NowStreaming: Carrie Underwood / Elle King / Jeff Givens

Carrie Underwood / Storyteller
Recalling Carrie Underwood’s American Idol roots (she was the show’s 2005 season winner) seems almost beside the point, since she’s a seven-time Grammy Award-winner who has catapulted beyond any other contestant the show has seen in its 14 seasons. Underwood is a star in her own right – her four previous albums have all been certified platinum or multi-platinum – and the cowboy boots she wears on this album’s cover lets fans know she’s still true to her country roots … even if she’s definitely dipping into the pool of pop on many – but not all – of the 13 new songs on Storyteller.

The fury of her 10-year-old hit, “Before He Cheats,” sets the tone for the album, which kicks off with “Renegade Runaway” and “Dirty Laundry” before taking us to church (“Church Bells”) for an equally compelling woman-scorned anthem about a wife living in an abusive marriage.

Underwood plays/sings the woman done wrong so well, it’s nice to get to hear a song like “The Girl You Think I Am.” (This will be the father-daughter dance of choice for next spring’s wedding season, even if its lyrics lean to sentimental.) But the best song on this album is “Relapse,” a power ballad you might imagine fellow Idol winner Kelly Clarkson belting out. Underwood owns the sexy bad girl who “ain’t hurtin’ nobody but me” with her roll in the hay with a former lover, as she admits it’s “time that I’m wasting” and “a high that I’m chasing,” with the sultry conviction of a seductress not afraid to push beyond her comfort zone.

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By Michael Wood

Elle KingElle King / Love Stuff
Though Elle King released this album at the beginning of the year, it took some time to make it to our local airwaves. I am glad it finally did. This little femme packs a punch with her unique voice, and you’ll feel it later, when you find yourself still singing one of her catchy choruses. The most popular at the moment, “Ex’s and Oh’s,” is the kind of song that does just that … finds a wrinkle in your brain and settles there.

The daughter of a well-known comedic actor (look it up) and a model, she has both sultriness and sense of humor, which are apparent in her lyrics. Clearly a rebel at heart, her edge is undeniable. Her range is wide, and her style brings blues, rock and a little flair of country to the table. She is a refreshing pop of color in a sea of gray.

“Kokaine Karolina” is a song with some pretty high harmonies and an echoing sound that tells a common story in an innovative way. “Song of Sorrow” is my favorite, with a great flow, layers and nice change-ups. “Last Damn Night” is the song with the most rock feel and really gives some insight to Elle’s personality, or at least the one she wants you to see. “Make You Smile” seems to me like it will be the next hit. “See You Again” is a slower song that strips the tough-girl exterior to bring out the vulnerability that love exposes in us.

This album is solid. I absolutely fell in love with it. Her voice is unlike any other I have heard, which is a good thing. It would be a great stocking stuffer for the music-lover in your life.

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By Jennifer Russo

Jeff GivensJeff Givens / Midnight in Muscle Shoals
With his trusty cowboy hat and words of hard-earned wisdom, Jeff Givens is the epitome of a well-travelled journeyman. Songs of heartache, loss and the inevitable drink that follows are the specialty Givens and his band, The Mugshot Saints, serve up on Midnight in Muscle Shoals, and Givens seems to be well-versed in them all.

The tracks on Midnight in Muscle Shoals are laid out like a roadmap of Givens’s journeys, with his open-hearted honesty leading the way along the path he sets before for us. This isn’t your standard let’s-get-in-my-pickup-and-ride-in-the-mud silliness; this is something much more meaningful. As if lyrics like “A broken heart keeps on beating long enough to pay the price” in the opening “Never Gonna Get Over You” weren’t enough, it’s the subtle vulnerability in Givens’s otherwise strong voice that is reassurance his words aren’t contrived.

But Givens likes to have his fun, too. “Hard Livin’” is filled with mischief, and The Mugshot Saints – a steadfast and solid backing group for Givens – complement his musical sense well.

Midnight in Muscle Shoals is for the rebels, the outcasts and those who have been to the top of the mountain and back down to its bitter bottom. But most importantly, it’s for those who know they still have another round left in them.

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By Jason Savio