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updated: 10/3/2011 12:30 PM

Connie Smith's return a reason to celebrate

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  • Connie Smith's "Long Line of Heartaches"

    Connie Smith's "Long Line of Heartaches"

Associated Press

Connie Smith, "Long Line of Heartaches" (Sugar Hill)

Of all the great country music queens to rise in the 1960s, Connie Smith may have the lowest public profile. Partly that's because in the early 1970s, as the world at large learned of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, Smith retreated from touring to focus on raising her family and on recording albums that expressed her religious convictions.

But hardcore country fans always have heralded Smith as one of the great voices of her generation. So when Smith's new album "Long Line of Heartaches" opens with a steel guitar -- the instrument most closely identified with her best-loved recordings -- and with the words "Here we go again," her legion of fans across the country will rejoice.

On her first album in 13 years, and only her second since 1978, Smith provides even more reason to celebrate: Unlike her self-titled 1998 album, in which Smith flirted with contemporary country sounds, this time the 70-year-old singer concentrates solely on original songs featuring classic country sounds and themes.

From the torch ballad "I'm Not Blue" to the dance-floor shuffle of "Anymore," "Long Line of Heartaches" serves as a welcome reminder of why Smith ranks among country music's most beloved artists.

Check this out: "Ain't You Even Gonna Cry," set mostly to a tenderly picked acoustic guitar and the moans of a steel guitar, illustrates why Smith's voice is such a revered instrument. With emotional restraint and careful diction, she delves into the pain of the moment when two lovers realize this is the moment one of them is walking away for good.