Un­der­wood strug­gles to get per­sonal on Cry Pretty

The Prince George Citizen - - A & E - Kristin M. HALL

Car­rie Un­der­wood, Cry Pretty (Capi­tol Records Nashville)

For the first time in her ca­reer, Car­rie Un­der­wood took over co-pro­duc­ing du­ties on her new al­bum, Cry Pretty, and co-wrote nine of the 13 tracks. But does it make the col­lec­tion more per­sonal?

Un­der­wood’s ca­reer un­der the spotlight started with Amer­i­can Idol, and she’s a spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral singer with a great ear for songs. But af­ter an in­jury to her face last fall, she hid from the pub­lic for months as the tabloids cir­cled.

Ul­ti­mately, she re­turned this year look­ing about the same as be­fore and an­nounced this sum­mer she’s preg­nant with her sec­ond child. Now her per­sonal life has be­come a bit more front and cen­tre than be­fore. She’s al­ways sung with au­then­tic emo­tion and drama, but she was more skilled at in­ter­pret­ing the song than re­veal­ing much about her­self.

Cry Pretty is not a con­fes­sional record, as ev­i­denced from the ti­tle track that notes she’s “not usu­ally the kind to show my heart to the world.” But she’s push­ing her­self in new mu­si­cal direc­tions, teas­ing out parts of her mul­ti­fac­eted voice with rhythm and tempo that feels like you’re hear­ing her anew.

Work­ing with pro­ducer David Gar­cia, who co-wrote the pop coun­try cross­over col­lab Meant to Be by Bebe Rexha and Florida Ge­or­gia Line, Un­der­wood adds R&B, pop and dance rhythms to songs like Back­slid­ing and End Up With You. On Low, she slinks into a bluesy coun­try groove that sounds like a per­fect ve­hi­cle for a duet with Chris Sta­ple­ton.

How­ever, the county bal­lad The Bul­let feels empty with lyrics such as, “You can blame it on hate, or blame it on guns, but mom­mas ain’t sup­posed to bury their sons.” Love Wins is in a sim­i­lar vein, but the build­ing mu­sic makes bet­ter use of her soar­ing, arena-sized vo­cals.

She ends the al­bum with what is likely the clos­est we’re go­ing to see of “real Car­rie” on King­dom, where she sings about scam­per­ing chil­dren and the highs and lows of a fam­ily that’s “per­fectly im­per­fect.” The song seems more re­veal­ing than the oth­ers, es­pe­cially be­cause it touches on her strong Chris­tian faith. It also shows that she can be re­lat­able when she lets her guard down.

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