Album Review: Kellie Pickler — The Woman I Am
Equal parts riveting backstory and ravishing beauty, Kellie Pickler would seem like a music marketer’s dream. In fact, she’s already made quite an impression with television audiences. An American Idol finalist in 2006, she continued her reality-show winning streak by taking home the mirror ball on Dancing with the Stars last spring.
Instead, Pickler had been at risk of turning into one of Music Row’s biggest wastes of potential. After the poor sales of last year’s critically acclaimed 100 Proof, she separated from Sony Music Nashville in a disagreement over artistic direction. The opening lines of “Buzzin’,” a gently sweet ode to a lazy day love-in, double as a critique of her major-label experience: “I don’t wanna chase another dollar/I don’t wanna do the run-around.”
On The Woman I Am, her fourth album and first with new label Black River Entertainment, Pickler affirms her status as an authentic personality and, more importantly, an intelligent picker of songs. For 40 minutes, she proves how a current hitmaker can emphasize the genre’s traditions while still engaging with contemporary sounds and themes.
Pickler aids her cause by chipping in three tracks herself, including the crown jewel, “Selma Drye,” which pays tribute to her great-grandmother. Sharing ripped-from-real life anecdotes instead of stock details, she describes a fiercely proud woman full of grit and amazing grace: “She kept a .38 special and a can of snuff/In the pocket of her apron in case somethin’ came up.”
More uptempo than 100 Proof, The Woman I Am plays towards the mainstream without losing its heart or its traditional roots. Pickler is appealingly feisty on the opening one-two punch of “Little Bit Gypsy” and “Ring for Sale.” Though the more rambunctious, rockin’ numbers like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “No Cure for Crazy” exceed her grasp, she recovers beautifully with “I Forgive You,” an exploration of the singer’s troubled relationship with her mother. Producers Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten keep her grounded by building arrangements full of steel guitars and Telecasters, with the occasional fiddle in the mix.
Amidst a sea of interchangeable male performers, Pickler would be a welcome addition at country radio with her effervescent and distinctive voice. Hers is a straight-ahead twang that bends and curls around notes, trading power in favor of pure subtlety. That down-home attitude may be best represented on the title track, which reminisces about the days when traditional singers ruled the airwaves: “I miss songs like that,” she sighs, referring to Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” By keeping one foot in the door of modern-day country, Pickler is doing her part to resurrect the past and move it into the future.
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