After introducing herself to the public on American Idol and then emerging victorious on Dancing with the Stars, it’s easy to think of Kellie Pickler’s recording career as secondary to her reality-television gig. The truth is that she possesses a sweet country-soprano voice in the same family as Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton — an album of Dolly covers seems all but inevitable, and could be a smash. What we have in the meantime is her fourth full-length, The Woman I Am, an album with many rewards of its own. The touchstones here seem more like vintage Dixie Chicks (witness the wedding-gone-wrong rocker “Ring For Sale”) and Miranda Lambert (“Selma Drye,” about a hazel-eyed great grandma with a .38 special and a snuff can in her apron). A hell-raiser, she wants us to believe, is the woman she is. “No Cure for Crazy” continues along these rebellious lines, with Pickler describing herself as “two queens short of a full deck,” but she’s more believable on earnest love songs. Best of all is the tender title track, which Pickler co-wrote with her husband, and which floats her voice above a lovely acoustic guitar. The record closes with “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” previously featured on a late-period Kenny Rogers album, and a power ballad worthy of any middle-American high-school prom. Like any singer worth her stripes, Pickler wants to prove that the artist — and the woman — she is can’t be reduced to a two-dimensional image. She’s a reality star, a singer, a lover and a fighter. Why should she, or anyone, have to choose?
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