100 Proof by Kellie Pickler

Because of her sunny personality and the infectious humor she so often displays, it’s easy to forget that some of Kellie Pickler’s most memorable musical performances have actually been weepers like “I Wonder.”

On her third release, it’s clear that the American Idol alum has matured, now thoroughly in command of adult lyrics such as I’m torn between killing him and loving him on “Where’s Tammy Wynette,” a tribute ballad to another steel magnolia. In “Mother’s Day,” penned with husband Kyle Jacobs, Kellie shares the pain stemming from a strained relationship with her mother and her hopes for a healthy mother-daughter relationship of her own someday. Still, there’s plenty of room on these 11 tracks for Kellie’s steely determination to shine, as is the case on “Tough” and “Unlock That Honky Tonk.”

Kellie may not possess the octave-jumping range of Carrie Underwood or Martina McBride, but much like Tammy and Loretta Lynn, the tear in Kellie’s voice is hard to deny. The return of mournful steel guitar, crying fiddles and a voice that’s country to the core is a refreshing change from the recent stream of rock-infused country. 

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