“American Idol” has been going through growing pains lately. Ratings for the past season were down, they’re rearranging judges and, in the most obvious sign of viewer fatigue, albums from contestants are sinking like a stone.
The most obvious casualty is Season Nine winner Lee DeWyze, whose “Live It Up,” has sold less than 70,000 in its first three weeks and is falling fast. Does a similar fate await runner up Crystal Bowersox with her debut, “Farmer’s Daughter” out Dec. 14?
Hopefully not because it deserves better, although we say that we some reservations. There are some fine tracks on here-- just enough to make me wish that the album were stronger than it is because there is promise as Bowersox attempts to show us she is a singer/songwriter worth taking seriously. Bowersox has a lovely voice and can belt at times. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her idols Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge, but, unfortunately, she has none of their natural grit. There are also a number of misfires that prevent the album from being all it could be.
The album opens with “Whatever happened to good old rock and roll,” the first line of the catchy “Ridin’ With the Radio.” She goes on to sing “The shit that they play now, it just don’t feel like it should.” Suggestion No. 1: when you’re a new artist, it might be smart to not piss off the radio folks that you’re hoping will play your music right from the start. I’m sure the intent was to be all rebellious and declare her authenticity because she’s got a song (“Ooh, look how edgy Crystal is!”) and she’s going to just sing it, but the minute she appeared on “American Idol,” she showed a certain willingness to play the game.
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Another issue is sequencing. When the second song on the album is a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” that sends out a bit of distress signal that there wasn’t enough strong glue to hold the album together. On a debut, you pull out a cover like that for the last position on the album or a bonus track. I could be wrong, but there seems to be no connection between Bowersox and the song--she didn’t perform it on “AI.” It’s an odd choice for an album that is intensely self-reflective.
Indeed, “Farmer’s Daughter” is a treasure trove of confessions and personal moments: she even includes “Mason” here, a song she and her husband sang to each other at their October wedding. Bowersox wrote eight of the songs by herself and co-wrote two others. She has moments of strong songcraft, such as on the top-tapping delightful “Lonely,” a bouncy track that sounds straight off a Sugarland album. She also sings of the terrible abuse she suffered and this is where there seems to be the biggest disconnect. On the title track (and first single), she sings “When you broke bones, I told the school I fell down the stairs.” A recounting of such a horrible, intolerable childhood should evoke a much stronger, punch-in-the-gut response than it does, but because it’s delivered like every other line in the song, it doesn’t.
And that’s the ultimate problem with “Farmer’s Daughter.” To Bowersox and producer David Bendeth’s credit, this album sounds exactly like the album she wanted to make and yet, oddly, the emotional connection to the songs just isn’t there. I don’t think we’re going to have Bowersox coming back in six months saying she didn’t get her way on here (despite the presence of a Kara DioGuardi/Chad Kroeger song that doesn’t add anything to the album). The album is folkie in spots where it should be, bluesy when Bowersox clearly wants it to be, such as on “Speak Now” (not to be confused with Taylor Swift’s song and track of the same name), and pure pop when it should be. There’s nothing on here that doesn’t sound authentically hers, and yet none of it resonates the way it should. Here’s hoping she gets another chance because there’s talent her, but just like any farmer knows, every crop develops in its own time and maybe the songs here were harvested a bit too soon.
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