Unapologetically is a defiant title for a sweet record, yet it also suits Kelsea Ballerini's second album. Emboldened by the success of her 2015 debut The First Time, Ballerini embraces the possibilities of being a country-pop star, expanding her sonic palette and allowing herself to seem vulnerable throughout the album. Of the two evolutions, the former is the easiest to notice, as Unapologetically is a bold, colorful record that relies heavily on gleaming electronic surfaces and drum loops. Compared to the soft focus of The First Time, Unapologetically feels cinematic, filled with grand gestures and unexpected shifts in tone. Even the intimate moments feel heightened, dressed with ornate guitars and whispering keyboards, and there's even a buried voicemail on "In Between." Ballerini's voice may still sound youthful in places -- that's a large part of her charm -- but even when she's looking back at "High School," she's not juvenile: Like her clear idol Taylor Swift, she's writing about matters of the heart with sensitivity. And like Swift, Ballerini does seem to have her eye on a mainstream pop stardom that doesn't exist entirely within the confines of country music. Make no mistake, Unapologetically is certainly a country record -- there's an adherence to old-fashioned song structure and a bit of an arena twang threaded throughout the record -- but every number is given a slick electronic gloss that pushes it in the direction of adult contemporary MOR. Far from being a detriment, however, that's the strength of Unapologetically: It remains vibrant and fresh even though it sounds measured and mature.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine