Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crystal Bowersox's Debut CD "Farmer's Daughter" Reviewed! Great Christmas Gift!

America Idol's Crystal Bowersox's Debut Album: 4 out of 5 Stars!

Crystal Bowersox was never your typical American Idol contestant. As expected, her debut album Farmer's Daughter is not a typical post-American Idol release. With Bowersox shouldering a majority of the songwriting on the disc, it becomes a personal musical journey akin to her personal struggles in real life. With pop culture often being so shallow and surface, it's refreshing to see a new artist diving deep into themselves to produce material of substance. With this release Bowersox steps out of the shadows of busking and onto the biggest stage of her life so far, and does it with such grace and style you'd think she's been through all this public limelight before. As a seasoned performer in her own right, with years of practice behind her in the bars and streets of Ohio and Illinois, make no mistake that Crystal has been ready for this moment for some time, grooming her style and perfecting her artist within.

The opening tune "Riding With The Radio" is a Rockabilly flavored radio-friendly track that questions “Whatever happened to good old rock and roll ?” and in an almost defiant sentimental tone, Crystal hints that the song is a return to roots, rhythm and days long gone. With a lyrical nod to "Turn On Your Lovelight", it alludes to the 1960's era of music that has in so many ways transformed our musical culture forever. It's a song that Bowersox will get a ton of mileage from, and it's a great lead in to the only cover song on the disc, Buffalo Springfield's 1967 mega-hit, "For What It's Worth". In typical Bowersox fashion, the Stephen Stills classic gets Crystallized, and while the underlying structure remains,the subtlety is now replaced with urgency, perhaps a sign of the times we live in, and no doubt a deliberate move on behalf of Team Bowersox.

The tone of the disc changes rapidly on the title track "Farmer's Daughter," and Crystal bares her soul for the world in a daring move. It's a song that will transcend itself and hit home for many, hopefully healing wounds in the process. By shedding the title of "Farmer's Daughter," Crystal declares her independence and her transformation to a new life. Perhaps the most disturbing lyrics of the track, "When you broke my bones I told the school I fell down the stairs," are about an ugly subject not many artists talk about in a public forum, and I commend Crystal for the courage it takes to have this conversation. It's a standout song that will hopefully not become the entire focus of the release, because Bowersox is about more than this singular track.

"Holy Toledo" continues the journey and autobiographical nature of the disc as Crystal wonders
out loud "How do I get to heaven from here ?" while she leaves her home in hopes of discovering herself as she discovers the rest of the world beyond her hometown. After a song like "Farmer's Daughter" it's really no wonder Crystal left in search of a brighter future, and little can be said other than it was the right choice considering the last year of her life.

"Lonely Won't Come Around" pulls the mood in a different direction, and the upbeat song serves as a turning point to the flow of the disc. It's a pop-laden track full of spunk and heavy rhythm. As it's co-written with David Ryan Harris and Alexandra Tamposi, it's also the least typical Bowersox flavored song on the disc. The song can be seen as a pivotal juncture in many ways, perhaps most obvious the period of time where Crystal emerged on the national scene through her American Idol audition. American Idol changed Crystal's life forever, and it was the turning point for her finding the true happiness she's always been seeking. It's a track that offers a much needed moment of lightheartedness on the disc, and it's placement between "Holy Toledo" and "Hold On" makes perfect sense. The chorus is catchy and Crystal's voice shines through, but it's a stretch to say that this is a song Crystal would have produced on her own.

The Kara DioGuardi and Chad Kroeger penned "Hold On" is a finely tuned and crafted vehicle for Bowersox to showcase her powerful vocals, but as an outsider's attempt to mesh into Crystal's style, it still ends up feeling like a cover song at times. Crystal's vocals are big enough to keep the listener's interest on this track, but the lyrics feel cold in comparison to a track like "Farmer's Daughter", and one is left hoping for more substance. Moving quickly to the second half of the musical journey, Bowersox seems to jump back on the tracks, having been only temporarily derailed by her American Idol contractual obligations. Crystal clearly takes control back as engineer of the train, and the disc is better for it.

Starting off the virtual side two of the effort, "On The Run" is a bluesy and passion filled burst of energy. It paints a picture of a younger Bowersox full of life and attitude, carving her way through the world on her own terms and her own rules. It's a declaration of her free spirit and intentions to find out what life has in store for her. The groove is catchy and once again it's a great opportunity for Crystal to stretch her powerful and nuanced vocals.

Turning the vibe to a funkier tone, "Kiss Ya" is an unabashed message to a lover. While it's not the strongest lyrical offering Crystal has to make on the disc, you can't discount the conviction she offers on the song, noting that "I don't give a shit who's around," when said kissing takes place. This is a song that will most likely resonate more with her female audience, but that is the clever part of "Farmer's Daughter" as a whole, it really does offer a bit of everything for a wide range of old and new fans alike.

Slowing down the pace for a moment is the ballad "Speak Now", which is a bit of a tearjerker. The underlying story is about Crystal and Brian Walker, and a break-up they went through years ago. Of course the story ended up with a fairy tale ending as they were recently married, but Crystal paints the picture of her retreat back to Ohio as a bleak moment in time, with a touch of promise and regret thrown in for good measure. It's a bluesy number that offers a soulful guitar solo and equally impressive vocals. It's a stand out song on the disc and a testament to hope in the darkest hour.

"Mine All Mine" is a strong contender for country radio airplay, and the inclusion of pedal steel guitar solidifies the country love song sound reminiscent of the jukebox-era country I grew up on in the 1970's. It's once again a song that showcases Crystal's feminine side and plays into the romantic musings of her female fans. The lyrics are appropriately girly and echo the thoughts that every woman wonders from time to time, "Are you mine, all mine ?", and in a nod to Johnny Cash, Crystal declares that she'd "Walk the line." It's perhaps a risky song in some ways because it doesn't play as much to her entire fan base, but great artists take risks from time to time, and play their cards as they see fit. This song has a built-in audience that will adore it, and it's wonderfully crafted.

The highlight of Crystal's debut CD is "Mason", a song co-written by husband Brian Walker. It's an excellent example of the sort of music that I hope Crystal explores in the future. It's a heartwarming tune that has as many metaphors as you can fit into a 3 minute and 19 second song. While in the midst of clawing her way to the American Idol finale this song was busy gathering over a hundred thousand hits on Youtube as her budding fan base desperately sought to hear more than the cover songs Crystal was allowed to perform. The tune features pitch perfect harmonies between Bowersox and Walker, and a dream-like tone supporting the melody. It's a song that plays into all of Crystal's strengths as an artist and I hope that Team Bowersox contemplates releasing this as one of the remaining singles from the album.

With the closing track "Arlene" Bowersox offers as her curtain call a song that paints the story of a truck driving woman named Arlene who has an independent do-it-yourself view of life. The track features bassist Frankie May and harmonica player Ryan Suzuka, and feels like a cozy campfire song - a scene I can almost picture in my head. The slow and deceptively simple song is a perfect cap on a solid debut CD that plays to the core audience that propelled Bowersox to the final of American Idol without pandering to the lowest common denominator. It's a sly and sophisticated song that leaves the listener on a high note and pondering what's next for Crystal Bowersox. I would rate the album as a whole 4 out of 5 stars. There's no doubt as Crystal ventures out further on her own and distances herself from American Idol that she'll go far.

©2010 John Schulze

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3 comments:

  1. Crystal Bowersox is the hottest chick in the universe!

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  2. Very much like the album and this review is quite well written. I agree with most all of it. Would like to see Crystal blog and write here online, in her apare time of course, (facetious). Imagine she would be lively to engage with and thought her blog would have personal entries...ah know..she's busy. Wish her well and kudos on a great first CD...

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  3. Hi, cool post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will probably be subscribing to your blog. Keep up great writing!!!

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