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John Conlee’s “Rose Colored Glasses” Reviewed

John Conlee seems like a complete putz. A Kentucky farm boy turned mortician turned disc jockey turned country music star, he often dressed more like the funeral directors he worked with than a hit maker working in the honky tonk tradition. When he gives interviews these days, he gabs about his religious faith and “Backing the Blue” (brave stance there, cowboy). Vocally, he came from the Webb Pierce School of Acute Nasal Twang, but he recorded in whatever style the Nashville assembly line of the day dictated. He had a decade run from 1978 to 1987 where he released twenty-two Top Ten country singles, including seven chart toppers. However, I bet a modern country music fan would be hard pressed to name more than two or three of his songs. He peaked with his first hit. As Tom Petty said, even the putzes get lucky sometimes.

There are almost two songs built within “Rose Colored Glasses,” which kicks off with a church inspired piano intro then swoops into some Countrypolitan strings. When the female backing singers jump into the chorus, you’ve got something that sounds as syrupy as Maine in springtime. However, the lyrics tell an entirely different story. Conlee starts each line of the verses in the upper register of his vocal range, then extends the syllables and deepens his voice as the words progress. This vocal phrasing gives the impression that the narrator is falling down a hill. The lyrics describe a man who can’t face the reality of a dead relationship – his optical illusion, his rose colored glasses, is his only savior. This is man who is no longer wanted, no longer needed, by the woman that he loves. Facing that reality is an option to dire to consider.

While I’m not a big fan of the production values of this song, maybe all the artificial sweeteners make it work. “Rose Colored Glasses” is a pipe bomb buried in a bed of roses. We’ve all known truths that we didn’t want to face and we all develop coping mechanisms for those moments. John Conlee gave country music a way to handle pain that didn’t require a bottle. And, as we navigate our way through the 21st century, we could all use some nontraditional survival mechanisms.

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