Carrie Underwood’s career is the stuff of dreams. Possessed of that rarest of combination–undeniable talent, an extraordinary work ethic, and girl-next-door likeability–she blossomed as a national phenomenon before tens of millions of viewers by winning American Idol, captivated by both her vocal talent and personality. The artistic growth that has accompanied her subsequent rise into the upper reaches of the entertainment world has placed her among the foremost artists of her generation.
Her love for music is evident throughout her third album, “Play On,” as is her arrival as a mature artist, confident, fully in command of her extraordinary vocal skills, and tackling a wider artistic range both lyrically and musically. Equally important, in co-writing seven of the CD’s thirteen songs, she emerges as a songwriter of real depth, opening a wider window into her creativity and allowing her fans their most intimate look at Carrie the artist and person.
“Play On” brings her songwriting work to fruition. The public’s first glimpse came with Play On’s first single, “Cowboy Casanova,” which Carrie co-wrote with Mike Elizondo and Brett James. The song, with its high-energy look at “a snake with blue eyes” roared into the Top 10 in just four weeks.
Much of the album is in fact concerned with the ups and downs of love, the good and bad among the world’s men. Songs range from “This Time” and “Mama’s Song,” two takes on the best that love has to offer, to “Undo It” and “Songs Like This,” which lay it on the line for the men in relationships gone wrong, and from “Look At Me,” which features vocal help from Vince Gill and deals with the pure exhilaration of falling in love, to “What Can I Say,” a song of regret featuring Sons of Sylvia. One of the true vocal highlights is “Someday When I Stop Loving You,” an exquisitely sung exploration of sadness in the wake of a failed relationship.
But there is much more to be found on Play On. The title cut is an exhortation to persistence in the midst of obstacles, sung with the fire that has marked so much of Carrie’s work. “Temporary Home,” penned by Carrie with Zac Maloy and Luke Laird, is one of the strongest representations of hope ever committed to CD, as Carrie tells the story of a boy in foster care, a young mother in crisis, and a man facing his own mortality.
Given Carrie’s emergence as a force for social good in terms of charitable work and humanitarian causes, “Change” is in a very real sense the album’s cornerstone.
For all the variety in its subject matter, for all the musical avenues it explores, “Play On” is an album that will resonate for its energy, its celebration of life, and its reflection of Carrie as an artist hitting stride.