Kellie Pickler is one of the young queens of pop-country. Like Carrie Underwood and Lauren Alaina, she gained her fame on American Idol. But is she more than another machine-cut blonde? Despite some catchy singles, her previous outings -- Small Town Girl and Kellie Pickler -- haven't exactly proven otherwise.
100 Proof does.
Turning Up the Twang
Kellie Pickler goes out on a limb with a more traditional country approach on 100 Proof. That's clear from the first song, "Where's Tammy Wynette," in which Pickler name-checks the "Stand By Your Man" legend -- and does a lot of old-school lamenting about "Trying to keep your man / From that hussy over there."
Pickler shows her affinity for Loretta Lynn on "Stop Cheatin' on Me." Old meets new again on "Little House on the Highway," a playful trucker's take on the Carter Family's "Little Poplar House on the Hill."
Getting Tough with the Competition
"Unlock that Honky Tonk" shows the approach isn't a gimmick. Pickler tries to get the weekend started early in this toe-tapping dance number that's packed with banjos, guitar blasts, and an irrepressible beat.
"Tough" is also pretty poppy, but bluegrass instrumentation once more proves more compelling than her usual overkill productions. In that way, 100 Proof is reminiscent of Miranda Lambert -- and had the singer recorded "Tough," it would be among her best songs.
Pickler co-wrote six of the songs on 100 Proof. They include "Mother's Day" and "The Letter (to Daddy)," which both touch on the childhoods trauma that is now part of Pickler's official biography: Her mother abandoned her as an infant; her father was in jail for much of the singer's childhood, and she was raised largely by her grandparents.
But they're far from sappy ballads. "Mother's Day" is an unaffected look at good times that didn't last long enough. And the album-closer "The Letter (To Daddy)" isn't exactly a thank you note.
I never expected Pickler to produce this good of an album. With 100 Proof, she takes a step forward from a crowd of sound-alikes. If Pickler lacks the fire and clever songwriting of Miranda Lambert, she nevertheless rivals Lambert's most recent record for pure start-to-stop listening pleasure.
Track list for 100 Proof
1. "Where's Tammy Wynette"
2. "Unlock That Honky Tonk"
3. "Stop Cheatin' On Me"
4. "Long as I Never See You Again"
6. "Turn on the Radio and Dance"
7. "Mother's Day"
8. "Rockaway (The Rockin' Chair Song)"
9. "Little House On the Highway"
10. "100 Proof"
11. "The Letter (To Daddy)"
Release Date: January 24, 2012