Producers: Frank Liddell, Luke Wooten
Release Date: Jan. 24
This blonde and bubbly "American Idol" alum makes for an unlikely source of the kind of old-fashioned countrypolitan albums we used to get regularly from Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. (With their polished rock guitars and cutesy down-home wordplay, Pickler's first two studio releases suggested an unwavering commitment to the Carrie Underwood Way.) Yet an old-fashioned countrypolitan album-and a really good one, at that-is exactly what "100 Proof" is: Working with Miranda Lambert's longtime producer Frank Liddell, Pickler tones down her once-manic vocal approach in 11 handsome tunes long on fiddle, mandolin and sparkling steel guitar. Pickler even receives a writing credit on six of them, illustrating her mind-set on an album that opens by wondering where Wynette is "when you need her." Other highlights include the appealingly plain-spoken "Stop Cheatin' on Me," the mournful "Long As I Never See You Again" and "Turn On the Radio and Dance," in which Pickler upends the ditzy promise of that title with a vocal performance defined by restraint.