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Kay Adams - Wheels and Tears

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Artist: Kay Adams

Album: Wheels and Tears

Label: Sundazed

Review date: Aug. 15, 2004

Just a couple of years before Tammy Wynette sang the praises of standing by one’s man, and a full decade before Loretta Lynn celebrated reproductive freedom in her controversial hit “The Pill,” country singer Kay Adams demolished at least one gender stereotype in 1966 with her hit single “Little Pink Mack.” With a full-force Bakersfield twangy telecaster and some nasty, fuzz-tone steel guitar backing, Adams delivered up the story of a truck driving woman who made it clear that she: “cut my baby teeth on a set of Spicer gears. I’m a gear-swappin’ mama, and I don’t know the meaning of fear.” Adams’ vocal style carried a hint of Wynette’s lovelorn sob, a good helping of Wanda Jackson’s sassy, husky-throated rockabilly abandon, and a sense of emotional openness the equal of Connie Smith’s. More than just a novelty tune, “Little Pink Mack” was a friendly- but- firm challenge to the testosterone and diesel-fueled world of the “knights of the highway,“ long distance truckers.

Wheels and Tears, originally released by Capitol Record’s Tower subsidiary in 1966, is one of the best country concept albums of its era, and its re-issue is long overdue. The aforementioned “Little Pink Mack” kicks off a collection that includes an “answer” song to Dave Dudley’s trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road.” “Six Days Awaiting” chronicles the emotional ups and downs of a wife at home while her man is on the highways. “The Reason We’re Together” goes even deeper and darker, describing a woman’s slightly masochistic satisfaction with a relationship that’s actually kept alive by the fact that her truck driving husband is always on the road, where his cheating can’t be discovered.

The backing on every song here is absolutely classic ’60s Bakersfield country and honky tonk. Cliffie Stone, of Town Hall Party fame, produced the sessions, featuring hot players like Telecaster master James Burton and influential California pedal steel man Ralph Mooney, all in the Buck Owens-Merle Haggard west coast style that helped to keep a harder-edged sound alive during a time when most Nashville country was all slicked up with strings and background choirs.

The last part of Wheels and Tears settles into a series of heartbreak songs that reveal the depth of Adam’s vocal abilities: crying steel guitar and slower tempos are a perfect setting to show off yet another facet of a singer who should, perhaps, take her place now alongside Loretta, Tammy, and Connie in the pantheon of 1960s female country singers.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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