Album Review: Greatest Hits – Decade #1 by Carrie Underwood

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It has been over 10 years since Carrie Underwood won American Idol, and she’s celebrating her run with her first hits collection. As Underwood showed on Idol by singing Heart, Martina McBride, Pat Benatar, Air Supply, and the Dixie Chicks, she loves both country music and ’80s rock. That combination of styles shown up in her music, too.

This hits collection starts with two new songs, which wouldn’t be odd except from there on the songs are in order of their chronological release. If opening track “Something In The Water” was meant as a bookend to “Jesus, Take The Wheel” (as the writers have stated), you can’t tell it from the tracklisting. Still, the song has the power to lift the spirit of the listener, regardless of specific religious belief. It’s also a nice track that plays against the current trends of what is now the barely recognizable genre of country music. The other new song on this collection, “Little Toy Guns,” continues Underwood’s habit of speak on behalf of those in need. The song describes a situation where a child hears her parents fighting and wishes their words were as ineffective as a toy gun. The production sounds like a fusion of several past songs by Underwood, which is fitting for a hits collection.

It’s best to just look past the dull Idol theme “Inside Your Heaven.” For most ears, Underwood’s recording career started with “Jesus, Take The Wheel.” It’s a classic country song in its story telling, but mixes in adult contemporary production. That sort of combination shows up again in songs like “Blown Away.” “Jesus, Take The Wheel” was a huge success out of the gate and showed Underwood’s ability to appeal to an array of audiences. CMT ranked the song #4 on its list of the best country songs of the ’00s. Underwood would next hit with “Don’t Forget To Remember Me,” which isn’t as memorable as the title suggests. That song ended up being a holdover for her next single, the massive “Before He Cheats.” “Cheats” contains some of the most traditionally country production of Underwood’s career, and the song has a great melody. It’s a rowdy track, and Underwood lets loose vocally even if she can’t quite convince the listener she would smash in someone’s truck. “Wasted” is another fine example of country storytelling mixed with mainstream production, and despite being a #1 hit is sort of a hidden gem in Underwood’s catalog.

Underwood’s second album seemed to mirror her debut. Songs like “So Small” and “All-American Girl” are rote in their themes and production (though “All-American Girl” at least incorporates fiddle), but Underwood lifts the songs with vocal prowess and charm. “Last Name” is an obvious nod to “Before He Cheats” with its rock-infused country production; it’s also a stomper that plays better live (see her killer 2009 Grammys performance).

Next up in this set is the #1 hit “Just A Dream.” There is a fitting dream-like quality to the lyric, and Underwood delivers a fine vocal. The first disc ends with the duet version of her cover of the classic country song “I Told You So.” At this point, only 3 years into her career, Underwood had already been named one of Country Universe’s greatest women. She had won multiple CMAs and ACMs, and was perhaps over-rewarded as she hadn’t fully found her voice yet. Literally. The vocal influence of Martina McBride and others was a little obvious on Underwood’s first two albums. “I Told You So” it a fitting end to the first disc, though, as it highlights Underwood’s commitment to traditional country. Underwood never remixed her songs to achieve crossover success, she has been a loyal perform at the Grand Ole Opry, and her only real cover single to this point is of a very traditional country song. Carrie provides a melody for the verses on “I Told You So” and the sparse production allows her voice to shine through.

The second disc of this collection is the more interesting disc musically. “Cowboy Casanova” kicks it off with power chords and pounding rhythms; even if she isn’t fully convincing on songs like this and “Before He Cheats,” Underwood sounds like she enjoys the songs. “Temporary Home” has a stock country format in its structure, but the lyrics at least give attention to under served members of society. “Undo It” combined a rock rhythm with fiddle and highlights Underwood continually fusing genres, but she strains to be heard over the production (an unfortunate trend in modern country music). The lyrics are also written in service of the rhythm, and the single is perhaps the one that most reflects her love of ’80s rock. It’s no wonder Underwood has performed “Undo It” with Steven Tyler. “Mama’s Song” isn’t very exciting as a song, but it’s a great showcase for Underwood’s beautiful timbre.

The Brad Paisley duet “Remind Me” is classic country in its lyrical concept and features two strong vocal turns, but it also gets a bit overheated and not in a way that serves the song. The video is almost apocalyptic and lifts the song, calling to mind the “if you were the last person on earth” concept.

The end of the second disc is where things hit a peak. “Good Girl” has a genuine rock influence, with many interesting elements; some surprise guitar work, a strong melodic hook, a gritty vocal, and an a capella ending. “Blown Away” features a lyric about abuse and features what may be Underwood’s most daring vocal; she’s both gutsy and empathetic. The use of an orchestra helps build an impending sense of doom. “Two Black Cadillacs” is dark and leaves room for mystery, and it falls in line with the type of gothic ballads that used to be more prominent in country (see Porter Wagoner and Vicki Lawrence). The track makes a fine us of strings, and the insistent beat parallels the slow roll of funeral procession. “See You Again” returns Underwood to a more hopeful note, and her ’80s rock influence is apparent again in the chords and wordless vocal hook.

Unfortunately, despite Underwood reaching a career peak, by this time the Miranda Lambert/Blake Shelton juggernaut and voting bloc had taken over the country industry awards. The Grammys are the only major group still recognizing Underwood; she won Country Solo for her performance on “Blown Away.”

Despite being the first track on the collection, this all brings us to “Something in the Water” and back to the Christian theme of Underwood’s first country single. “Something in the Water” is a more personal narrative, though, and an affirmation of Underwood’s faith. Also included on this collection is Underwood’s now definitive reading of “How Great Thou Art.” Not only is her vocal on the song technical perfection, but the listener can feel how Underwood was taken over by the emotion of the song. It’s chill inducing, and it’s easy to see why the audience stood when there was still a minute left in the performance.

The direction Underwood took on her last studio album gives hope that she will be releasing another decade of hits in 2024.



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