Modern country-pop from American Idol
This year's American Idol has fashioned a modern country album that takes its cues from contemporary stars like Martina McBride and Faith Hill. There are passing lines of fiddle and steel, and the lyrics have a homespun quality, but the overall vibe is pop, with booming productions that are filled with the electric guitars and big drums that will fill up arenas and concert halls. Underwood's voice is engaging, and the song readings are more assured than many of the hurried efforts on AI, but the songs themselves are often a weak link. ¶ Many of the songs, such as the Diane Warren title track, are emotionally generic, and the Nashville factory production simply adds to the blandness. When Underwood gets a lyric with some substance, such as the redemptive "Jesus, Take the Wheel" or the edgy "Before He Cheats," she digs right in, as she does for the rollicking "We're Young and Beautiful." Where she really shines is on her self-penned wide-eyed travelogue "I Ain't in Checotah Anymore," which says more and fits her better than a dozen songs from the Nashville pros. ¶ It's not exactly surprising that Underwood's debut would find her vocals in great form but her artistic voice yet to fully form. As she did on American Idol, she displays great technical chops and exudes the charisma of a seasoned performer. What's still missing is a personal style, particularly in song selection. A year or two on the road, singing this album and drumming up (or, hopefully, writing) material for her sophomore release should solidify her connection to the material. In the meantime, this is a professionally produced and strongly sung debut that has enough highpoints to entice radio and merit a spin or two at home. 3-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings.
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