Newcomer Val Haynes has been compared with k.d. lang and Bonnie Raitt. There are worse things than being lumped in with those down-home musical mavens. But give Haynes credit too for writing her own foot-tappin', urbanized country songs and singing with a clear, homespun voice.
Of course, coming from upstate New York via New York City, Haynes, 36, can't truly capture the backwoods essence of a "real" country singer. Yet she summons up the spirit of Patsy Cline and the rougher edges of early Linda Ronstadt. Come to think of it, forget whom she sounds like and just go with her on, for instance, the giddy, wonderfully naive bounce of "To Be Young." She shucks her suede-fringed-jacket image on the rocker "You Won't Say You Love Me" and generally gets the most out of her able band.
On "Hold On to Me," for example, Stewart Lerman's aching slide guitar underlines the regretful honesty of the lyric "You're someone I come home to/ That I still haven't met." "Front Porch" features an arching, poignant lead guitar riff that (unfortunately, some might say) also sounds like the hook in Gordon Lightfoot's 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Haynes tries too hard to be the real corn-pone McCoy, as she does on the soggy ballad "Lord Help Me." She also needs to vary her arrangements. But Haynes has an ear for catchy melodies and keeps things simple. She may, in fact, want to consider a name change, to something like Popular Val. (Bar None)