Kellie Pickler has always had the sassy country part down.
From her early days as a ditzy, but fun "American Idol" contestant to her recent "100 Proof" album, Pickler had a strong sense of where she fit in the world of country -- following in the footsteps of Reba and Dolly Parton.
But then she arrived on "Dancing With the Stars" and won the show, as well as America's hearts, with her graceful dance moves and pretty, more grown-up performances. That newfound comfort with beauty finds its way into "The Woman I Am" (Black River Entertainment).
On the title track, which she co-wrote with husband Kyle Jacobs, Pickler approaches the autobiographical song with a new focus on sweet notes and elegant phrasing that shine in the spare arrangement, even as she declares "I get loud with a beer in my hand ... Sometimes I cuss too much because I don't give a damn." She channels Patty Griffin, in tone and delivery, on the poignant single "Someone Somewhere Tonight" and the lovely, empathetic "Tough All Over."
Pickler's growth is impressive, but she is still at her most charming when she lets that sassiness out. She rocks on "Bonnie and Clyde." On "Ring for Sale," one of the year's best country kiss-offs, she details her revenge against a cheating fiance -- selling off the engagement ring and "Act right now, 'fore he finds out and I'll throw in the dress for free."
With "The Woman I Am," Pickler shows how the next phase of her career may be bigger than she ever dreamed.
"The Woman I Am"
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Country charmer gets in touch with her pretty side.