Gretchen Wilson's third album does a whole mess of window shopping before the cheesecake queen of New Nashville cuts the shit and makes it simple: She sings, "I'll show you what a mother I can be" with the rapier wit of a Jeff Foxworthy punch line.
With its straightforward gait, said tune (titled "If You Want a Mother") offers more than just lessons in trailer-park Oedipus complexes(1). Within the record's context, the singer seems to suddenly identify more with the outlaw stomp and rhinestone crooners of her mama's generation than the rocked-up soda fizz of her own(2). For much of the album, the SUV cowgirl from Illinois is "dang near" neo-traditionalist territory.
And there's plenty of Chevy-fixin' rock 'n' roll wearing a superficial Nashville dress too. "You Don't Have To Go Home" (3) might not be as catchy as her first big DUI anthem "All Jacked Up," but it still implies a dedication to Coyote Ugly barmaids(4). The ZZ Top chug "There's a Place in the Whiskey" supports the argument that all it takes these days to differentiate Nashville from Nickelback is to add a fiddle player to the smoothly distorted guitar. "Place in the Whiskey" is the pool-hustlin' kissin' cousin of Wilson's signature hit "Redneck Woman" and, even it's a soggy tater tot by comparison, it's a solid bet for a CMT hit.
So even if Wilson plays to the cheap seats with crappy rocker fare about whiskey, white trash and commercial goods(5), many tunes here from the opener "The Girl I Am" to the title track(6) find Wilson looking for country vocalist cred through a number of traditional ballads and gently trotting album tracks. It's too soon to say if this signals a New Nashville sea change, but Wilson is showing us that she's more than some trailer-court queen(7).
The problem with Gretchen-the-redneck-rocker maturing into Gretchen-the-country-crooner is a simple one: It takes pipes to pull off show-stopping choruses and, well, Gretchen can't really sing. On "The Girl I Am" a tune perfectly crafted for the showy fireworks of a stylist like Faith Hill or Carrie Underwood Wilson sounds like the well-meaning neighborhood karaoke star(8). When she opens "Pain Killer," a brilliantly written ballad about life's sundry vices, with the declaration that she's "been pouring whiskey on your memory,"(9) the classic cliché is hollow. Even "There Goes The Neighborhood" a hillbilly proud honky-tonk about moving to the burbs would've suited Wilson well on her debut, seems counterfeit next to so much cooing. At least when the "Redneck Woman" was hollering a big "Hell Yeah" it sounded honest.
1. Nudge, nudge. Get it? "If You Want a Mother?"
2. For further investigation, look into that posse of sunburned metrosexual lard-asses called Rascal Flats.
3. Followed neatly by, you guessed it, "...but you can't stay here." Zing!
4. Eight out of 10 of Coyote Ugly employees and their reality television aspirants find the straight-rock feel easier for bar-top dancing than the electric slide.
5. By the time we lost count, Ms. Wilson's songs shilled for Budweiser, Chevy, and Cadillac.
6. Before you lend her your strap-on, the song confesses, "I still got this little girl inside of me that likes to be treated like a queen."
7. In painted-on Wranglers, natch!
8. Granted, still an upgrade from neighborhood trollop.
9. The first step is admitting you have a problem.