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December 2004

Ronnie Milsap
Just for a Thrill
Image

I'll confess a special affection for a well-crafted country tune, especially when shaped by singers like Patsy Cline or Clint Black, who know how to mix a little Manhattan-esque sophistication into each heapin' helpin' of Nashville-style hurtin'. On top of that list is Ronnie Milsap, whose 30-plus chart-topping hits provide more than ample evidence of his ability to walk the pop-country line. With Just for a Thrill (Image), Milsap takes his first full-length dive into the Great American Songbook, proving his distinctive gravel-molasses sound is ideally suited to this sort of material. Alongside solid readings of "Bewitched," "Haunted Heart," "Since I Fell for You," "My Funny Valentine" and the title track are some delightful surprises. Top among them: a snappy combination of the gossamer "Make Believe" and the jaunty "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter;" a version of "Cry" that strips away all of Johnnie Ray's chest-thumping theatrics, exposing the heartbreakingly lovely love song that's been hiding beneath all these years; an intriguingly upbeat "But Not for Me" and a standout "Teach Me Tonight" that's equal parts dreamy romanticism and sexual anticipation.

It's worth remembering that before Milsap took Tennessee by storm he recorded R&B tunes for the Scepter label, and he's always since evidenced a keen multidisciplinary dexterity. Throughout Thrill it manifests itself rather like the union of Ray Charles and Wayne Newton, and I mean that with the utmost respect.

Originally published in December 2004
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