Kellie Pickler, "The Woman I Am" (Black River Entertainment)
Kellie Pickler, on her new album "The Woman I Am," merges the tradition-minded sound of her previous album with contemporary country touches in a manner that proves how well the two can blend and still speak to the modern world.
Continuing to mature into a top-class country singer, the former "American Idol" competitor has grown from a competent interpreter of others' songs into an artist with her own vision and style. As a songwriter and vocalist, she's held onto the charm of her back-country personality while growing into a confident stylist who can adapt to the glossy entertainment world that sometimes has tried to push her aside.
The title song references Patsy Cline as a salve for difficult nights, then cites all the personal weaknesses, quirks and strengths that make her who she is. She leans on current themes in country music in "Closer To Nowhere," about drinking with a friend and disappearing into a rural hideout, but makes it believable.
She's at her best on sensitive ballads ("Tough All Over," "Someone Somewhere Tonight," "I Forgive You") yet nicely handles roots-rich stompers like "Selma Drye" (about her grandmother), "Buzzin'" and "Ring For Sale."
Add Pickler's name to the list of women making outstanding albums in a year where men dominate country radio and the media.