Bucky Covington was one of those charmingly unformed American Idol contestants who had plenty of charisma and an interesting voice but couldn't quite pull it together, yet he stayed on the show for a long time in its fifth season because he had a genuine sweetness buried beneath his gruff voice. That sweetness earned him fans, including plenty who saw Carrie Underwood become the first country Idol just the season before, but Carrie always seemed like a pop Idol: smooth, pretty, assured, and well-manicured, just right for Skechers ads. Bucky wasn't so smooth. He sounded and seemed like a good old Southern boy, too rough even for Nashville Star, which surely was the core of his appeal, and also made his eventual mid-season dismissal not so surprising; despite all his charm and enormous potential, he was far from the best singer on the show. Nevertheless, he had the raw elements of a true country star, something that led to a record deal with Lyric Street, which had him record his debut album with Mark Miller, best known as the lead singer of Sawyer Brown. Miller helps polish Bucky into a genuine modern country singer, smoothing out the rough edges in his voice and finding just the right blend of rocking country and down-home corn to showcase his gravelly growl and all-American charm. Make no mistake, Bucky Covington has been designed to appeal to the middle-American and Southern fans who kept Bucky on AmIdol for weeks. It's filled with songs celebrating an "American Friday Night," songs where the country boy is longing for his home back South ("Carolina Blue"), songs where Bucky imagines that heaven would be a lot like his hometown. There's a strange nostalgic undercurrent here, as when Bucky is thinking back to his childhood on "The Bible and the Belt" (his mother taught the former, his father the latter). Such rose-tinted family memories are par for the course in country, but what's a little odd on Bucky Covington are the very specific "Different World" and "Back When We Were Gods," where Covington looks back on a childhood that was quite different than today ("We were born to mother, who smoked and drank/Our cribs were covered in lead-based paint") and remembers running around with his high school pals just before Desert Storm in "Back When We Were Gods" -- two songs that are designed to sound true to listeners who were adolescents during the first Bush administration. Born in 1977, Bucky is a bit too young to be part of this camp -- he would have been 14 when Desert Storm launched, he was in grade school at the peak of the Super Mario Brothers craze -- but this cultural carbon-dating reveals exactly what audience Bucky Covington is intended to capture: thirtysomethings raised on John Mellencamp and now listening to Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson. It's country music with anthemic pop hooks and a rock edge, country music that's been crafted with a clear eye on its demographic, which may make it a little crass, but it's still effective commercial country because the songs are melodic, the production crisp, and above all, they're delivered by a singer who is thoroughly likeable. On record, Bucky appears as genuine as he did on the show, but his vocals are stronger than they were on TV: he's not only more confident but his phrasing is more musical and he can now tell a story -- perhaps not in an original way, but in an engaging way. This newfound strength is showcased well on this well-made piece of country-pop product. Ultimately, Bucky Covington is the sound of a Nashville pro like Mark Miller translating Bucky's TV persona onto record: it may be slick and calculating, but there's pleasure in that professionalism and, thanks to Bucky, there's a ring of truth to the album. After all, Bucky is still enough of a good old Southern boy to be likeable no matter how slick his surroundings are. He may not be driving the car, but he's on the ride of his life and he's enjoying every second of it.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine