Fresh off another multi-platinum-selling record, proven country luminary Carrie Underwood delivers her most artistically viable package in ‘Play On.’ Although it is not as commercially friendly as her two previous albums, ‘Play On’ serves as a crucial maturing point in Underwood’s career.Play On will be released on Tues., Nov. 3, and can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.
‘Play On’ is a more tried and true country offering than Underwood’s previous albums, and everything from the instrumentation to the lyrical material reflects this. Producer Mark Bright is responsible for a large portion of the album’s diversity, but Underwood’s unique touch plays an equal role.
Kicking the disc off with the up-tempo “Cowboy Casanova,” Underwood signals that she means business. The scorned woman-themed country rock track includes staccato phrases in the verses that show off her ability to tell a stylized story through her vocals. This is not the only track where she dabbles in this subject, however, as the Kara DioGuardi co-penned “Undo It” strikes a similar chord.
The majority of ‘Play On’ is more relaxed and “back roads country,” though, especially seen in tracks like “Someday When I Stop Loving You” and “Look At Me.” These songs are Opry-certified and definitely appeal to the country music fan of yesterday.
At the same time, there are plenty of cuts that appeal to Underwood’s younger fans like “This Time” and “Unapologize.” The former is a radio-friendly track features poppy instrumentation and a universal theme of an ode to youthfulness in its lyrics (“Life is short / love is sweet / ain’t no time like this time baby”). The latter is a mid-tempo boasting writing credits by Raine Maida and wife Chantal Kreviazuk that allows Underwood to explore a deep, tender area without coming off as another Louisville slugger-wielding maniac.
Some light-hearted fare includes the self-conscious “Quitter,” which Max Martin had a hand in writing, and “Songs Like This,” which delivers a short but salty message to guys that have made things difficult for Underwood in some way.
One of the most heartfelt tracks on the album is “Change,” which presents listeners with moral dilemmas and confronts people with the notion that anyone can make a difference in this world. The rousing bridge is one of the liveliest moments of the album and Underwood’s vocals are remarkably controlled. “Mama’s Song” is another touching lyrical offering even though the overall product is slightly boring.
But the most beautiful song on ‘Play On’ (and quite possibly Underwood’s career to date) comes eighth on the track list. “Temporary Home” is effective not only because of its simple production and tender vocals, but for its emotional lyrics as well (“This is my temporary home / it’s not where I belong / windows and rooms / that I’m passing through / this is just a stop / on the way to where I‘m going / I’m not afraid because I know / this is my temporary home”). This is the song that will win Underwood her most deserved Grammy.
On “What Can I Say,” Underwood gets a little help from Sons of Sylvia, resulting in an affectionate duet with perfectly complementary vocals. The song does a great job allowing Underwood to reach into her falsetto and display her stunning range.
To close out the album, Underwood selects its title track to tie all the diverse ends together. The message etched in the track’s lyrics is applicable to any situation in life (“Play on / when you’re losing the game / play on / cause you’re gonna make mistakes / it’s always worth a sacrifice / even when you think you’re wrong / so play on”).
Sometimes when an artist has a good thing going, it doesn’t hurt to stick on a path. Carrie Underwood demonstrates this admirably, and despite some minor imperfections, ‘Play On’ is a fusion of old time country with new styles to result in an eclectic collection for all ages.