Album Review: Jana Kramer’s ‘thirty one’

Jana Kramer

There is something to be said about the placement of a song on a disc. Think back to Garth Brooks’ 1989 debut, and there was a song called “The Dance,” which went on to change a lot of lives – in particular Garth Brooks. At times, that final song on a record serves as an exclamation point of sorts – a reminder of what the album is about – and something that keeps you coming back for more.

Jana Kramer might very well be the latest artist to knock a final track out of the ballpark with “Last Song.” One of the knocks that critics might have had about Kramer in the past is that you just wondered if she was singing words – or really felt them. (I’m not necessarily saying that describes me. I felt “Why Ya Wanna” and thought “Love” was very underrated, but I just stated that for arguments sake.)

One listen to the gripping lyrics of “Last Song” and you will have no doubt that Kramer has lived every nuance of each lyric on the song. The song is about totally letting go, finally leaving the past behind her, and Kramer seems to find her voice as never before. The beauty of the track is that it’s far from perfect. Scott Hendricks – in all of his infinite wisdom as a producer – was wise to let her vulnerabilities show. There are points in the song where her voice cracks just a little, and they didn’t clean it up. But, that adds to the appeal of the song. It’s all about the emotion of the cut which sells it – just like great music is supposed to do.

At the same time, there are other cuts on thirty-one, most of which are very much in the uptempo vein. Some work better than others, but among those that really seem to gel are “Boomerang,” which sounds like it is definitely ready for radio. Then, there’s the rock girl swagger of “Don’t Touch My Radio,” which should make for a great video. “Bullet” also scores well, thanks to some high-flying harmonies from Steven Tyler.

But, it’s the ballads that really seem to soar here the most – ranging from the heartbreak of “Last Song” to the hopeful romantic feel of “Circles.” Kramer showed some substantial growth as a songwriter and an artist on thirty-one, and it will be interesting to see how that development continues. I think that if she follows her heart, as she does on “Last Song,” she’s going in the right direction!