Songs I Love: Rebecca Lynn Howard – “Forgive”

13 Apr

Released:  2002
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.

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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Songs I Love



13 responses to “Songs I Love: Rebecca Lynn Howard – “Forgive”

  1. Kent

    April 13, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    I remember this song. Do I ever listen to it? No. But I like it. And it made enough of an impact on me that I randomly thought “who sings that song that was on CMT a few years back?” a while ago and went looking for it. She’s got a neat voice, and it’s definitely a memorable song.

  2. bulbul

    April 13, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    Ah yes, Rebecca Lynn Howard. I’ve been wondering what happened to her. Along with “Forgive”, “That’s Why I Hate Pontiacs” and “I Need a Vacation” regularly feature in my playlists and I even have “Tennessee In My Windshield”. Who cares about charts, the important thing is she did leave a lasting impression.

    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”?
    No sir.
    And I think I’m starting to see a pattern here: this is one of those songs where a particular verse – not necessarily the hook, just a particular turn of the phrase or image – sticks with you from the first time you hear it. Not all my favorite songs are like that – Kathy Mattea’s lyrics, for example, while brilliant and beautiful poetry in its own right, mostly don’t stand out that way. But most of the biggest hits on the soundtrack of my life do have a verse like that.

    while the sound of this record is primarily pop-oriented, this is one of the best cheating songs I’ve ever heard.
    I think you’re on to something here. This is the problem with clearly defined genres – they not only define how something should be said / sang / played, but also what can be said / sang / played (think something along the lines of the introduction to the last verse of “You Don’t Have to Call Me Darling”). In other words, while this may not sound like a country song (it don’t twang), it definitely is, because it’s a cheating song. And if I recall correctly, back in the 90s and early 00s, there have been quite a few such songs, especially by female artists. If you’re still open to the idea of a guest post, I am thinking of a particular one especially dear to my heart.

    • Kent

      April 14, 2012 at 1:53 AM

      Some food for thought: so if Forgive is a country song because it’s a cheating song, does that make Wake Up Call by Maroon 5 a country song as well, even though it doesn’t sound much like a country song?

    • Ben Foster

      April 14, 2012 at 5:05 AM

      Sure, I’d love to run a guest post! Just shoot me an email at

  3. bob

    April 14, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    Thanks. That’s a really good song and I never heard of it before. I see it was released in May ’02 which was right about the time that NYC lost its country music radio station Y-107. Back then I wasn’t into checking out music on my computer much so radio mattered more. I just started putting together an i-Tunes folder of my favorite cheating songs so I’ll buy this and add it. Besides “Forgive”, I see that RLH co-wrote Trisha Yearwood’s “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners Anymore” with Trey Bruce.

    • Ben Foster

      April 14, 2012 at 6:58 PM

      Glad you liked it, Bob. It’s always cool to get to introduce someone to a great song that they’ve never heard before.

      Also, thanks for bringing up “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners,” which I somehow neglected to mention in the article. I haven’t been able to track down too many of Howard’s writing credits, but I did find that she also had a cut on Martina McBride’s recent album ‘Eleven’ with the song “Whatcha Gonna Do.”

      • bob

        April 15, 2012 at 11:57 AM

        If you search BMI by songwriter, you’ll find 171 “work titles” by Rebecca Lynn Howard. I didn’t find any titles familiar to me other than “Whatcha Gonna Do”. Most of them are probably songs that haven’t been recorded. Among the 171, you won’t find “Forgive” and “I Don’t Paint…” Those songs are on ASCAP. Apparently, RLH belonged to ASCAP at one time but switched to BMI. An artist/songwriter can only belong to one PRO at a time. Searching ASCAP by songwriter using Rebecca Lynn Howard gets you zero. If you search by performer using RLH, you’ll find 40 songs, not all written by her, including “Forgive” and “Paint”.

  4. Occasional Hope

    April 15, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    It’s a great song. Bob, Rebecca Lynn Howard did her own version of I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners, and also Melancholy Blue which she didn’t write, but which was also covered by Trisha, on her self titled debut album in 2000. There’s also a fantastic song called Was It As Hard To Be Together on that album which is worth hearing (another song Rebecca wrote) and which imo is better than Forgive.

  5. Russ Berman

    April 15, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    Since you brought up Rebecca Lynn Howard, one of the single most stunning & devastating songs I’ve ever heard and want to share is her “What Dying Feels Like” (singer and co-writer w/ Rachel Thibodeau). Fantastic lyrics, killer vocal interpretation I’ve always told people about it, and have always thought it’s a crime that it’s never got more exposure than it has. I agree with the person who wrote on the song’s TouTube page that if you don’t have an emotional reaction to this song, you don’t have a pulse!..

    Check it out at (the YouTube version is a live vocal recording to a track, but I love the vocal on the official version).

  6. SamB

    April 16, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Really love this song (and I really like What Dying Feels Like too Russ). I actually showed this to a friend last night, expecting him to love it (he always likes big female-done-wrong ballads) and his response was ‘oh, I expected it to go bigger’.

    This surprised me until I watched video along with it. And it’s a terrible video for this song. The video is very calm and almost idyllic, as is Howard’s performance in it. It doesn’t reflect the song at all, and takes away so much of the power and the emotion. Very disappointing.

  7. Derrick Mims

    April 17, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Ben, I like it when you like stuff!

    I’m not that crazy about this one — it feels too much like Faith or Martina at their most bombastic. But it’s fun to read enthusiastic reviews since so much gets criticised (often rightly so). Great idea for a series!

  8. Pauil W Dennis

    May 5, 2012 at 1:49 AM

    After her first album, I always felt that Rebecca Lynn was let down by her production – I’d like virtually everything she did better if it were a little less pop

    I bought her first album REBECCA LYNN HOWARD in 2000 and find I listen to it occasionally, whereas I almost never pull out FORGIVE. She’s a pretty decent vocalist

  9. Bob Loblaw

    May 31, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    Fun Fact: This was originally the title track/first single of Faith Hill’s 2002 album Cry. RLH wanted the song for her own album and Faith obliged. I personally think it worked out best for both singers. I would love to hear Faith’s version though…


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