Carrie Underwood, BLOWN AWAY, 19/Arista Nashville
Blown Away, the new album by Carrie Underwood, the shiny but tough country star, starts out loud, sassy, rollicking and wise. Good Girl is the first song — a little Pat Benatar, a little Tanya Tucker — and it plays out like a sequel to Underwood’s 2006 smash Before He Cheats, except instead of taking out her rightfully stoked dissatisfaction on her ex, she opts for unity and warns the next woman instead.
After that it’s a one-two punch of brutality: a quick-paced Blown Away, in which a young woman hides in her basement, waiting out a tornado that she hopes her abusive, alcoholic father sleeping upstairs doesn’t survive; followed by Two Black Cadillacs, in which a wife and a mistress conspire to kill the man they share, not a murder ballad so much as a murder celebration.
Underwood enjoys rage; her huge voice, both naive and muscular, is well suited to it. Her best songs have historically been in the range between fury and resentment. Blown Away is only her fourth album, but that number belies her concrete-hard place in the country firmament, with a combination of vocal ambition and toughness that recalls a younger Martina McBride.
While the album starts bold and mechanically impressive, it gets progressively quieter over the course of its first half, as if she’s taking a break from fire-breathing. Do You Think About Me is tepid, Nobody Ever Told You is bland and blithe, and One Way Ticket — part Jimmy Buffett, part Jason Mraz — is Underwood at her least convincing. Relaxation is not her milieu. She needs muscles pulled taut, veins popping through the skin. Hearing her sing about flip-flops and drinks with pink umbrellas is an affront.
Blown Away builds steam again from that point. Underwood holds back her voice on Good in Goodbye, which has echoes of So Small, her inspirational 2007 hit. But by the rowdy and sinister Cupid’s Got a Shotgun, her nostrils are practically flaring: “I pulled out my Remington / And I loaded up these shells / He’s about to find out / I’m a dang good shot myself.”
On a few of this album’s early songs, a perplexing amount of digital effects are applied to Underwood’s vocals, processing she neither needs nor benefits from, even if it is par for the course for other country singers. She may be unhappy, but hearing her tense up is half the fun.
— JON CARAMANICA, NY Times News Service
Chelle Rose, GHOST OF BROWDER HOLLER, Lil’ Damsel
“I don’t know who I trouble more / The mean old devil or the good old Lord,” Chelle Rose sings on her second album, Ghost of Browder Holler, and she’s bragging more than worrying. It’s an album filled with rasp, drawl, twang and tenacity.
Rose (whose first name is pronounced as “Shelly”) grew up in East Tennessee (where Browder Holler is located) and lives in Nashville. She released her first album, Nanahally River, in 2000, then withdrew into family life. Alimony may or may not be a song about what eventually happened; its snarling electric guitars back the tale of a woman who leaves a stultifying suburban marriage to be a musician. “I wasn’t askin’ for much, just make some noise with my boys,” she sings. “He was supposed to be my lover, we was Hatfield and McCoys.”
As a songwriter, Rose works in the realm of Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Alejandro Escovedo and other terse, unflinching songwriters on the rock fringe of country. She sings about hard-nosed characters — herself, perhaps, among them — and ways to face tough situations, and the answer is as much in the grain of her voice and the sinewy guitars as in her words.