The latest American Idol castaway to wash up on the shores of country radio is 2006 eighth-placer Bucky Covington, who sees his debut album hit stores a little over a year since he was sent home. That’s a lot more time between leaving the show and hitting record stores than we usually see for an Idol debut; Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler both released albums before the end of the year, with only months to both finish the summer tour and record the project.
Listening to Covington’s debut, it’s easy to make the case for taking more time, as this is a very consistent album, despite a few stumbles here and there. He kicks off the album with a hard country-rocker “American Friday Night”, and he sounds fantastic. His voice has rough edges without sounding forced, and he is fully believable celebrating small-town living it up. But he sounds like a completely different singer on the second track “A Different World,” the lead single that irritates the hell out of me. The difference is jarring, with Covington singing in a high-pitched, overdone twang. If I heard these two songs on the radio, I would think it was two different artists.
Third song, third singing style. “I’ll Walk” has none of the rough delivery of the first track, and a mere shadow of the twang of the second. He sings it in a lower register, and again sounds like a different singer. This is one of those predictable three verses/three different meanings of the title songs (think “Where’ve You Been” or “I’ll Wait For You”), but he delivers it competently.
As the album continues, some highlights begin to surface that match the quality of the opening track, starting with “Back When We Were Gods.” One of my chief criticisms of “A Different World” is that Covington was way too young to sing it, but that’s true about this song as well, but I loved it. I think the difference is the strong conviction he sings it with, besides it being a much better song. “Gods”, and “Ain’t No Thing” which follows it, both succeed because Covington is in his southern rock vein, which is clearly the sound that best works for him. Give him watered-down radio pap like “I’m Good” and “Carolina Blue”, and he sounds barely interested. But he comes alive again whenever he can rip into a rockers like “Empty Handed” and “It’s Good To Be Us.”
There’s even a cool, muddy water blues song “Hometown”, which channels Delbert McClinton at his country soul best. Even “The Bible and the Belt”, which resurrects all those cliches about southern bad boys being kept in line by mama’s gospel and daddy’s belt, goes down believably because of his fiery performance.
I have to admit I expected to hate this album, but lead single “A Different World” is easily the nadir of a surprisingly strong debut album. It gains strength as it continues, and the missteps he makes are typical of a debut artist: trying too hard to please radio, and relying too much on songs about missing home and the simple country life. And let’s be honest – the same criticisms hold up for Carrie Underwood’s debut CD, and she’s doing quite well. This album is on par with her smash debut – and maybe, just maybe, it’s a little better.