A quick glance at the song titles on 100 Proof and it’s apparent that Kellie Pickler is reaching back to her country roots on her first record since 2008’s self-titled release. 100 Proof, due in stores next week, is the 25-year old American Idol alum’s third studio album and first with producers Frank Liddell (Miranda Lambert) and Luke Wooten.
“Where’s Tammy Wynette,” “Unlock That Honky Tonk,” and “Stop Cheatin’ On Me” are an album-opening trifecta effectively serving notice that Kellie is dishing up a collection of songs with a traditional slant. Tell me how you fry a skillet of chicken in high heels and a skirt, she sings smartly with syrupy Southern twang on the shuffling “Where’s Tammy Wynette,” before launching into stories about protecting her man from that hussy over there and sitting alone at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine.
Kellie’s undeniable country voice is an easy match for such traditional ingredients, but her ability to develop melodies shows an ever-growing musical maturity. Kellie co-wrote six of the album’s eleven songs including the Dolly-esque “Rockaway (The Rockin’ Chair Song).” Descriptions such as, The night’s like an ocean off of our back porch/ We’re movin’ like waves swayin’ back and forth, flow easily to match the open country/rock groove. On “Long As I Never See You Again,” an acoustic number pulling on those honky tonk heartstrings, Kellie skillfully descends to aching depths through the line, It’s never easy when love comes to an end with a classic vocal touch that sounds like the soundtrack to a lonely barroom.
The album’s first single, “Tough,” is the record’s most aggressive song. Featuring locked-in acoustic rhythms and a snapping snare drum, Kellie holds the tension through the first verse before opening up in the chorus. There ain’t nothing wrong with a woman that has a little back bone, she sings self-assuredly while proclaiming the virtues of her rough edges. Though several songs on 100 Proof have an element of that attitude, it’s the loving title-track that leaves the strongest impression.
Beautiful, swirling harmonies are executed with precision to add dynamic layers at every level of the title-cut “100 Proof.” Whether it’s the opening guitar/bass instrumentation or the gorgeous vocal melodies, the exceptional interplay is compelling as the entire song moves together. We’ll dance all night on the edge of can’t get enough, Kellie sings in the chorus before adding, And we’ll wake up in the morning like we always do/ drunk on the beautiful truth, we got love, 100 proof.
100 Proof closes with the album’s bravest and most personal song. “The Letter (To Daddy)” is a tender message of unconditional love to her father, a recovering alcoholic. Supported by only a soft acoustic guitar, Kellie sings, You’ve finally gotten sober and found some peace of mind, after initially admitting her childhood was robbed by the bottle. It’s an intimate recording right down to the almost inaudible creaking of musician’s chairs toward the end of the song. It’s also a parting message that illustrates 100 Proof succeeds on the history of its traditional influences as well as Kellie’s own honesty and personal experience.
Key tracks – “100 Proof,” “Tough,” Rockaway (The Rockin’ Chair Song),” “The Letter (To Daddy)”