Saturday, April 09, 2011

Crystal Vision


Pia Toscano's rejection from American Idol this week pretty much sank any hope of a female contestant making it to the finals this year. With that in mind, thought I would take the time to review the album from the last girl to make it to the big show: Crystal Bowersox Farmer's Daughter.

On the show, Bowersox came across as a folky combo of Bonnie Raitt / Melissa Etheridge style classic rock and street corner busker. She seemed a bit ragged, a bit dirty not in a nasty way but in an "I've been places and seen some stuff" way. Not squeeky clean like how many American Idol contestants come across on the show, ready to flash their ultra whites preening through yet another take on "Against All Odds". Maybe it was the dreadlocks?

True to recent American Idol history, a finale came about squaring off the most artistically talented contestant versus a fairly talented but pleasant guy that tweens can latch on to. In this case Bowersox versus the everyman Lee DeWyze. And despite totally mopping up the floor with DeWyze in the finale performance showdown peaking with an emotional read of "Up To The Mountain", Bowersox lost. But as they like to say on the internet, maybe it's for the best so that the 2nd place person doesn't have all those restrictive handlers when making their record-sorry, album...I mean download.

So how does Crystal Bowersox fare? She fares OK. Bowersox does get to do a fair chunk of her own writing (with the exception of the pandering Nickelback/Kara Dioguardi composition "Hold On") and sings with conviction. Much of the likeable rough edges of her music has been sanded off to a commercial sheen and with it her true grit. A great example is "Holy Toledo" which when excerpted as an acoustic guitar song on American Idol came across as Dylanish hearing it getting transformed into a Myley Cyrus "The Climb" soundalike is a mild disappointment.

The first half of the album sounds like it's more programmed for mass acceptance as "Toledo", "Hold On", the lead single "Farmer's Daughter" and the made for some future chick flick soundtrack theme song"Ridin With The Radio". Plus a pleasant cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" for those who hadn't heard her do enough cover songs on AI. At least the whistle happy "Lonely Won't Come Around" retains some of her simple direct charm.

The second half shows more of Bowersox's Raitt / Etheridge influence to better effect. She sounds more at home pulling out the blues mama stops backed by an Allman Brothers style groove, blasts of cool organ and piercing guitar breaks. The songs I like the most on the disc, the punchy "Kiss Ya" and the blues rock ballad "Speak Now" show up here.

Farmer's Daughter is, hopefully, as commercial as Bowersox gets. And as it is it ain't bad. But I get the feeling there's more talent there waiting to be exposed. She has shown a willingness to explore personal issues (like parental abandonment in the title song) and political as well (albeit VERY mildly in the form of the Buffalo Springfield cover). With a little less calculation and a little more of the heart-on-her-sleeve straight shooting she did on the show, her music could get interesting.

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