Kellie Pickler — 100 Proof

CM Wilcox | January 25th, 2012

pickler100proofThat sound you hear is Kellie Pickler coming into her own.

For all the attention its ‘traditionalism’ has drawn in the popular music press, 100 Proof is a better example of unadulterated Kellie Pickler than of unadulterated country tradition. Neither a typical mainstream release nor a revivalist exercise in tear-in-your-beer balladry, this is a collection that takes in the whole breadth of who Kellie Pickler is and presents it in one smart, well-arranged package.

For that reason, it’s a collection that makes ignoring the singer’s own back-story difficult and possibly even foolhardy. There’s just too much of it here to ignore.

You’ll find reflections on both absentee parents in album highlights “The Letter (To Daddy)” and “Mother’s Day.” There are no fewer than three breezy expressions of contentment in the confines of a stable relationship – say, like the one Pickler now enjoys with songwriter husband Kyle Jacobs. And the other major players in Pickler’s personal biography? Well, those would be her grandparents, who raised her and introduced her to the classic country music that threads itself through every other track, finding its fullest expression in opener “Where’s Tammy Wynette?” and stone-cold throwback “Stop Cheatin’ On Me.”

Basically, there’s a lot more Kellie here than we’ve heard on past records, and it’s arranged and presented in a way that seems absolutely authentic to her own life and vision. In an age when too many ‘artists’ are reluctant to get personal lest they limit their mass appeal, finding the courage to be oneself is a big deal.

With her teardrop vocals and marriage of contemporary and classic styles, Pickler has a lot in common with Lee Ann Womack, which might explain why Frank Liddell (co-producing with Luke Wooten) seems to have such a sure sense of how to frame her talents. Liddell is, after all, Womack’s husband. But the spiritual soul sister connection goes even deeper. In exploring what she has to say as a songwriter, Pickler turns twice to Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson, the same duo that helped Womack to “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago” and “Have You Seen That Girl” on her most recent albums. Pickler’s results with them are every bit as satisfying, as one listen to the wounded “Long As I Never See You Again” will attest.

Considerably less satisfying are “Unlock That Honky Tonk” and “Tough,” which both embrace a campy, shouty style more befitting Kristin Chenoweth or the JaneDear Girls than the understated singer Pickler reveals herself to be nearly everywhere else on the disc. Even those two songs were written or co-written by Leslie Satcher, though, so it’s not like they’re entirely without their charms.

A mainstream country album on which the weakest links are Leslie Satcher songs? It’s to Kellie Pickler’s credit that such a thing is even possible. With 100 Proof, she shakes off the last vestiges of Idol baggage and announces her arrival as a major creative force. Game on, 2012.

4 Stars

Preview or purchase 100 Proof

  1. Ben Foster
    January 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Loved this review, C.M. It’s great to see Pickler putting more of herself into her music, and breaking out of the mainstream mold. And good point about the weakest links being Satcher songs.

  2. Carrie
    January 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Bought this album yesterday on the strengths of all of the reviews I’ve been reading. Looking forward to cracking it open.

  3. nm
    January 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    I’ve never been that much of a fan of Pickler. But this album is good. I’m always pleased when an artist exceeds my expectations.

  4. Leeann Ward
    January 25, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I haven’t been a fan of Picklers ever, but this album is good. I am glad that this album lives up to her prior comments.

  5. Ben Foster
    January 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I’ve generally enjoyed most of Pickler’s previous efforts for what they were, but not to the point of calling myself a fan. But I’ll be darned if this album doesn’t go a long way toward making me a Kellie Pickler fan.

  6. Rick
    January 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Its quite risky for Kellie to make this move at this point in her career. In comparison Miranda is at the top of her game and a Pistol Annies side project doesn’t detract from her mainstream career in the slightest. For Kellie to go mostly traditional on a mainstream market release risks alienating her Idol days fan base.

    I do plan on listening to this album and do wish her great success for being gutsy enough to stand her ground musically. If this turns out to be career suicide, at least Kellie did it with honor, style, and a lot of class.

  7. Roger
    January 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

    It’s a sad statement on the current state of the music business that an artist puts out their arguably best record to date and we are worried she has committed “career suicide”

  8. Tara Seetharam
    January 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Haven’t had a chance to listen to the album yet, but this is a great review.

  9. Thomas
    January 27, 2012 at 11:44 am

    …i quite enjoyed her first, gave the second a miss, but really look forward to this one after this (and some other) review.

    perhaps, kellie pickler’s status is just perfect to produce country music, which doesn’t have to bow in front of the current market forces that have driven it way to far into the shallow end of pop market for my liking.

    if it also works out for her commercially, great. she may be able to carve out a lovely little niche for herself and her music and fans will get
    what some of them have been waiting for for quite a while now: more country in their mainstream country.

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