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As the hand-wringing in Nashville continues over whether music has become too pop or too country, Yearwood points up the only question that really matters: Is it any good? Far too often the answer is a resounding no because mainstream country performers settle for push-button scenarios designed to move product, not human beings.
Yearwood moves easily from pop-rock to country funk to straight country in her eighth studio album (due Tuesday), whose material shows that emotional honesty is her top priority.
She also knows that although happy endings make for happy marketing teams, human struggle is far richer soil for artistic exploration. Duets with Rosanne Cash and Don Henley add marquee sizzle, but the show is all Yearwood's.
The songs on her first album since her 1999 divorce are almost exclusively about relationships dissolving, and the self-recrimination, doubt, anger and hurt that come with the territory.
She digs for the truth of why love sometimes fails and the pain that necessarily precedes understanding and growth.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.