything approach for too long, and that since the Dixie Chicks' 2002 release Home the antidotes to all this pop gloss have been few and far between. Indeed the comparisons to the Dixie Chicks are easily made; she's on their old label, Epic, she loves a damn good holler, and leadoff single ''Redneck Woman'' is having a similar impact to that which Wide Open Spaces enjoyed in 1998.
This song has made Wilson the fastest artist to crack the Top 20 with a debut single since 1996, when LeAnn Rimes released ''Blue''. Pure honky tonk, the fun lyrics boast that she's the kind of broad who keeps her Christmas lights on all year round and prefers Wal-Mart undies to Victoria's Secret, and the host of goodtime gals in the background roar 'hell yeah!' in encouragement. Über-redneck Toby Keith must have wet his pants when he first heard it. Well, he invited her on to his tour as a support act anyway.
Produced by Mark Wright (Lee Ann Womack, Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black), the rest of the album is peppered with vigorous tales of cheatin', drinkin' and all round hell raisin', with just the occasional heartfelt ballad for balance. ''Chariot'' is slightly odd though; starting out as a powerful bluesy number with a rumbling bass line and exuberant piano, it soon completely over-eggs the pudding with all the gospel vocals, rapping, and fake hip-hop scratching. Ouch.
The twangy swagger of closing track ''Pocahontas Proud'' sees Wilson boasting, 'I'm the biggest thing that ever came from my home town/ And I'll be damned if I'm gonna let em down'. This lack of humility is rarely found in young female country singers and is to be applauded. Let's hope she lives up to her promise...