After Kelly Clarkson’s explosive and successful career upon winning the first season of “American Idol,” it’s hard not to compare the more recent winners of the show to Clarkson’s success. While Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard may not be No. 1 in the charts –– or in people’s memories –– Carrie Underwood is quite the opposite.
Underwood became a country and pop superstar after beating out Rapunzel’s cousin Bo Bice for the title, and her success has grown ever since. She’s put out four full-length albums and is currently on tour, including a stop at 7:30 tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Bubbling with country twang, power ballads and keeping the good-girl attitude that won over the judges’ panel, Underwood’s first release in November 2005, “Some Hearts ,” includes hits like “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and the classic and gritty in-your-face “Before He Cheats.” Underwood uses her rich vocals to give her listeners songs of hope and a “living life to the fullest” attitude through songs like the titular “Some Hearts.”
“Don’t Forget to Remember Me” is a standout, beautiful song about not forgetting who she is and the family she comes from. One can guess with her rising stardom that she could get a little homesick; New York and Los Angeles are a bit different than Oklahoma.
Underwood makes appreciating country music accessible for those who may not even particularly enjoy the genre. Her subject matter is less about trucks and more about real life situations — heartbreak, family and falling in love. These may be signature topics for Underwood but each song presented offers a different perspective and tugs on the heartstrings in one’s own way.
This debut album was a solid one in propelling her career. It’s an enjoyable mix of slower songs and more energetic ones (or as energetic as one can get with violins and banjos in the background) and proves there is a lot more to come from Underwood.
Two years later, Underwood released her follow up album, “Carnival Ride.” The title accurately reflects the feeling of the album itself. It varies between sentimental tracks and those suggesting running away and leaving all troubles behind. The opening track, “Flat on the Floor,” automatically shows Underwood means business. She sings to the “free souls and firefly chasers” in “Crazy Dreams ” and to someone who said he’d call, but didn’t and never will in a moving “I Know You Won’t.” She varies simple instrumentation in some and bigger sounds that are reminiscent of dancing around with friends at, yes, a carnival.
She croons songs of heartbreak and other typical subjects, but in ways that are much deeper than one would expect, which is quite impressive. “I Told You So” is a moving ballad that would still sound good if its tempo was sped up but is more impactful with its slow rhythm, especially as it is not about the happiest of subjects.
With these songs targeting all types of people, including a groom whose last name she can’t remember, and tackling many subjects, Underwood’s second effort fuses all the sounds into a carousel of an album, with highs and lows. She counters the slower songs with ones with more attitude — singing about the “more boys I meet, the more I love my dog.”
While it opens with a bang, “Carnival Ride” fizzles out in the end, but not in a bad way. “End of the World” includes the line that inspired the title, and she sings about the carnival ride that is life and not knowing where it will take you.
Overall grade: B+
Underwood’s third album came out in 2009 and shows extreme maturation since her “Idol” days, perhaps stronger even than the first two albums. It opens with hit “Cowboy Cassanova” and shows how much stronger her voice has become. It strays away from the typical slower sounds of country and into a heavier form that makes you stomp your feet and dance along. She still includes signature ballads in “Mama’s Song” and “Temporary Home.” She uses strong string instrumentation to support her equally strong vocal power in a lot of the songs on this album.
Her voice sounds a lot stronger and more comfortable in this album than the previous two. While “Carnival Ride” showed her growing more into her career, “Play On” portrays her growing into her strong set of pipes, as well. She can be angrily singing to someone who did her wrong, and the next is a seamless ballad with a softer voice. Being able to switch comfortably between the two styles without it sounding strained or uncomfortable certainly reflects on her talent.
This album also includes many songs Underwood herself wrote or co-wrote, making it easier to believe what she is singing about as it is directly from her and how she wants it to be sung. She does this on her next album as well.
Underwood likes to start her albums with an upbeat and foot-tapping song, and “Good Girl,” the first song and hit single, on her fourth album is no exception. The title track gets stuck in your head with its catchy chorus that is easy to hum along to, which is a reflection of the album itself.
This album is different from her previous ones because she tackles much stronger and deeper topics, such as abuse and infidelity. Her voice has grown even stronger, and she makes it more versatile.
There are striking differences between her voice in songs, like the light and catchy “Do You Think About Me” and the darker “Two Black Cadillacs .” She uses it to capture emotion and gives listeners an idea of exactly how they should be feeling while listening. “Forever Changed ” is a ballad that will make concert-goers light up the venue with the glow of waving cell phones.
There are still songs of heartbreak and some of regret and many situations most of us can relate to, which makes her music easier to listen and connect to. This album is possibly her best, showing her range of subject matter and the conviction she has to be able to master it. Her voice in every song is effortless, and it shows how mature she has gotten in her music. It will certainly leave her fans “Blown Away.”