For the first time in her career, Carrie Underwood took over co-producing duties on her new album “Cry Pretty” (Capitol Records Nashville) and co-wrote nine of the 13 tracks. But does it make the collection more personal?
Underwood, who broke into the national spotlight with “American Idol,” is a spectacular singer with a great ear for songs. But after an injury to her face last fall, she hid from the public for months.
She returned this year and announced this summer she’s pregnant with her second child. Now, her personal life has become a bit more front-and-center than before. She has always sung with authentic emotion and drama, but she was more skilled at interpreting the song than revealing much about herself.
“Cry Pretty” isn’t the confessional record her country peers have done really well. She even notes on the title track that 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 “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 between Underwood and Chris Stapleton.
But the county ballad “The Bullet” feels empty with lyrics like, “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, delivering vague messages of hope, unity and love for all, but the building music makes better use of her soaring, arena-sized vocals.
She ends the album with what’s likely the closest we’re going to see of the “real Carrie” on “Kingdom,” singing about scampering children and the highs and lows of a family that’s “perfectly imperfect.” The song touches on her strong Christian faith. It also shows she can be relatable —when she lets her guard down.