Wednesday, January 25, 2012
CD Album Review- Kellie Pickler- 100 Proof
American Idol, with rare exception, has a habit of sending artists that can't find a place in other genres to country music. Phil Stacey, Danny Gokey, Ayla Brown and Michael Sarver all come to mind. Kellie Pickler has bled southern Dixie country through and through from the beginning, however. Unapologetically so. (I suspect this has been the cause for her to be more embraced by country radio than most of the artists mentioned previously.) And while her first works have veered more towards the pop-country side of things- and with good success with tracks like "Red High Heels" and "Best Days Of Your Life"- 100 Proof proves to be her coming home party. She delivers a genuine and believable throwback in style and theme that proves that she doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. She keeps it rooted in classic country.
The album gets right to this point with the opener, "Where's Tammy Wynette?" Steel guitar serenades the love-lorn girl who longs to trade aprons and skillets for short skirts and heels. Pickler's big voice is complimented by her southern twang and sassy attitude. The namedrop of one of country's iconic classic country icons sets the stage for what's to come.
She shouts "don't tell me country's gone" on the fun and groovy "Unlock the Honkytonk." "Stop Cheatin' on Me" is classic steel-driven 70's country theme and instrumentation- albeit with a modern production. The track could easily be in Wynette's own song collection.
The girl has pipes and uses them well. On a soft ballad like "As Long As I Never See You Again," she can belt out a chorus as big and bold as a Carrie Underwood, but can dial back on verses to reveal a fragile tenderness in her vocals.
The steel guitar takes a prominence on the album and acts as the backbone. On the romantic and innocent little number, "Turn On The Radio," it does as much of the work on the chorus as do any Pickler vocals. Even when the drums and guitars come up on "Little House on the Highway," the steel guitar ties the track well to all of the others.
The album's standout tracks are the bittersweet dedication to both parents. The first is to mom's with "Mother's Day." Pickler's protagonist has lost her own mother and she explores the rewards of her blessings of time spent and the love/life experiences never known. It is emotionally fraught and Pickler delivers it appropriately in an almost whisper and restrained delivery. Early into 2012, it's one of the best tracks of the year. The last track is a short and sweet dedication to a father whose alcohol abuse kept him from truly connecting with a daughter. Now sober, the song is a promise to make up for lost time. Soft and tender, it is raw and as open-hearted as you can deliver a song.
Ironically, the song that doesn't necessarily fit with the others is the first radio single, "Tough." It does have the spitfire Pickler has on the other tracks, but the production is more rock-and-roll than the others. It leaves it out of place.
Since her last album, Pickler married fellow singer/songwriter Kyle Jacobs. Perhaps, now more content and secure in her own personal life, Pickler has found the strength to stick to her guns and choose tracks and production she felt more represented her as an artist. Settling down doesn't mean settling as an artist. By staying true to her country roots, she's delivered a personal and authentic album that will hopefully be a career-cementer for Pickler. The genre needs more mainstream artists like LeeAnn Womack preaching the classic country gospel. In 100 Proof, Kellie Pickler delivers one hell of a sermon.
Four stars out of five