Heidi Newfield’s not waiting around for anyone these days. She opens The Barfly Sessions, Vol. 1 on a propulsive blast of B3, her wailing harmonica, screaming lead guitars, and soaring vocals with the scorching hot promise that she’s ready to move on and never look back on “I Won’t Wait Around.” On her first album in 12 years — since 2008’s What Am I Waiting For, which produced her hit “Johnny & June” — the former Trick Pony singer stretches out, letting her vocals roar or whisper and delivering blues harmonica chops she’s kept buried for too long.
Delbert McClinton joins Newfield on the straight-to-the-bone blues shout “The Blues is My Business.” The two trade gritty vocals and down-and-dirty harmonica runs, and the song rides higher and higher as it rockets off with a funked-up groove straight out of smoke-filled juke joint. The slow blues lounge song “Love Blind” slithers along Newfield’s seductive harmonica lines as her smoky vocals ache with the regret of being let down by love.
The country weeper “Whitley’s Tombstone” floats in on a cascading wave of pedal steel before opening into a shuffling spaciousness that mimics the singer’s emptiness. Mickey Raphael’s harmonica weaves under and around Bobby Terry’s pedal steel as Newfield’s and Randy Houser’s vocals play call and response over the slow death of a relationship. The chorus perfectly captures the woman’s feelings with images of coldness and emptiness drawn from iconic country objects or events: “Cause I’m as worn as the hole in Willie’s guitar / From fightin’ like Wynette and Jones / I’m as empty as the bottle in Hank’s Cadillac / Cause you’re as cold as the marble on Whitley’s tombstone.”
The Southern rocker “Bring This House Down” funks along with the promise of a night of burning love, while the heart-pulling ballad “Three Things” showcases Newfield’s canny ability to deliver the tender rose in a fisted glove of soaring, spiraling vocals.
On The Barfly Sessions Vol. 1, Newfield rides the raucous rhythms of rockabilly, the jet-fueled romps of rock and roll, the steady soulful shouts of the blues, and the pedal steel aches of country weepers, treating us to a fiery display of her dynamic vocal power, her deft songwriting, and her move-across-the floor music.