Just because summer is over does not mean new music can’t set you on fire. Such is the case with American Idol Season 10 runner-up Lauren Alaina’s first outing. With Wildflower, Alaina lands on sizzling ground with a rowdy–and emotional–debut set, which was produced by Byron Gallimore. Alaina, who understandably admires fellow Idol alum Carrie Underwood, takes beautiful notes in crafting touching stories and foot-stomping summer-like anthems that suit a girl not yet out of high school.
The first track, “Georgia Peaches,” penned by Mallary Hope, Blair Daly, and Rachel Proctor, scorches the hinges off screen doors and embodies a Miranda Lambert and Underwood-like sass. “Our shorts a little shorter, ‘ cause the sun’s a little hotter,” Alaina teases on the chorus. Comparable to her fellow blonde belters, Alaina knows how to stir up trouble, as she connects the dots on why boys pick girls like her. However, quite unlike Lambert’s signature man-hating material (“Kerosene,” “Gunpowder and Lead”), Alaina’s energy is channeled in a much more playful and freewheeling way, giving her a chance to carve out a niche for herself.
Continuing intriguing melodic hooks and wholesome vocals, Alaina’s” Growing Her Wings,” is a page out of a Sara Evans playbook. The tune was written by Nicolle Galyon and Nicole Witt and fits Alaina like a glove. With a “Suds in the Bucket” flavor, “Wings” projects a feel good attitude despite feeling “stuck in Rice County growing her wings.” Alaina even dabbles in some early Dixie Chicks goodness, ala “Wide Open Spaces,” without seeming stale. During her Idol run, Alaina injected her performances with a hearty inflection and phrasing, and on “Wings,” her unique flair is most evident.
A mid-tempo track, “Tupelo,” written by Steven McEwan, Gordie Sampson, and Hillary Lindsey, who has collaborated with Underwood, lets the listener play catch up. Packed tightly into three minutes and thirty seconds, “Tupelo” is a simple story about a roadtrip and falling in love. While Alaina might not be falling for a boy currently, she threads her 16 years of experience into a sweet tale everyone can relate to. “We sang all the way down to Tupelo, love struck right on the money,” she cooes. Money would bet that she has an old flame in mind when singing this ditty.
Songwriters Proctor, Zac Maloy, and David Hodges must have had Martina McBride or Underwood slated as performers when writing “The Middle.” Alaina’s performance, not surprisingly similar to her rendition of McBride’s “Anyway,” is a poignant reminder about the important things in life. McBride, though, would have been able to dig a much deeper trench of emotion from years of experience to cultivate the soaring melody. However, it is Alaina’s youthful richness that creates a surreal moment for the angelic ingenue and awakens a new perspective on life. “Here and now is all we have,” she sings. Alaina, much like American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, is at the helm of ushering in a new generation of country music rooted in steadfast Christian beliefs.
Alaina’s Idol “coronation” song, “Like My Mother Does,” is an uplifting tribute to her darling mother, Kristy Suddeth. “Mother,” clocking in at around four minutes, was written by Nathan Chapman, Liz Rose, and Nikki Williams, and seems the most personal of all the album cuts. During her Idol finale performance, the lyrics drove her and her mother to tears, only reinforcing Alaina’s ability to interpret a song. The arrangement is periodically overwhelming, but nonetheless, Alaina’s nuanced vocals are showcased at their best.
“She’s a Wildflower,” which could be considered the album’s title track, is a spitfire representation of Alaina’s character. Looking at her rise to fame, one would never guess how true “Wildflower” was to her life. The song, penned by Lindsey, McEwan, and Sampson, grapples with the insecurities of fitting in and “waitin’ on a sunny day.” You know, typical teenager stuff. There is nothing forced or conceited in the lyrics or performance, as one could expect. Instead, a vulnerable Alaina, backed by pop-leaning chords, embraces those imperfections (like “freckles on her skin”) by claiming herself to be a wildflower. “Pretty soon her luck is gonna change, she just doesn’t know it yet,” she reassures herself. Even though she is telling the story in third person, the “she” is clearly her. As in life, taking a step back to reexamine things allows us to see things a bit differently.
The boy kiss-off track, “I’m Not One of Them,” allows Alaina to reinvent the exhaustive themes often treaded by Underwood, Lambert, and Taylor Swift. Unlike a picturing burning or vandalism, Alaina declares on “Them,” written by Sarah Johns, Tom Shapiro, and Tony Martin, that she is not like a normal girl. She does not melt with every word a guy utters or gush at the sight of a “jacked-up ride.” Instead, she wants her man to prove his love for her. “Give me something real, not another come on, baby, come on,” she croons over thumping drums. With a Facebook reference thrown in for good measure, “Them” is an album highlight that demonstrates Alaina’s capable handling of a wide range of material.
“The Locket,” with its guitar plucked sound, is a track written by Hope and tells the tale of a grandmother’s love for her husband and the locket that has endured the hands of time. Critics have said Alaina is much too young to justly understand such emotional depth. However, upon further listening, it is clear Alaina is simply a storyteller documenting a journey of her grandmother, who is losing her memory. Alaina plays the part of granddaughter perfectly as her vocals ebb and flow with each heartbreaking moment. The track begins as a simple story of unconditional love quite similar to Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. The twist comes near the end as the chilling reality of her grandmother sets in that she is slowly losing the memories of her past. Alaina pulls back into almost a whisper unexpectedly, leaving a psychological imprint of the story on the listeners’ minds. Despite criticism, Alaina beautifully interprets material that is well beyond her age.
Alaina’s impressive storytelling chops are just the foundation for the next track, the Underwood cowritten song, “Eighteen Inches.” A tale of reckless, young love, “Inches,” in its single-worthy texture, allows Alaina to dig her heels into different territory. She is able to convincingly spread her wings on a song so fitting for Underwood that Alaina becomes a real contender to take the “Country Music Queen” baton and run. With a well crafted hook and easy-to-follow storyline, “Inches” may come off too well conceived and calculated, especially with the newborn’s length being at 18 inches. Regardless, Alaina is just the right vocalist to give this Underwood track a beginning.
“One of Those Boys,” crafted by Anthony Smith, Marla Cannon, and Ben Carver, is a romping ode to guys everywhere. Alaina knows exactly what kind of guy she wants, and she isn’t afraid to sing about it. Take this as a warning, fellas: when you pick her up, you better shake her daddy’s hand and look him in the eye. Much like “Georgia Peaches” and “I’m Not One of Them,” “Boys” is congealed with passion, grit, and a sass all Alaina’s own. The track, coming in at a mere two minutes and forty-two seconds, is all country and fits nicely alongside any Reba McEntire and Swift power anthems. Following much heavier lyrical creations (“The Locket,” “Eighteen Inches”), “Boys” blows through and allows Alaina to shed some skin and really let loose in this rocking ear candy.
Not only has Alaina exercised her vocal ability, but on “Funny Thing About Love,” she begins working out her skills as a songwriter. Cowritten with Luke Laird and Brett James, both who have penned Underwood tracks, “Love” is a chapter lifted straight out of Alaina’s life. Many times, love is silly and “keeps messing you up.” Alaina, who has had her fair share of boy crushes, admits that “we were best friends, until I kissed you. You know you liked it and I did too.” However, their hearts were never quite on the same page. “Love,” with its creamy chorus and warm vocal, could have been a misguided attempt, but Alaina might be onto something and hit her songwriting sweet spot.
The album closer, “Dirt Road Prayer,” written by Galyon and April Geesbreght, is a testament to Alaina’s undying Christian beliefs and dedication to her hometown. If she ever forgets her footing in life, she can “go where the green grass grows.” Admirably, the thought-provoking track teaches how crucial faith is to everyone without being preachy by presenting the heavy handed message to relatable things. Alaina’s floating and soothing interpretation, similar to a starry-night lullaby, grasps loosely to the best Underwood and McBride songs.
Must-Listens: “Georgia Peaches,” “The Middle,” “I’m Not One of Them,” “Eighteen Inches”
Rating: **** 1/2 out of 5