Music Review: Carrie Underwood shows maturation on "Play On"

Friday, November 6, 2009
In this CD cover image released by 19 Recordings Limited / Arista Nashville, "Play On," by Carrie Underwood is shown. (AP Photo/19 Recordings Limited / Arista Nashville)

"Play On," by Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood opens her third album with an audacious stomper, "Cowboy Casanova," a put-down of a playboy that slyly references a famous quarterback Underwood briefly dated.

But everything else about the bold, sassy tune looks forward, a reflection of "Play On," which aims to illustrate Underwood's maturation and growth.

On her first two albums, the "American Idol" winner worked to establish herself as a country music singer. Now that she's the reigning Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year and Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, Underwood looks to expand her boundaries on "Play On."

Primarily, she brings in several successful pop songwriters, including "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi. At times, the pop collaborators strive to accentuate Underwood's country roots. "Quitter" grounds its pop melody by playing the main riff on mandolin. DioGuardi's co-writes include a tender family ballad, "Mama's Song," that's as Southern as eggs and grits at sunrise.

So it goes throughout "Play On": Underwood balances fat-chord rockers like "Undo It" with bubbly pop songs like "This Time" and beautiful ballads like "What Can I Say," a duet with the trio Sons of Sylvia.

In the end, this tremendously gifted singer proves she can move in several directions while always sounding like she's moving forward.

CHECK THIS OUT: For all the variety of "Play On," and for all the power in Underwood's voice, her most memorable effort comes on "Someday When I Stop Loving You," a timeless heartbreaker that depends on nuance and understatement more than vocal strength.

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