Photos by Glenda S. Paradee (except cover art of CD)
For Sylvia, being an artist is not only about singing. It’s also about listening deeply: to herself, to others, and to the stories that want to be told. That’s what first led her to discover her love of music as a child and, subsequently, to enjoy more than two decades of a successful and multifaceted career as a singer and songwriter. But listening is also what brought Sylvia to a crossroads in 2002, when she heard a new call and made the conscious choice to pivot away from music. Since then, Sylvia has enjoyed a successful second career as a certified life and career coach, employing her long-held personal values of compassion, curiosity, and non- judgment to help business executives, artists of all genres, small business owners, and non- profit organizations realize productive self-discovery.
Yet throughout this time, Sylvia never stopped evolving and engaging in her own process of self-discovery as an artist. As a result, she released It’s All in the Family, her first album in 14 years and the first ever on which she is a co-writer on the majority of songs. Throughout the album, Sylvia touches on the choices, challenges, and turns in the road that have brought her to where she stands today and delivers her most personal material to date, combining her skill as a vocalist with her heart as a storyteller.
It’s All In The Family is brimming with songs that evoke precise places, times, and emotions. Whether it’s the clawhammer banjo and old-time music influence on the opening track, “Every Time a Train Goes By,” or the Irish tin whistle and strong imagery on “Immigrant Shoes,” listeners are invited into dozens of specific, formative, and intimate moments in the lives of Sylvia and her family. But like all great stories, It’s All In The Family doesn’t feel limited to the bounds of its particular characters, images, and events. Each song touches and builds on a collection of themes that connects the listener with that which is universal.
Perhaps the most pervasive theme on the album is that of family. On the title track, “All in the Family,” one of four songs co-written with John Mock and Thom Schuyler, Sylvia illuminates both the positive and painful ways we are bound to family with a series of simple yet striking images: a wedding dress worn by three generations, a family recipe handed down, a mother protecting her children from hardship, and a family member lost too soon to alcoholism. On “Somebody’s Daughter,” she offers a gentle but compelling reminder that the tenderness we feel for those we love most is neither illusion nor weakness; the ties of love that bind us to our parents and our children are real, and are in fact the very same ones that connect us to our broader human family.
On “Cumberland Rose” and “Hope’s Too Hard,” two songs specifically selected by Sylvia for the album because of their resonance with its themes, she explores another ubiquitous facet of the human experience – the inevitability of loss and grief and the question of how to face them. While the album doesn’t offer a clear-cut, facile answer, it consistently bears witness to the transformative power of acknowledging our wounds, facing our fears, and accepting our past. Sylvia shows that surrendering to what is beyond our control is not the same thing as giving up – it takes profound courage and strength, and it’s necessary in order to realize new possibilities.
As Sylvia recounts these moving stories that span generations, the interplay between the past, present, and future emerges as another strong motif. Sylvia fully acknowledges the irrevocable influence of the past; “Grandpa Kirby Runnin’ the Hounds” features her grandfather’s actual fiddle and banjo in a warm callback to the barn dances he played at in the early 1900s. But at the same time that she honors her roots, she boldly celebrates the beauty of the present and potential of the future. In “Leave the Past in the Past” and “I Didn’t Know What I Was Missing,” two of four collaborations with Bobby Tomberlin, she offers metaphors that illustrate what it would look like to physically overcome that which holds us back. Whether it’s clearing all the chairs from the kitchen to make room to dance or climbing a mountain to gain a new perspective from the top, through these songs we experience what it feels like not to regret or dismiss the past, but to let it go in order to make room for what is coming next. In several songs, including the powerful closing track “Do Not Cry For Me,” Sylvia embodies the voice of someone who is looking back with a deep sense of peace, gratitude, and all-encompassing love that will transcend time.
Just as Sylvia speaks from many different perspectives and with many different voices from track to track – yet ultimately delivers an album with strong, resounding lyrical themes – a range of musical styles on the album produces a cohesive sound that defies neat categorization. The collaborations on the album – between co-producers Sylvia and John Mock, between co-writers, and between the cadre of other exceptional musicians featured on each track – truly feel organic, with distinct influences of folk, country, bluegrass, classical, and Irish music coming together naturally to produce something that feels both new and deeply rooted in tradition. Sylvia
More on Sylvia:
Jane Hutton (née Kirby, born December 9, 1956), known simply by her first name Sylvia during the 1980s, is an American country music and country pop singer and songwriter. Some original source books have her birth name as Sylvia Kirby Allen; however, Allen was her first husband's last name. She consequently used only her first name. There was also a point in time that she used Sylvia Rutledge. She is currently using her married name and is promoted as Sylvia Hutton.
She enjoyed crossover music success with her single "Nobody" in 1982. It reached No. 15 Pop and No. 1 Country. The song earned her a gold recordcertification and a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance (the Grammy went to Juice Newton for her hit "Break It to Me Gently"). Although "Nobody" was Sylvia's only single to reach the Billboard pop charts, her other big country hits include "Drifter" (No. 1 Country, 1981), "Fallin' in Love", "Tumbleweed" and "Snapshot". In 1982, she was named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. She is also credited with making the first "concept" music video clip to air on Country Music Television (CMT), with "The Matador".
Sylvia was born in Kokomo, Indiana. She began performing at age three when she was asked to sing at a small local church. This set Sylvia on a course that eventually led her to Nashville on December 26, 1976. With a burning desire to become a recording artist like her idols Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, Sylvia packed her bags and a demo tape and headed for Music City, where she ultimately landed a job as a secretary for producer/publisher Tom Collins, who produced records for both Barbara Mandrell and Ronnie Milsap.
After auditioning for Dave & Sugar, Sylvia was signed as a solo artist by RCA Records in 1979. Her first RCA single was called "You Don't Miss a Thing". The song reached the Country Top 40, which got her name noticed. In 1980 she released another single, "It Don't Hurt to Dream". The record was slightly more successful than the previous title, going to No. 35. That same year, she finally made it to the Top 10 with "Tumbleweed". In 1981 her song "Drifter" hit No. 1 on the country charts, and two other songs, "The Matador" and "Heart on the Mend" landed in the Top 10. "The Matador" was country music's first conceptual music video to air on CMT. Drifter was the title of her 1981 RCA debut studio album. The album contained several top-ten songs, including "Tumbleweed" and "Heart On The Mend". Some critics called its sound "prairie disco."
In 1982, from her Just Sylvia studio album, the singer released the single "Nobody", which reached No. 1 on the country music charts, hit No. 15 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and sold more than a million copies. The song was also an Adult Contemporary hit, making the Top 5. "Nobody" became Sylvia's signature song and made her a success on both the Country and Pop music charts, which was what many of her contemporaries, such as Barbara Mandrell, Juice Newton, Dolly Parton, Anne Murray, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers were doing at the time.
"Nobody" and the album Just Sylvia were certified gold in the United States and Canada. "Nobody" was the 1982 BMI Song of the Year, awarded for receiving more radio airplay than any other single that year. Sylvia's bouncy and sly style made her popular among teenagers, making her a teen idol briefly, which foreshadowed the female pop teen idols of the late 1980s, such as Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. In 1982, Sylvia was the Academy of Country Music's "Female Vocalist of the Year" and a Grammy nominee for "Best Female Vocalist".
In 1983 Sylvia's album Snapshot was released; its title song climbed to No. 5 on the Country charts and became her second-highest selling single release. She had two other songs in the Top 20 that year, "I Never Quite Got Back" and "The Boy Gets Around" (which she described in the notes of her 1998 anthology album as being "pretty forgettable").
In 1985, the momentum continued with the hits "Fallin' in Love" and "Cry Just a Little Bit."). By 1986 though, Sylvia's chart success was fading as more traditionally styled country singers, such as Randy Travis, dominated the charts.
Sylvia continued to record for RCA until the end of 1987, charting 11 Top Ten and No. 1 songs, and sold more than four million records.
The release of her fourth album, Surprise, spurred her second foray into the Adult Contemporary charts, but neither its sound, nor her newly shorn locks courtesy Francesco Scavullo, were well received in country music. 'Surprise was the last of Sylvia's first four albums to be produced by Tom Collins, who also produced Mandrell, Charley Pride, and Ronnie Milsap. They have been described by critics as too slick for country music.
Her following album, One Step Closer, produced by The Judds' producer Brent Maher, had a more guitar-driven feel to it as opposed to her previously more orchestrated affairs. It was followed up by Sylvia's last top 40 country hit, "Nothin' Ventured, Nothin' Gained", from the unreleased album Knockin Around. The shelving of this album marked the end of Sylvia's tenure with RCA Records. The label did release a Greatest Hits compilation and a single from it titled "Straight from my Heart" (written with Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers). The record received little promotion from RCA and the single charted in the low 60s. In the late 1980s, RCA began streamlining its roster of country-pop artists and the casualties included Sylvia, Dolly Parton, Louise Mandrell, Deborah Allen, Juice Newton, John Denver and Kenny Rogers.
Over an eight-year period, Sylvia crisscrossed America many times with her popular concert performances (over 200 per year), and she was a frequent guest on network television talk shows and specials — from The Today Show and Good Morning, America to Dick Clark's American Bandstand and the Country Music Awards.
Her decision to stop touring and recording at the end of the 1980s was not fueled by the grueling schedule, as some might guess, but by her desire to bring more of herself to the music, she turned her energies to songwriting.
A few years after Sylvia's hiatus from the music industry, she guest-hosted TNN's Crook and Chase show and also hosted her own Holiday Gourmet cooking special. After selling over four million records and touring extensively for eight years, Sylvia pulled back from the spotlight to write and record music for her own record label, Red Pony Records.
Sylvia's first independent album, The Real Story, was released on Red Pony Records. In a May 1998 People Magazine review, Ralph Novak wrote, "Sylvia always sang with more intensity and resonance than most country singers... and she can still sing a story song better than almost anyone around."
In 2002, she followed with Where in the World, a set that marked the culmination of an 11-year musical collaboration with John Mock. Another shaping force was songwriter Craig Bickhardt, who performed with Sylvia since 1984, wrote the title cut to her One Step Closer album, and here contributed a "Crazy Nightingale."
In 2002 Sylvia also released A Cradle in Bethlehem, a Christmas album capped with her version of the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria."
Since then, Sylvia has been a life coach where she helps individuals working in the music industry – singers, songwriters, musicians, recording artists, and music industry professionals – as well as non-profit agencies.
A new album entitled "It's All in the Family" was released in late 2016. Critically well-received, the mostly self-penned numbers includes "Every Time a Train Goes By," "Somebody's Daughter," "All in the Family," A Right Turn," "Do Not Cry For Me," and "I Didn't Know What I was Missing." The album "It's All in the Family" is promoted through her website, www.SylviaMusic.com and is available at www.CDBaby.com/Artist/Sylvia. It is also available through iTunes and on Spotify. Just Sylvia, her most iconic 1982 album, is currently available on iTunes.
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