Crystal Bowersox' post-American Idol debut "Farmer's Daughter" is available to listen in full here at the AOL listening party. Expectations were high because Crystal was such a force to be reckoned with on the TV talent show and anyone with ears realized she was immensely talented. Could her first record live up to the promise? It could and it did.
The album opens with the rousing country-pop, Ridin’ with the Radio. I was surprised because I never thought of Crystal as a country singer, but she does a great job. It’s bouncy, it’s fun, and, in appropriate Crystal fashion, it basically challenges you. Keep an open mind, she says, give this a fair listen. Okay, point taken.
For What it’s Worth was an unnecessary cover. It doesn’t improve on the original and it fails to use Crystal’s ample gifts well. Her vocals do nothing to elevate the song and it lost the urgency it had when it first was released. The music overpowers the song and demonstrates the "less is more" adage. But it is the one and only dark spot on this otherwise illuminating record.
Farmer’s Daughter is the title song. It’s her signature song, it’s her life story, it’s her connection to the audience. She’s in her element when she’s allowed to sing from her heart and not forced into a particular musical genre. This is a Crystal song, not folk, rock, country or anything else. She wears her heart on her sleeve and can be both tough and vulnerable at the same time.
Holy Toledo is the highlight of the record. Passionate, heartfelt and beautiful, it's hard to imagine that this song wasn't enough to get her a record contract and that she had to jump through the American Idol hoops to get noticed. Her voice goes from angelic to fervent, she shows range both vocally and emotionally that separates her from the pop chanteuse du jour. This is real and raw and if it were on an old LP, it would be worn down smooth in no time.
Lonely Won't Come Around is catchy, but a little too pop for me, somewhat aural cotton candy. But her vocals are strong and assured. I could have done without On the Run and Kiss Ya. There's nothing wrong with these songs, her voice is great, but the songs just are flimsy, unsubstantial and perhaps I expect more from Crystal. It may not be fair, but when you can write Holy Toledo, songs that could be on Sugarland's next CD pale by comparison.
About the time you hear Hold On you decide that democracy was a good idea. One man, one vote. Not one prepubescent teen, a gazillion votes. There is no reason that Crystal lost to Lee DeWyze if the criteria was talent. Her voice is strong, clear, vibrant, mutable. All of the accolades and attention that came her way early in the contest were actually well deserved. This song, and FWIW, were the only songs not penned by Crystal, but it fits neatly with the other songs and shows that Kara DioGuardi (the co-writer) can knock out a catchy ditty and that Crystal can take a pop song and transform it.
Speak Now is a great bluesy number where Crystal gets full use of her smoky vocals. It's also refreshing to hear a song go old school -- was that a real guitar solo? So retro. A song that takes it's time and creates atmosphere. In Mine All Mine Crystal goes into a falsetto that is really pretty and tender and helps make this a really beautiful love song.
Crystal's husband Brian Walker co-wrote the song Mason, named after her son. Their duet is sweet and a nice throwback to the singer-songwriters of the 1970s. Brian's vocals are not as solid as his better half, but if your heart is still pumping, you can't resist the lyrics and their meaning.
The ballad Arlene closes out the record. It's more the Crystal we expected, stripped down instrumentation, her voice conveying every range of emotion. I don't know if this or any of the other slower songs is what radio programmers will jump at, but anyone who appreciates good, honest, heartfelt music should revel in her efforts to bring back the folk troubadour as an important part of mainstream music.
Crystal Bowersox has put together a great debut showing range and talent that belie her second place finish. This is a winner of an album with at least three songs that should be remembered long after the TV show that launched her fades from memory.