By: Kent McCarty
After winning American Idol’s fourth season in 2005, Oklahoma native Carrie Underwood released her debut single “Jesus, Take the Wheel” to country radio. The song shot up the charts, spent six weeks at number one, won countless awards, and the rest is history. Ten million albums and eleven consecutive number ones later, Underwood has successfully made a place for herself in the music world. The respect she’s earned over the past four years has allowed her to have a little bit more fun and take a few risks on her third studio album, Play On. The result is Underwood’s most diverse and innovative album yet, a winning combination that will surely allow her to continue her streak of number ones and add numerous awards to her already long resume.
The magic behind Play On is in the variety of material Underwood chose for the album. It’s nearly impossible to assign one genre to any of the songs on Play On, much less the entire CD. To achieve the diversity found on Play On, Underwood worked with writers from nearly every genre. “Cowboy Casanova,” the lead-off single, was written by Underwood and well-known rap and hip/hop writer Mike Elizondo. The hip/hop influence Elizondo brought to the table is evident in the fast-pace chorus and energetic verses. The result of this collaboration is arguably Underwood’s catchiest song to date.
Following “Cowboy Casanova” is the radio-ready Max Martin song “Quitter,” which shows a new side of Carrie with its Caribbean-like backing track and relaxed vocals. One of the major draws on Play On is the catchiness of nearly every song on the CD, and “Quitter” is no exception. “Quitter” is followed by the slow but sweet “Mama’s Song.” With lines like “Mama you’ve taught me to do the right things/But now it’s time to let your baby fly,” this track is sure to be a tear-jerker among mothers and daughters who will soon be leaving the nest.
No album is complete without the inspirational ballad, and Play On definitely delivers in that department. While “Change” recycles the old message that “the smallest things can make all the difference,” it does so without being overly preachy. Underwood delivers a haunting vocal on “Change,” allowing her powerful voice to belt in full force as the song builds up to the final lines. Perhaps the highlight of Play On, and possibly Underwood’s entire career, is another inspirational ballad by the name of “Temporary Home.” “Temporary Home” tells the story of three different individuals who are suffering in some way, yet realize that their present lives are only temporary, or just a stop on the way to something greater. If this one doesn’t move you in some way, you may want to check your pulse and make sure you’re still functioning.
For those who enjoy more pure country, Play On presents “Someday When I Stop Loving You” and Alan Jackson cover “Look at Me.” The first features one of Underwood’s most restrained vocal performances to-date and the second is a soaring ballad that will have traditional country music fans recollecting country songs of years gone by.
But don’t think Play On is an album full of only tear-jerkers and thought-provokers. For every reflective song on the album, there is at least one fun and upbeat track that’ll surely have you singing along. Besides “Cowboy Casanova,” Play On features the contagious “Undo It,” a song about a relationship that’s so bad you wish it never happened. “Undo It” draws influences from many genres, including country, pop, rock, and a little R&B. The insanely catchy chorus could take this song to great heights on radio, and possibly rival the success of her signature hit, “Before He Cheats.” The country/rock track “Songs Like This” is short and to the point, but it will surely be a crowd favorite at concerts with its high-energy delivery and fun nature. Though many songs on Play On borrow from pop and rock genres, no song comes as close to leaving country behind as “Unapologize,” co-written by Underwood. “Unapologize” shows that, while Underwood is a country artist at her core, she’s certainly capable of branching out into other genres successfully.
Also included in Play On is Carrie’s first on-ablum duet, “What Can I Say,” which features America’s Next Great Band winners, Sons of Sylvia, and shows off a new dimension of Underwood’s voice. Play On appropriately comes to a close with the title track, a nice mid-tempo song about never giving up. Underwood’s amazing range shines on this track, especially in the last minute, where she shows off those powerful glory notes she’s become known for since her time on Idol.
Play On is Underwood’s strongest body of work yet, and shows off new aspects of her personal life and voice like we’ve never seen before. Each track brings something unique to the album, giving the material diversity unmatched by anyone currently in country music and proves that Underwood truly is one of the most versatile artists in music history. As she continues to grow as an artist, her successes will surely ‘play on.’
5 out of 5 stars