Sometimes, Carrie Underwood just can't help herself.
The top-selling "American Idol" winner has always had a great voice, certainly one of the most potent in country music so far this century. And when she wraps that voice around a great song, as she often does on her fifth studio album "Storyteller" (Arista Nashville), she is basically unstoppable.
The gorgeous "Like I'll Never Love You Again," well-crafted by songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose, is set to be a country classic, one of those timeless ballads like Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man" or Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" that is both stunningly new and instantly familiar. On "What I Never Knew I Always Wanted," which Underwood co-wrote with Lindsey and Brett James, she crafts a pretty little thank-you to her hockey-player husband Mike Fisher and their infant son Isaiah for changing her life, singing, "I didn't know there was a hole, something missing in my soul, till you filled it up with your love."
However, as the title suggests, "Storyteller" is about Underwood telling tales. And she doesn't always pick believable ones.
Yes, her single "Smoke Break" works, as Underwood rocks out a bit while championing some of the ways the working class lets off a little steam. But man, "Renegade Runaway" is bad, as she talks of "a sure shot, knock the ash off a smoking cigarette." And, Jesus-take-the-wheel, "Mexico" is worse, as she worries, "If they get the cuffs on us, it's 25-to-life," before telling her partner in crime to "look for the golden sombrero."
Underwood likes to sing about women who seem like they're ready for their own episode of "Snapped," but her voice doesn't quite have enough edge or sass to make it believable.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it is a very sharp contrast to the things Underwood does so well on "Storyteller."
THE GRADE B+