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 is best served when she’s singing full-hilt on a heartbreak ballad or tearing into a sassy song with just the right amount of energy, extremes that support her larger-than-life personality. She’s surprisingly adept when devoting herself to a tormented slow song. “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” is a powerful proclamation that simmers in the chorus, and it’s just the type of a affecting song that plays well to her penchant for depths-of-despair wailing. Thankfully, it’s not the annoying screeching that plagues some major-label releases, and Pickler keeps it from becoming too overdramatic. “One Last Time” also builds in intensity at just the right turns, exhibiting that she can be a reliable country artist when working with songs worthy of her gifts. Pickler channels torch-and-twang singers like Lorrie Morgan when she belts out a depressing ballad, but maintains a modicum of strength that separates them from the pathetic line of losing-in-love songs that run rampant throughout Nashville.
Again, strength is a significant component that defines the best parts of Pickler’s repertoire. It’s a quality that galvanizes the tensions introduced in the better songs, particularly the pop-rock, uptempo songs. These moments include Pickler’s co-writing collaboration with BFF Taylor Swift, “The Best Days of Your Life.” Although it’s not remotely country (and the beginning moments are disconcerting with only Pickler’s vocal and a series of odd violin notes) , it flickers with a spark that fits nicely with Pickler’s character. Same goes for “Rocks Instead of Rice”, a song in the vein of so many revenge-minded refrains that have overpopulated country music in recent years.
For all her personality, though, Pickler fails to infuse it on tracks that stray from the formula. She manages to handle aggressive, attitude-filled anthems or drop-to-your-knees, dramatic ballads, but when the ideas are more complex, she sounds uncertain and uncomfortable. Where she tends to lose focus is on songs such as “I’m Your Woman” and “Makin’ Me Fall in Love Again”, two falling-in-love tracks that show very faint flashes of what makes Pickler a distinctive artist. And on the emotional “Somebody to Love Me”or the closer “Going Out in Style”, she doesn’t sound quite as invested, a cause that’s not helped by their average lyrical content. Quite simply, Kellie Pickler thrives on drama in her music. When there’s little conflict, there’s little commitment in her voice. And these songs in particular fall flat when compared to the moments when her abilities match the material.
First single “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” serves its purpose well, and although it speaks to the youth audience she targets, her genuine delivery is infectious and the message is relatable. The song itself is a well-written anthem of empowerment for women, even though it hedges its bets with a rather blank chorus. The idea is a bit recycled, but a shot of energy by Pickler does just save the song. Elsewhere, “Lucky Boy”, with its brooding bridge and moody instrumentation, tempts Pickler into a coy delivery that plays up her personality well. Her voice isn’t an A-level gift yet, and is often lost in the mix of the production, but it’s not a total liability here.
Kellie Pickler is fairly easy listening for the most part, but for a young woman equipped with the spirited traits that mainstream country music seems to adore, she shows these characteristics more sparingly than would serve her best interests. She appears to have made an earnest attempt at encompassing a full range of emotions and life experiences on this disc, and the potential still exists to make a worthy package. The jury’s still out on whether Pickler will be a prime contender in the country music parade, and on this album she leaves more questions than answers.
Hmmm… Interesting review. I was planning on getting the album anyway, but it sounds more interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but the way you talked well about many of the songs, it sounds like it warrants a little higher rating, but that’s just me.
I think she is definitly more of a Nashville personality than a singer, she just does not have the pipes to compete, but at least she knows her limits and doesn’t beutcher songs by trying to exceed those limits.
Carrie is the current queen, WRONG! Taylor a princess, WRONG! Blake, get real our only Queen is REBA! Princess, Martina or Faith. But I guess you have to post what your bosses tell you.
i think the cd deserved 3,5 or 4… i think you missed the point in a few spots Blake, your review is not bad but when you said “Kellie Pickler the person sometimes struggles to translate into Kellie Pickler the singer” it is not true, i read many interviews that Kellie said that each song of this album is a part of her, and she is really proud of this.
one thing about Kellie is that you have to understand her to listen to her music, imo she is one of the best girl.
another thing is that she co-wrote half of the album… this is something that you should have said.
she really worked hard on them
“But I guess you have to post what your bosses tell you.”
*Can’t stop laughing!*
HAHA…. that is too funny. Does Michael think it’s still the late 1998’s/early part of this decade?
As for my view on the album, I generally agree with Blake. I think the Swift- co-write is a big smash.
Kevin does strike me as the dictator type. ;)
I’m disinclined to comment on my own reviews, but I can’t resist. My thoughts on the current country kingdom are purely in the commercial context, as Underwood and Swift are the two major females of the moment. This is not a reflection on country music’s wealth of talented ladies or my own personal opinions.
This review was purely a Blake Boldt creation, warts and all. If my “boss” (Kevin J. Coyne, the inventor of this informative site) had any input or feedback, I imagine it would’ve been shock to see 1,000 words for a Kellie Pickler album review. Thank goodness. I’m generally not want to take orders very well. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)
Matt B, the opening for the Swift co-write “The Best Days of Your Life” is just so jarring. I wonder how that would play to a radio audience, although I agree that the rest of the song is perfect radio fodder.
I’m annoyed by this album, mostly because I think it’s a combination of several puzzling/bad decisions that result in an album that is less engaging and less genuine than the artist. I’m not even a big Kellie Pickler fan — I don’t like the tinniness of her voice in the upper register — but what I do like about her is her plain-spokenness, which combines an appealing spunk and sensitivity. I think that quality should have made for a better album.
I agree, Blake, that this album doesn’t play to what distinguishes Kellie. As I said elsewhere, Kellie has a voice that recalls Pam Tillis’ voice (though I much prefer Pam Tillis’ voice) and in my view, that’s a voice ill-suited for the pop-country on this album. I’m perplexed as to why Kellie and BNA’s A&R crew went this route. I’ll probably be proven wrong if/when “Best Days of Your Life” becomes her biggest hit yet, but I don’t think pop-country is a smart commercial direction for Kellie, either — it dulls what makes her distinct. That is what has held back “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” — it hasn’t made much of an impression in callout or downloads.
Speaking of “Best Days…” it annoys me that it rips its hook directly from Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” It annoys me, too, that “Rocks Instead of Rice” appears to rip its choral melody from Keith Urban’s “You Look Good in My Shirt.” But “Rocks Instead of Rice” works so well for Kellie’s sense of humor that I’m inclined to look past the cribbing.
But what annoys me the most about this album is the rampant overuse of Autotune, which flattens out Kellie’s voice and, on several occasions, actually makes it sound electronic. I absolutely hate when this is done. And the thing is, Kellie has strong enough pitch sense that this shouldn’t be necessary. All it does, in my view, is enhance the tinniness of her upper register and make her sound less natural. As for the rest of the production, it’s just too much for a voice as thin as Kellie’s and tends to completely overwhelm her on the ballads, as you suggest.
I disagree that this album encompasses a full range of emotions and life experiences. I actually thought that, between “Rocks Instead of Rice,” “Lucky Girl” and “Best Days of Your Life,” it felt kind of repetitive, especially with two other songs that deal with neediness/loneliness.
Maybe I’m unduly boxing Kellie in, but I feel like her strength is in translating personal experience into folksy wisdom/observation-type songs. There’s very little of that on the album. For me, the two album standouts are “Rocks Instead of Rice” and “Going Out in Style,” because they seem more distinctively Kellie than anything else on the album.
That intro is completely 1980/1990’s pop. It will work well to get the soccer moms their children alike. They could cut the cold open off for the radio anyway. It’s not exactly as jarring as “Bob That Head” was to radio. Also, Taylor sings harmonies from the beginning ;)
As I said on the other site, she’s not much more than a child beauty pageant given a microphone via a bad ‘reality’ show. Yes, there may be a semi tolerable song along the way, but don’t count on many.
She’s not very bright, as glancing back at any of the idol interviews will show. Hopeful she’s a little smarter about her ‘career’ and holding on to what she can.
(Can you tell I’m not a fan? :P Don’t want to be tooo mean.)
You’re right about that song’s roots in ’80s/’90s pop, Matt. I would imagine they would cut the first 20-30 seconds and just start with the first verse. It seemed overly dramatic for a pretty straightforward, uptempo song.
The real reason they might drop the cold open is that they can’t talk over the music in the song before the verse starts.
“But I guess you have to post what your bosses tell you.”
Kevin! Are you telling people what to write again?!
True, Matt. Country radio is purely designed to play commercials and feature innocuous chit-chat from radio hosts, with a dash of music thrown in for good measure.
Yes, Eleven. He’s such a taskmaster!
I’m sorry Blake I’m not understanding this comment:
“as Underwood and Swift are the two major females of the moment. This is not a reflection on country music’s wealth of talented ladies or my own personal opinions”.
Are you saying that Carrie Underwood is not one of the wealth of talented ladies?
I won’t furture comment until I understand the statement.
Uhh, Ohh, Blake!:)
I meant that I didn’t want to get into an argument about who the “best” female artists in the genre are, either in this time period or historically. The original statement in the review purely remarked that Underwood, as far as today’s country music, is the leading female representative, with Swift not far behind. Those are simply statistical truths.
I noted that they are the leaders “in the fickle marketplace”, which accounts for the mainstream country movement, but may not be indicative of the genre as a whole. I’m not attempting to compare them in a critical, artistic sense, but did want to note that they are clearly ahead of the pack in terms of retail and radio success at this given moment and that Pickler will need to find her a niche to become a part of the kingdom. Otherwise it’s going to be a royal pain trying to become a superstar. Royal. Get it. Royal. Kingdom. Alright, I’m done.
Thanks for the reply i just didn’t understand the statement.
No problem. I think your earlier comment about the album is very much in line with the review.
I agree with Blake more often than not. And after playing this album this morning (via youtube), I think he hit the nail on the head. Pickler has the potential to become a superstar – and one with staying power even – but she’s got to find her voice, her seat at the roundtable.
I also think it’s interesting that someone compared Pickler’s voice to Pam Tillis. I remember the first time I heard Julianne Hough’s ‘That Song In My Head’ on the radio, I turned it up and said ‘heck yeah, Pam Tillis has a new song and radio is playing it!’ The more I listened, the more I was convinced it was Pam.
I’m not sure at what point I decided that it was just a Pam Tillis vocal clone out of Nashville, but the vocals are eerily similar. Just saying. Wow, that was random …
I don’t hear the Pam Tillis comparison with either of the women. Maybe it’s because I like Pam so much and am not really into Pickler or Hough.
Red High Heels completely reminded me of something Pammy would sing
What intrigues me is that she rerecorded “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You,” which was also the forth song on her debut album. Is this a common thing to do? Maybe she’s going to make it a single this time around. (that would be a fun topic for this site sometime–are there other artist who have done this?)
Honestly…I disagree with all of you and think this is a very good album.
Sure there are some weak points (honestly I don’t think she should have rerecorded “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” and “I’m Your Woman” and “Making Me fall in Love Again” are a bit cheesy…although I can’t help but love “Making Me…”). I think this album is a great try, some of it sounds too electronic almost, but I think “Best Days” will be a HUGE hit for Kellie, “One Last Time” would do FANTASTIC on country radio, “Going Out in Style” is pretty hilarious, “Lucky Girl” is also a great, great song I’m guessing it’d be well recieved.
I think “Rocks Instead of Rice”, if a bit more ‘rock’-ed up would do great, and I think “Somebody to Love Me”, although not very country is a great personal song Pickler did great writing.
Plus her song “Anything But Me” on the deluxe iTunes is edition is lovable. A bit like Luke Bryan’s “I’ll Stay Me”…but still.
So that’s my opinion.
I give the album…at least 4 stars
kellie pickler is an almost perfect wild-card in the country scene. carrie underwood, taylor swift and miranda lambert have been successfully positioned in the marketplace. kellie pickler’s image is still largely work in progress, leaving more room to manoeuvre for the future. with this release the artist and her label could have been bolder and more adventurous trying to do so, without taking too much of a risk. pity, they somewhat missed that opportunity. blake’s review details it nicely.
To me, it really sounds like she’s yelling on “The Best Days Of Your Life” or singing unnecessarily loud.
September 29, 2008 at 8:26 am
“I think she is definitly more of a Nashville personality than a singer, she just does not have the pipes to compete, but at least she knows her limits and doesn’t beutcher songs by trying to exceed those limits.”
Actually she’s both, a great singer with lots of personality. This is a great album although she generally sounds better live than on record. The best singers often do. :) The average to worst singers sound worse live than on record. I’ve heard Kellie sing without any music or effects and she sounds just as good as Carrie and other top singers. Remember she won the CMT live Performance of the Year award for her CMA Awards performance, and she was nominated with Jennifer Nettles. :) She gets praised for her singing in many concert reviews. Carrie said she wants to tour with Kellie. She does have the pipes to compete and should be nominated for Top Female Vocalist.
“Of course, one of country music’s biggest superstars is “Idol” winner Carrie Underwood, who took the crown in 2005. When Pickler made her debut a year later, there were plenty of comparisons. Her sound is country-pop, not unlike Underwood’s. Both women are also petite blondes with powerful voices.
But David Scarlett, senior editor of “Country Weekly” magazine, said Pickler has shown she’s got her own sound.
“Some comparisons are hard to escape, but they sing different types of songs in many respects,” said Scarlett. “And when you hear one on the radio, you know who it is. You don’t confuse them with each other.””
I LOVE KELLIE
the spelling is fine – go mount that water tower.