Most of the tracks on Carrie Underwood’s latest album, Play On, would not be out of place on her previous efforts – the multi-platinum-selling 2005 debut Some Hearts and the acclaimed 2007 follow-up Carnival Ride. Her songs address human frailty, trust, the never-ending quest for happiness and love in all its various shades and forms, and her powerful voice is a refreshing and juicy joy.
Underwood has demonstrated admirable consistency in her career since winning the fourth season of American Idol though some would dismiss her decision to stick to her area of expertise as simply “playing it safe.” Play On, laden with 13 tracks, is a superb effort, an enjoyable blend of bouncy country-pop awash in contemporary rhymes and rhythms. It is music that shows off her talent. At the same time, the Grammy winner doesn’t disappoint listeners who have come to expect poignant storytelling from her.
With the help of a highly skilled batch of songwriters, Underwood has become known for touching ballads and spirit-lifting anthems about struggle, loss and survival. The melancholy gem “Temporary Home” and the soothing “Mama’s Song,” about getting a mother to accept her daughter’s new man, are fine examples. In the same vein, “Someday When I Stop Loving You,” “Change” and “Look At Me” are haunting standout tracks that speak to overcoming doubt and casting fear aside.
But Underwood also manages to shine on more energetic fare like “Cowboy Casanova,” a percussion-laden track that recalls her smash hit “Before He Cheats.” Then there’s “Undo It” and “Unapologize,” two soft rock-flavoured songs that take men to task about their roles in relationships.
Among my other easy favourites are the stellar and inspirational title track and the gorgeous, well-executed collabo “What Can I Say?” (with notable vocal contributions from Sons of Sylvia). But Play On is not without flaw, as ambitious tracks like “Quitter” and the folksy, bluegrass-tinged “Songs Like This” fall short of the mark.
Still, on Underwood’s third studio album, her sensitivity and soulfulness echo at all the right moments. Equally compelling selling points for the CD include the singer’s impressive vocalizations and technical wizardry of such producers as Karlo DiGuardio and Marti Frederikson. With Play On, Underwood proves she has what it takes to keep her country queen crown firmly in place.
BEST TRACKS: “Someday When I Stop Loving You,” “Temporary Home,” “What Can I Say?” and “Play On”