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Carrie Underwood

Carnival Ride – 2007 (119 Recordings/Arista Records/Arista Nashville)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood's "Some Hearts" debut sold 6 million, yielded 5 smash singles and was the fastest-selling debut by any country artist ever. If that weren't enough, she even passed Kelly Clarkson to be the lead-selling engine on the American Idol gravy train. So, who in their right mind would tamper with the soup?

Underwood's handlers, not about to let their franchise suffer a sophomore jinx, have assembled an airtight collection of pure country-pop from elite songwriters with Underwood helping write 4 of the 13 songs. The biggest relief is it doesn't sound rushed to market. Playing on the golden girl's high register to the fullest, the melodies never ask more than she can handle. And the production from Mark Bright is all you'd expect for an Idol winner (first-rate and occasionally over-the-top).

First single "So Small" is actually one of the lesser lights on the record, and "All-American Girl" and, if there's any justice, "Get Out of This Town," are poised to be hits. A good helping of cheekiness makes its way into the mix, whether it's the bumper-sticker humor of "More Boys I Meet (the more I love my dog)," the hungover regret of "Last Name" or the I'm Just Like Y'all nod of "Crazy Dreams."

Some poignant moments sneak in, most movingly in the widowed soldier-bride-to-be tune, "Just a Dream." Underwood has a lot of heft in her voice, but it doesn't have the flexibility or emotive soul of the other leading ladies in country - at least not yet. This record will deservedly sell well and polish the Idol's shining star. But it's also a calculated effort, and there's more room to grow ahead for America's sweetheart.