Crystal Bowersox

All That for This

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Crystal Bowersox crystallizes the American Idol paradox: it showcases singers who specialize in sounds and styles the record industry has left behind despite the large audience hungering for new vocalists in that style, but when they succeed on Idol, they then get their rough edges sanded off, so they wind up as just another singer. Bowersox's post-Idol 2010 debut Farmer's Daughter certainly attempted to refashion her hippie-soul for a larger audience but it was compromised, its Chad Kroeger power ballads sitting uneasily with her neo-flower child persona. So 19 dropped her and she wound up on the roots label Shanachie, who teamed her with Los Lobos' Steve Berlin for 2013's All That for This, an album that is truer to Bowersox's spirit than her major-label debut. Berlin can not only rope in a marquee duet partner in Jakob Dylan, but he keeps things lean and simple, never pushing commerciality or roots too hard. Although Berlin certainly has learned a few tricks from analog evangelist T-Bone Burnett -- the air between Bowersox and Dylan on their duet "Stitches" is nearly visible -- he never fetishizes authenticity, preferring to follow Bowersox's elastic rhythms. She sounds as comfortable in the southern soul grooves of "Movin' On" and "Everything Falls Into Place" as she does delivering a spruced-up, streamlined cover of the Sundays' post-Smiths classic "Here's Where the Story Ends." There's an ease to her delivery that's alluring, and the very sound of All That for This is appealing, perhaps because Berlin is smart enough to use hints of classic '60s and '70s rock & soul to inform a production that isn't stuck in the past; it's true to tradition without being reverential, so it feels familiar yet somewhat fresh, a blend that suits Bowersox, a singer raised on the classics but not necessarily pining for the past. Berlin understands this delicate balance and helps steer her through a sharp selection of songs that presents her in the best possible light, resulting in a wholly satisfying album. It's easy to say All That for This is what Bowersox should have released the first time around, but this is too intimate for the 19 machine; she needed to get back down to the minor leagues so she could deliver an album that's truer to her talent.

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