With last year's self-titled demo, Stacie Collins, born in Oklahoma but raised in Bakersfield, California, put out one of the best country records to come out of any smokestack city in the North. But because it clocked in at less than 28 minutes, it made local country music fans feel a bit cheated. With its follow-up, which she's billing as her first "official release," Collins and her husband/collaborator, Allen Collins, have taken that eight-song sampling and turned it into a full-length masterpiece. Like its predecessor, it still bears the eponymous title Stacie Collins
, and all songs have been co-written by Stacie and Al. The eight from last year's CD are joined by four newcomers, including a pair -- "Time to Fly" and "Once Upon a Time" -- that practically scream for heavy rotation on country radio.
Collins has reworked several of the songs from last year's demo, including "When the Mornin' Comes," a lament for a departed partner, for which Collins ditches the acoustic version and adds electric and steel guitars and a rhythm section. "I'm Tryin'" -- perhaps the best song on the first CD -- has become the magnum opus on this one, as Collins forsakes the string arrangements for heavier steel and electric guitars, much to the song's benefit. There are nods to folk and blues here, but this isn't Americana. Rather, most of what the Collins family gives us is the polished feel of modern country -- think Holly Dunn or Patty Loveless with less ache. This is as good as Nashville-style country music gets, and Collins should find a receptive audience waiting when she moves to the Music City next month.