One week after “American Idol” season 10 winner Scotty McCreery dropped his debut, runner-up Lauren Alaina follows with her major label bow. Will “Wildflower” debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 like McCreery’s “Clear As Day?”
Chances are good it will not, not because it isn’t as good an effort — in fact, we think it’s much stronger than “Clear As Day, which we reviewed here—but because Oct. 11 is a bigger release day with new albums also coming from Evanescence, Martina McBride and Joe Jonas, among others.
But back to Alaina. Even though she’s only 16, her voice is self-assured and she is totally able to sell what she’s singing here. Though she doesn’t have the range and clarity of Carrie Underwood, she has a bit of her growl and sass (and she has a tune co-written here by the former “American Idol”: “18 Inches,” the kind of treacly story song that country fans love). Otherwise, Alaina sounds a lot like Lady Antebellum’s Hilary Scott, which makes us think the album could have benefitted from a duet or two to give her voice something to play off of.
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However, that’s a small quibble. Alaina collected songs from most of Nashville’s top writers (in addition to co-writing one tune) and, in a way that McCreery did not, she makes them her own. She adds her own voice to bring them to life in a way that most young women will relate to. She’s flirty and playful on the uptempo “Georgia Peaches,” she salutes her mama on first single “Like My Mother Does,” she lets the boys know she’s not like all the other girls on “I’m Not One of Them” (that song should be required listening for every teenage girl), and prepares to leave the nest on “Growing Her Wings.” There’s not a whiff of trying to copy other artists---she couldn’t sound more different than Taylor Swift. Alaina has a confidence in her own abilities that helps sell these songs and keeps them from sounding remotely generic.
To be sure, a few of the tunes are outside her scope: she’s still a little too young to carry off “The Middle,” a song about how it’s the dash in between your birth and death that really matters. She needs a little more life experience to tackle that one, but otherwise, producer Byron Gallimore (best known for his work with Tim McGraw) pushes her in all the right directions on this set, chock-ful of potential singles, that showcases a very promising young talent.