Album: Forgive (2002)
Chart Peak: #12
Songwriters: Rebecca Lynn Howard, Trey Bruce
You could fill up an entire book with the names of country music artists – particularly female artists – who enjoyed a brief period of commerical success, and who displayed remarkable talent and potential, only to fade away a short time later. Rebecca Lynn Howard is one such artist.
This lone Top 20 chart entry remains Howard’s only significant hit to date, but it’s surely an unforgettable one. Every time I listen to this song, I’m struck by how absolutely brilliant it is. Country music is a genre ripe with cheating songs, and while the sound of this record is primarily pop-oriented, this is one of the best cheating songs I’ve ever heard.
Howard walks the listener through the narrator’s experience: “In the time it would’a took to say/ ‘Honey, I’m home. How was your day?’/ You dropped a bomb right where we live/ And just expect me to forgive.”
It’s clear that the guilty spouse in this scenario does not fully grasp the severity of his tryst. Through stingingly honest lyrics, Howard hones in on some hard truths about infidelity, primarily that it shatters a bond of trust that is not easily mended. The song forcefully conveys the narrator’s tangled emotional reaction. It’s clear that she’s not ready to forgive on the spur of the moment – she’s still trying to make sense of her own feelings (“I don’t even know now who I am/ And it’s too soon for me to say ‘forgive.’”) Not surprisingly, she tells him to “Get you some things, and get out/ Don’t call me for a day or two so I can sort this out.”
Furthermore, I have to say: Has there ever been a song with a line more brilliantly bitter and cutting than “That’s a mighty big word for such a small man”?
On paper alone, this song is the stuff of a classic. Rebecca Lynn Howard’s performance brings the song fully to life. She hits some big notes in the chorus, but not at the expense of effective lyrical interpretation. Her voice rises and falls in the course of the song – a whisper one moment, a wail the next – but even the power notes are colored with deep emotional angst. There’s definitely something to be said for a subtle, retrained interpretation, but in this particular case, Howard’s belted-out vocal treatment is fully appropriate, and far more effective than a quieter take would have been. Such raw, searing emotional intensity is rarely heard on country radio these days. It makes one wonder what the radio listening experience would be like if Howard’s commercial momentum had continued.
“Forgive” was the only single released from Howard’s album of the same title. Howard released a pair of singles the following year, but both missed the Top 40. After a #48 entry in 2005 with “No One’ll Ever Love Me,” from the unreleased album Alive and Well, all subsequent single releases failed to chart. Eventually, Howard did release a follow-up album in 2008 called No Rules on the Sagauro Road label, though the album did not produce a chart hit. She has yet to return with new music, but has continued writing songs.
Some might write off an artist like Rebecca Lynn Howard as a “one-hit wonder,” but to have even one song touch such large numbers of people is a rare and special occurance in itself. She may have had only one hit, but she made it count.