Southern Belle-issimo

Matt Busekroos

Country sweetheart Carrie Underwood has released her third album “Play On” to the enchantment of her wide-reaching fan base this week.

Underwood’s previous two albums “Some Hearts” and “Carnival Ride” have sold close to 10 million copies in the United States alone within the past four years. “Play On” should test Underwood’s durability in country music and her standing in the music industry itself. Underwood transitioned between “Some Hearts” and “Carnival Ride” with the success of hit song “Before He Cheats” still shaking up the pop charts. Meanwhile, Underwood’s last single from “Carnival Ride,” “I Told You So,” was a success on country radio, but did not exactly burn up the pop charts. Watching Underwood’s performance should be a sight, especially to see how she stacks up against Taylor Swift, who has had massive success on country and pop charts with her second album “Fearless.”

Lead single “Cowboy Cassanova” has shot straight to the top of the country chart. “Cowboy Cassanova” is a refreshing change of pace for Underwood. Underwood’s previous two lead-off singles were ballads: “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “So Small.” “Cowboy Cassanova” is the best song Shania Twain never recorded. The production is slick and full of personality, which is a quality that Underwood must continue to prove that she possesses. Some of Underwood’s detractors claim that she fails to take risks and believe she continues to make the same album over and over (though this album does not help her cause).

Underwood co-wrote “Cowboy Cassanova” with Brett James and Mike Elizondo (best known for collaborations with Dr. Dre and Eminem). The single is blaring sassy twang at its best and Underwood’s most fun single since “Before He Cheats” in 2006.

The rest of “Play On” plays like a standard Carrie Underwood album. The songs are safe, but Underwood’s booming and assured vocals make even the weaker songs sound decent. “Mama’s Song” is reminiscent of “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” from Underwood’s debut album. The song takes on religious undertones and Underwood’s sweet vocals carry the song. The big, inspirational ballad “Change” will surely be performed on “Idol Gives Back” (the program produced by “American Idol” to raise money for those in need) next year. Underwood sounds passionate and committed despite the overly saccharine lyrics.

Similar to “Cowboy Cassanova,” “Undo It” is a bluesy tune that is brief, but insanely catchy. “Temporary Home” may be the strongest song on the album written by Underwood, Luke Laird and Zac Maloy. Like the great country songs, there is a story behind the tune and Underwood sounds beautiful with her crystal clear voice prominently displayed.

Underwood duets with Sons of Sylvia on the song, “What Can I Say.” The track is fairly different for Underwood, in that it is not the typical country song; Underwood sounds a bit more pop. Sons of Sylvia are an appealing accompaniment, which shows that Underwood is willing to take risks and work with artists not as well-known. The song is a pleasant change of pace for the country superstar.

While “Play On” may not be Underwood’s greatest effort (her debut is still tops), the album is still a worthwhile listen and worth the price just to to listen to one of music’s greatest contemporary voices.