Crystal Bowersox's Farmer's Daughter debut bows on the Billboard 200 at No. 28 with sales of 58,000. Hardly a figure to get excited about but handily better than Lee DeWyze's Live It Up managed a couple months ago when he debuted at No. 19 with a paltry 39,000 and rapidly tumbled out of the top 100. (The higher chart position is due to the fact albums sell in greater quantities in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Even with more people in the stores, Lee's lackluster offering is the worst showing yet for a winner and its failure is hardly surprising. Did anyone really think this guy could make it?)
Crystal topping Lee reprises the scenario when runnerup Clay Aiken topped the man who beat him, Ruben Studdard, in season two. Last year Adam Lambert far outscored Kris Allen, who, like Lee, is a bland guy Idol voters seem to prefer over edgier contestants until it comes time to drop a dime at the cash register.
As for Crystal's album, I'd give it a C+, maybe B- if in a charitable holiday mood. Unlike many Idol debuts, her music feels a bit less compromised than most. She wrote 8 of the 12 songs by herself, without help from a committee. But Farmer's Daughter still doesn't fulfill the promise she occassionally showed when singing covers on the show.
The problem is that Crystal plays it safe on the CD and aims straight at mainstream country radio where the more homogenized you are, the better.
The first half of the album, culminating in the generic Hold On, a song the label reportedly wanted as the first single until Crystal pushed the personalized title track, is relentlessly ordinary. Nothing really stands out as the work of an artist with something fresh to offer. Hold On, not surprisingly, is the work of Kara DioGuardi and Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, songwriting hacks for hire. The title track, about Crystal's struggles with her mother, could be powerful but it's impact is muted by the country radio-ready production.
Farmer's Daughter picks up in its latter half, starting with the friskier On the Run, Kiss Ya and Speak Now, three tracks that, while not terribly memorable, at least kick up a bit of fuss and aggression in both vocal and instrumental treatment. The two closing tracks, Mason (a cowrite with her husband) and Arlene, are the simplest on the album in terms of instrumentation and, as a result, are the most effective. On these two you hear the kind of artist Crystal strives to be and it's promising. Her singing is fine, too.
Beating Lee post-Idol was no feat. He's the least interesting Idol yet from a season that was a total wash. Carving an identity like the greats Crystal has clearly listened to, well, that will be more difficult.
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