Kellie Pickler

The Woman I Am

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By all rights, Kellie Pickler's third album 100 Proof should've been a blockbuster. A savvy update of classic country in the Tammy Wynette tradition, the 2012 record confirmed that Pickler could be a hell of a country singer, but the record stalled out on the charts, moving just a handful of copies -- a significant decline from 2008's eponymous album, which almost went gold. BNA Records left her behind and she signed to the independent Black River Entertainment, working once again with 100 Proof producer Frank Liddell but also Luke Wooten, coming up with The Woman I Am, a record that's a bit bright and sweeter than its predecessor. At times, the record's indie roots are fairly apparent -- the songs are modest, the production crisp but just short of gleaming -- and the slight shift from neo-traditional to chipper country-pop suggests a tonal change that would perhaps have been called label-driven if a label had been involved. The sound might be happily commercial, but the songs are too subtle to be considered pandering, which means The Woman I Am is that rare record that manages to feel like a bid for mainstream success coming straight from the independent sector. It might lack a big strong hook -- there is no song to pull in a skeptic -- but the album has a nice, gentle sway and Pickler has expertly modulated her diva moves so she's now a skillful country singer. It's not an album that makes a career, but rather one that helps a career be built.

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