The songs on Kellie Pickler’s new album, 100 Proof, constitute a declaration of independence from her origins—a reality television singing competition on which she appeared in 2006. With three albums of solid country pop out now, it’s time to replace “American Idol alum” with “country music superstar” when introducing the burgeoning bombshell from North Carolina.

It doesn’t matter that the songs on 100 Proof are indistinguishable from one another or from most songs on the country charts. Pickler’s songs are more in the vein of Shania Twain than Tammy Wynette, but her material is not so pop that the songs become crossover hits. Pickler has done better than her Idol predecessor Carrie Underwood at staying true to her genre.

On 100 Proof Pickler sings with an authentic twang, as if moonshine runs through her family bloodline. And on the opening track, she is smart enough to invoke the muse of country roots. “Where’s Tammy Wynette” follows a woman struggling to stand by a man “torn between neon lights and home.” The song is a nice homage to a bygone era before country became pop, a yearning for what must seem a simpler time.

Other songs on the album follow the theme of struggle. “Mother’s Day” is sung from the perspective of a woman who can’t get over her wish for what her mother would have been. “The Letter (To Daddy)” mentions a childhood taken away by an alcoholic father. There is also comic struggle, one rich with the type of southern character that borders on redneck stereotype. In Pickler’s hands though, “Unlock That Honky Tonk” comes across more like a Flannery O’Connor story than a Toby Keith song. Her character sends someone to wake the owner of a bar, despite the fact it is Tuesday and the bar is closed. She just can’t wait, and she threatens to go over herself and cuss him out if he won’t “turn them neons on.”


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The title track, which comes at the end of the album, takes the opposite approach to struggle. Pickler doesn’t have difficulty standing by her man. After a night out with another couple who seem to be rather volatile, Pickler sings to her man, “We’ll wake up in the morning like we always do, drunk on the beautiful truth, we got a love that’s 100 proof.”

100 Proof is solid, and Pickler’s voice carries the album. These days, anyone making authentic country music probably isn’t classified as country music. So an album from a singer in the thick of country pop, one that has enjoyable tunes and is not a caricature of the south or country music, is a pleasure indeed.

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