By her own admission, Crystal Bowersox butted heads with Jive Records over various aspects of her debut album Farmer’s Daughter. Bowersox aired her frustration via Twitter, suggesting she was unhappy with the way her album was being handled. The release date was one point of contention, with Bowersox pushing to wait until early 2011. The label won that fight, with a December 14th release for the twelve-song album. Despite the reported behind-the-scenes drama, the results are well worth hearing.
The best thing about Farmer’s Daughter is the way it captures the qualities that drove Bowersox to a second place finish on season nine of American Idol. Her bluesy vocals are top notch throughout the entire album. The production is generally restrained, drenched in acoustic-driven country blues. Bowersox wrote most of the songs herself; eight of the twelve are credited solely to her. With only a couple exceptions, the album feels like the work of an artist with a clear vision of herself.
After an ode to old fashioned rock & roll (“Ridin’ With the Radio”) and a so-so cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth,” the album hits its stride. The title track, a tough look back on an abusive childhood, is arguably the best song on the album. The only challenger is the very next track, “Holy Toledo,” a Bowersox original dating back to her pre-Idol days. Both songs seem to be personal mission statements of sorts, with Bowersox investing considerable passion in her vocals. “Holy Toledo” in particular builds to a powerful climax.
Other highlights include the rollicking “Kiss Ya” and a duet with husband Brian Walker, “Mason.” Opening with some vaguely Hendrix-inspired riffing (think “Little Wing”), “Speak Now” features one of Bowersox’s most effective vocal performances. For a much quieter moment, “Mine All Mine” is a love song with a pleasant, though not striking, melody. Aside from these highlights (which comprise roughly half the album), the rest kind of blends together in a somewhat bland way. Some of the material would have definitely been stronger with tighter hooks.
While not every single song is especially distinctive, it must be said that even the filler remains listenable. This is largely due to the conviction in Bowersox’s vocals. Even when the album falters she manages to put the songs across. Former Idol judge Kara DioGuardi saddled her with the album’s most generic song, the dull power ballad “Hold On.” The annoyingly cheerful, whistling riff of “Lonely Won’t Come Around” (co-written by Bowersox, David Ryan Harris, and Alexandra Tamposi) inspires me to hit the skip button every time. The aforementioned cover of “For What It’s Worth” surely would’ve worked better without the “modernized” drum loop.
But the strengths easily outweigh the weaknesses of Farmer’s Daughter. It’s an interesting debut with some surprisingly weighty, personal material. Hopefully all the negative press directed at the relatively lower sales figures of season nine’s Idol finalists will not detract people from giving this album a fair shot.