A fan’s review of the new Underwood album

Published 9:45 am Friday, October 23, 2015

“Tonight I want to drive so far we’ll only find static on the radio,” I sang to my wife Sera on our way to Madison, Wisconsin for our babymoon. For those unaware, a babymoon is a last getaway before a newborn arrives. Ours was a very thrifty, one-night stay in the Wisconsin state capital and surrounding countryside. Though we weren’t able to find complete static on the radio, we didn’t spend too much time tuned-in to the local broadcast stations.

The lyric I was singing is from Carrie Underwood’s latest album, “Storyteller.” It’s in stores today and will certainly go on to win awards. I do have one confession to make to the loyal readers of this column: I’m an enormous fan of Carrie Underwood. Most people who know me in real life know how true this is, but I’ve kept it from you for two whole years of writing. I couldn’t hold it back any longer. There’s been plenty to write about from album releases to award show snubs and risk-taking performances, but I’ve held back knowing most people aren’t as big of fans as I am. I get it, we all have different musical tastes, but she’s the best and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

Today “Storyteller” hits shelves, and I’m going to write about it because I’m sure you’re tired of me rambling on and on about my upcoming baby girl for weeks on end. (By the way, all seems good in baby-world.) Full disclosure: I haven’t heard the complete album. Apparently she doesn’t send it to irrelevant newspaper columnists in small-town Minnesota to review. I have heard four tracks and brief clips from the entire record, so clearly I’m quite qualified and can provide a completely unbiased opinion.

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Underwood’s lead single is just one of three songs from female vocalists in the top 20 on the Billboard country charts, and it’s a remarkably different track than the bro-country that’s been taking a stronghold in country music lately. Perhaps pandering to the country music loyalist with lyrics about smoking and drinking, Underwood uses her “Smoke Break” as a metaphor for needing a brief escape during the day. It’s not one of the dozen party songs you’ll find on radio, but rather something with lyrical depth that gives credence to someone singing about needing a smoke break. She’s astutely taking something that could easily be pushed aside as a response to bro-country by evolving it into a song with a purpose. We all need “smoke breaks” every once in awhile. I think my mom taught me the best “smoke break” when she demonstrated how to do a line of chocolate chips. I’m sure you have your own vice that you turn to when you need a break. Maybe it’s listening to the new Carrie Underwood album.

Underwood has since released three additional tracks to give her fans an inside look at what the 13-track disc will entail. One of those songs, “Heartbeat,” contains the lyric I was singing to Sera on the car on our way to Madison. Not known to record love songs, Underwood made this one count. A casual fan like my wife was belting it out as we drove through bluff country surrounding the Mississippi, and I couldn’t help but think this song was for us.

Taking an entirely different turn, Underwood’s “Renegade Runaway” is far from what I hope any would say is a description of my marriage. The country-rock tune is everything you’d expect from Underwood’s in-your-face songs, and lyrically surpasses any of her similar tunes already released to radio. It’s currently the one I’m most looking forward to seeing her perform live. (Give me tickets, Carrie. I’ll write about the concert, too!)

The album closes out with perhaps Underwood’s most personal co-write: a song about her husband and young son. Sera and I first heard this track on the way back from our babymoon, and Sera is finally no longer crying every time she hears it. I didn’t think Underwood would release another track on the album that Sera would love as much as “Heartbeat,” but “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” might be taking the top spot for her. I’m personally holding out until I receive the Target exclusive version with a track I’m particularly curious about titled, “Little Girl Don’t Grow Up Too Fast.” I’ve already told Sera it’s about our little one, so hopefully I’m right. It’s the least Underwood could do after I gave this glowing recommendation for everyone to buy her new album, right?


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.