Kellie Pickler is at an important crossroads.
On her self-titled second album, she attempts to build on what must be an unexpectedly successful stay in Nashville. As a finalist on American Idol in 2006, she gained notable exposure, but the reality-show sweepstakes rarely produces significant long-term returns. After a pair of CMA nominations and sales of over 800,000 copies of her debut disc Small Town Girl, Pickler now faces a test. In a fickle marketplace where Carrie Underwood is the current queen of the country kingdom and Taylor Swift is its reigning princess, Pickler must discover her place. It’s not a matter of competition with the girl squad, but rather a need for her to establish an identity distinct from the other heroines of mainstream country music.
But although her second disc has some nice moments, its main problem is that Kellie Pickler the person sometimes struggles to translate into Kellie Pickler the singer. Some of the ten tracks here still don’t reveal her real identity, although it’s ever-present in every interview and media campaign that have played as much a part in her career as the actual music. Ironic, given that the supposed theme of the album is expressed in its title: Kellie Pickler. And the production, courtesy of Chris Lindsey, eschews clarity at certain junctures in favor of making big, bold statements. The prominence of drums and electric guitars is often used to hide the utter lack of music personality in the artist, but as we’ve learned in the last years, Pickler always has something to say. She’s not quite able to express that inescapable truth at key moments here due to the musical mix and a handful of innocuous tunes.
Pickler debuted this single on last week’s ACM awards to a great response, and no wonder. She was saddled with quite a bit of disposable material on her debut album, but “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” adds substance to the sincerity she already possesses in spades. When I first heard this, it reminded me of “This One’s For the Girls”, and it is similar to that Martina McBride hit.
But McBride only sounded believable when she was talking to the older women in her song, while Pickler is most convincing when addressing the young girls who can’t afford designer jeans and who don’t want to go all the way in the back of that truck. I realize that teenage girls are a viable part of the country market right now, and I give credit to Pickler for addressing them without pandering to them. My initial skepticism of Pickler has faded. This is a promising preview of her sophomore album.
Listen: Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful
Buy: Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful
You know what? I enjoyed listening to this a lot. I smiled, I laughed a few times. It reminded me of Pickler when she was at her most endearing on Idol. Her personality shines through and the song itself is quite clever.
Listen, if Mindy McCready isn’t going to get her act together and reclaim her quirky little niche in country music, Kellie Pickler might as well fill in for her!
Listen: Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind
Buy: Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind
Kellie Pickler, “I Wonder”
This is very heartfelt and sincere. Pickler speaks rhetorically to the mother who didn’t stick around to raise her. Her performance is perfectly delivered, with subtlety and understatement.
The production overwhelms her in the bridge, where there are way too many strings, bells and whistles. I’d like to hear an acoustic version of this that allows Pickler to remain front and center through the whole thing.
Listen Now: I Wonder
Buy Now: I Wonder