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Carrie Underwood

Play On – 2009 (Arista)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Carrie Underwood

Through three releases, the one constant about Carrie Underwood is her big voice. It's an instrument in and of itself no matter whether going for somewhat of a country sound, a pure pop bent or a tougher, rocking edge. She can add the right touch to sad songs such as Temporary Home in part about a young boy who has to shuffle from home to home or the tough sounding Quitter.

Underwood would not be accused of being heavy-duty country. She actually displayed more signs of that on her last CD, "Carnival Ride," than her debut, but here she seems more content to mine pop country with the emphasis on the former. There are country sounds to be sure - fiddle and mandolin are part of the sonic soundscape (Quitter and the soft, pretty Look At Me with nice backing vocals from Vince Gill), but the tendency is towards big sounding sweeps of guitar (the catchy hit single Cowboy Casanova). On Undo It, Underwood treads into the forceful pop of Kelly Clarkson.

Underwood deserves credit for continuing to develop her songwriting skills, playing the various sides of relationships ranging from the opening playboy of Cowboy Casanova to the keeper of a guy in the softer Mama's Song, written by Underwood, Marti Fredericksen and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi. Underwood also picks good songs that suit her well, including getting topical on the string-laden Change where "the smallest thing can make all the difference." Underwood sings with force that comes off more as a plea to do the right thing than overemoting. Despite some negativity about relationships, Underwood tends to accentuate the positive as indicated by the closing title track.

This may not be a major leap forward for Underwood - her vocal skills remain unquestioned even if her country credentials could be. Despite that, the strength of the material demonstrates Underwood's staying power - for country pop.