Album Review: Carrie Underwood’s ‘Storyteller’
When an artist releases a Greatest Hits package – like Carrie Underwood did last year – that usually means that they feel a little more free to experiment with their sound a bit. After all, an era that ends with a “Best of” compilation usually represents a period of one’s career, the first phase, if you will.
Nowhere is this more evident than on Underwood’s newest project, Storyteller, which is definitely a little different than her previous releases. For her fifth disc, the singer takes somewhat of a different path musically than she has done before.
Underwood works with a couple of new (to her) producers – Jay Joyce and Zach Crowell. Joyce, well respected for his roles in the music of Eric Church and Little Big Town, brings a little more of an organic feel to Underwood’s sound. The first single from the disc, “Smoke Break,” is a great example of this. The production isn’t quite as heavy, and has more of an open sound that you might be accustomed to. Joyce also gets Underwood to stretch on “Dirty Laundry,” which sort of revisits the girl from “Before She Cheats,” although in this setting, Underwood seems more of a Miranda Lambert-type than ever before. When she sings of revenge on the track, you can definitely feel it. “Chaser” is a mixture of her older sound, but also shows a new flair, as well. The track builds to an undeniable crescendo, letting the singer flaunt her vocal prowess on the stunning chorus.
Crowell offers his production hand in leading the powerful “Heartbeat,” which, given Sam Hunt’s distinctive vocals, seems like a strong bet for radio. He also steers the musical ship for the showcase performance “Relapse,” which definitely stands as the most sensual performance of her career. Underwood isn’t the “All American Girl” that we know here – but rather, this is very comparable – in tone and lyric – to what a modern day Tammy Wynette or Barbara Mandrell song would be like if released today.
On the remainder of the album, Underwood teams up with longtime producer Mark Bright. While the two have definitely made musical magic together, they also plow some different fields on Storyteller.
“Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is a gorgeous pop-laden ballad, which is one of her more romantic moments. “The Girl You Think I Am” is an emotional tribute to her father, and “What I Never Knew I Always Needed” is absolutely a flawless piece of work, and with the heartfelt lyrics, you can tell how much she has grown as a songwriter. Even though Brett James and Hillary Lindsey are listed as co-writers, these words simply fit where Carrie Underwood is in her life now to a tee and she soaks up the scenery.
Quite possibly my favorite of the album is “Choctaw County Affair,” which conjures up a comparison to the great work of Bobbie Gentry’s Capitol years. It’s not as murky as “Ode To Billie Joe,” but this track, with it’s R&B lean, marks her most decided musical experiment yet. It’s a track embedded with mystery and she knocks it out of the ballpark with a little bit of help from the undeniable power of The McCrary Sisters.
If you’re a longtime Underwood fan, don’t be concerned that this album is too different from the artist you know and love. But, give her credit for rolling the dice on Storyteller – and coming up with a few musical wrinkles that you might not expect!