Kellie Pickler came in sixth during her season of “American Idol,” but she’s eked out a more successful career than most of the show’s winners. In a crowded field of Nashville blondes, she’s the sweet, scatterbrained one, the one with the troubled back story and the limited range.
Pickler isn’t demonstrably sassy or rebellious, torchy or tough. As a substitute for a point of view, “100 Proof,” her third album and first in almost four years, uses Tammy Wynette as a kind of honky tonk spirit guide. On the opening track “Where’s Tammy Wynette,” Pickler wonders: “Tell me how you fry a skillet of chicken in high heels and a skirt / Where’s Tammy Wynette when you need her?” For, say, Miranda Lambert, these would not be pressing concerns, but for Pickler, caught between country music’s traditionalist Wynette wing and its insurgent Taylor Swift division, they’re reasonable questions.
She picks her way through these entirely decent, thoroughly unremarkable songs without laying a glove on most of them — their fault, not hers. She exorcises a bad childhood on twin ballads “Mother’s Day” and “The Letter (To Daddy),” exercises her newly powerhouse voice on “Unlock That Honky Tonk,” and demonstrates some newfound, moderately Wynette-like confidence on “Tough.” Or at least, she tries to: “There ain’t nothing wrong with a woman that got a little backbone,” Pickler reasons, and though women have been saying as much in country songs as long as there have been country songs, she still doesn’t sound entirely convinced.
“Turn on the Radio and Dance,”
“Where’s Tammy Wynette”