Artist: Carrie Underwood

Album: Blown Away

Label: Arista

One glance at the cover of Carrie Underwood's new album Blown Away will tell just how high the former American Idol winner has climbed from her Oklahoma roots. Strikingly juxtaposed against a stormy background, Underwood looks like a Vogue cover model or a Greek goddess in a flowing grey gown slit to mid-thigh.

The content of Blown Away is similarly designed in a manner befitting Underwood's new persona as queen of country music: deliberately constructed for maximum impact on radio and retail. While this is typical for Nashville mega-stars, it proves to be a weakness of Blown Away, which seems a bit too much like it's taken from a country music how-to book somewhere. There's a song about cheating ("Two Black Cadillacs"), a song based on an alcohol metaphor ("Wine After Whiskey"), a song celebrating small town life ("Thank God for Hometowns") and a song about revenge ("Blown Away").

Despite this heavy thematic borrowing, Blown Away is anything but unappealing. Underwood's a massively talented vocalist, and the songs here showcase her gifts, whether she's sassing her way through the country rocker "Good Girl" or wringing every ounce of emotion from the tender "Forever Changed," a heartbreaking story-song looking back at the memories of an elderly mother facing dementia. The captivating mix of power and vulnerability that's earned Underwood so many fans is on full display.

It all feels a bit impersonal, though. There's not a lot of Carrie on Carrie's album. Even though Underwood co-wrote half of the album's 14 tracks, the songs that feel the most personal lyrically are confusingly the ones that don't have Underwood's songwriting credits on them. Also interesting to note is there isn't really a trace of spirituality on the album. Although much time is devoted to revenge or lost love, there's no mention of anything spiritual, especially on the album's final track "Who You Are," a Mutt Lange-penned ballad which features language that could be initially interpreted with a spiritual focus, but ultimately is just another you're-my-angel love song.

Blown Away is a country album with crossover appeal that will surely satisfy Underwood's legion of fans, but it doesn't do much to advance her artistic endeavors. A glance at another album releasing the same week - Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts -could provide an example of a heavily decorated artist stepping outside of genre comfort to stretch her boundaries. It's a shame that on Blown Away at least, Underwood didn't push herself more. The results could be truly mind-blowing. 

*This Review First Published 5/9/2012