As expected, the cover of Carrie Underwood‘s ‘Blown Away’ album foreshadows the mood of the project’s 14 songs (eight co-written by Underwood). It stops short of tempestuous, but she spends more time looking back at the darkness than she does forward to sunny days.

That said, there will be few finer collections of songs on a country album this year. Between her work with a pen and the work of many other fine Nashville writers, Underwood is able to paint vivid emotional portraits with just a few vocal brush strokes. ‘Blown Away’ and ‘Two Black Cadillacs,’ for example, will get all praise, as they hypnotize you with eerie stories of betrayal, abuse and murder.

There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma / To wash the sins out of the house / There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma / To rip the nails out of the past,” Underwood sings on the title track.

‘Do You Think About Me’ and ‘Forever Changed’ are just as tight, but not as flashy. On the former, the singer gives her best vocal performance on the album. Of course, expecting that Underwood will be perfect vocally is a given, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned.

As an album, ‘Blown Away’ comes across as somewhat separated from what fans know of the reality of Underwood’s life. She hasn’t been shy in admitting that she loves adding theater to her music, but songs that find her pining for lost love or running from love completely are difficult to come to terms with. ‘Cupid’s Got a Shotgun’ might be the most fun track on the album, but it may not be the best match. Similarly, ‘Wine After Whiskey’ leaves more questions than answers, but the melancholy ballad does a better job of opening itself up for fans to attach their own stories to the lyrics. This isn’t as much a criticism as it is a warning to forget what you know about the country singer’s happy personal life when listening.

‘Who Are You’ and ‘See You Again’ are the low points of the record. For the most part, Underwood rides the line between pop and country like a professional — songs in the delicious middle might be the most country she’s ever recorded — but the drum track and backing vocals on the latter and Mutt Lange’s lyrics on the former make them difficult to finish. ‘Who Are You’ sounds like a song Shania Twain would have cut 10 years ago.

Time will tell how this album stacks up against Underwood’s previous three, but from a songwriting perspective, it’s her finest. Look for ‘Cadillacs’ and the heartbreaking ballad ‘Forever Changed’ to be future singles, in our opinion.

4 Stars

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