Keith Urban has always kept his focus on Nashville-styled country.
That's no small feat, considering he's Australian and married to leading lady Nicole Kidman, even as he courts a slice of Hollywood stardom for himself as a judge on "American Idol." He stays true to the Nashville-first strategy for his seventh album, "Fuse" (Capitol Nashville), though his broad definition of country may initially take some traditionalists by surprise.
After all, Urban approached the making of "Fuse" more like a pop diva than a Nashville singer-songwriter, teaming up with eight producers, ranging from longtime country pal Dann Huff to Eminem collaborator Mike Elizondo and Rihanna producer Stargate. However, the varying approaches didn't shake the Urban center.
As pristine as the modern-rock production of Fall Out Boy collaborator Butch Walker sounds on "Even the Stars Fall 4 U," the lyrical heart of the song is as country as it gets. He applies the stuttering guitar effect from Madonna's "Don't Tell Me" to his current country No. 1 "Little Bit of Everything," swapping out the guitar for a ukulele to create a sound that's unique, but not so different that it's alienating.
On "We Were Us," Urban and Miranda Lambert deliver a classic country duet, but surround the intimate song with the sonics of a massive stadium rock anthem, while "Raise 'Em Up," with Eric Church, takes on bits of Dave Matthews Band jamming.
"Fuse" is filled with plenty of pleasant surprises. The biggest one, though, is how high Urban raised his ambitions and then delivered impressively on them.
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BOTTOM LINE Stretching his boundaries and the definition of country.