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Mandy Barnett: ‘I need to keep following my own path’

BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

In a world where things seem to change every millisecond, there are pieces of every holiday season that remain timeless. The stockings you have hung on that mantel since the kids were born. The potatoes you have made every year, straight from that faded handwritten recipe card. The snowman you place on that counter, even though his little gloved hand somehow broke off back in 2004.

And, of course, there is the sweet and appealing and timeless resonance of holiday music.

“I would walk into my grandmother’s house and amongst the foil Christmas trees and some sort of weird-looking Jell-O sitting on the kitchen table, there [were] the sounds of Elvis and Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee and Perry Como playing in the background,” recalls country vocalist Mandy Barnett. “I wanted to make an album that made me feel like I did walking into that house.”

Barnett did exactly that in 2010 with the release of her exclusive Cracker Barrel holiday album “Winter Wonderland.” She’s headed to Park Forest for her holiday-inspired concert on Dec. 12.

“It’s pretty much the only time of the year when people can hear beautiful songs with beautiful melodies and beautiful lyrics,” says Barnett. “People still just want to hear and see someone sing great songs that will not only bring back memories, but make them feel something.”

WINTER WONDERLAND WITH MANDY BARNETT

When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 12

Where: Freedom Hall, 410 Lakewood Blvd., Park Forest

Tickets: $24 ($20 for season subscribers)

Info: www.freedomhall.org

Barnett has long been a pro at bringing back memories and conjuring up feelings for her audiences, who first fell in love with her luscious voice as she portrayed country music legend Patsy Cline in the long-running stage show “Always…Patsy Cline” at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium.

“There have been many people out there that have thought that Patsy Cline is the only thing I can do, but I have worked for years following the examples of artists such as Linda Ronstadt and Ray Charles to try my best to find ways to cross genres a bit,” says Barnett, who started singing at the age of 5 and was signed to a big-time Nashville record contract at the age of 11. “When the crowd gets their fill of ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ during the show, we will do some sad pop and country ballads. [Laughs] Then we will go back into ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.”

Barnett has flirted with mainstream success through the years, with her album “I’ve Got a Right to Cry” named as the top country album of 1999 by Rolling Stone. Yet, on the brink of turning 40, Barnett says it’s not easy out there.

“I honestly don’t know where I fit in, but I do know that people miss hearing classic sounding music,” says Barnett, whose latest album, “I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson,” was released last year. “Listeners over-40 are definitely being underserved within the country music genre. In pop music, the Diana Kralls and Michael Bubles of the world have been able to maintain careers that didn’t have to be dependent on commercial radio success. That’s not how it works in country music anymore. There is mainstream country and then there are the rest of us.”

So Barnett continues touring and making a number of visits to the hallowed halls of the Grand Ole Opry and most of all, she continues to share her voice with all who crave it. “Musically, I would have to say I am on top of my game when it comes to the sound of my voice,” she says.

“And there are so many things inside of me that I still want to get out. I’m convinced I just need to keep following my own path.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.