Kellie Pickler — 100 Proof
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.
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