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Country - Released November 14, 2005 | Arista

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Given the tightly controlled nature of American Idol, it's a wonder that the televised talent contest has never produced a winner who specialized in country music, since there's no segment of modern popular music that is controlled tighter than contemporary country. Maybe this thought was in the minds of Simon Fuller and the rest of AmIdol's 19 management when they went into their fourth season in 2005, since as soon as fresh-faced Oklahoma blonde Carrie Underwood showed up in the audition rounds, the judges -- alright, specifically Simon Cowell -- pigeonholed her as a country singer, even if there was nothing specifically country about her sweet, friendly voice. From that point on, she was not only the frontrunner, but anointed as the show's first country winner, which apparently proved more enticing to the voters and the producers than the prospect of the show's first rock & roll winner in the guise of the Southern-fried hippie throwback Bo Bice. Which makes sense: cute, guileless young girls have a broader appeal than hairy 30-somethings. They're easier to sell and mold too, and Underwood proved particularly ideal in this regard since she was a blank slate, possessing a very good voice and an unthreatening prettiness that would be equally marketable and likeable in either country or pop. So, the powers that be decided that Underwood would be a contemporary country singer in the vein of Faith Hill -- she'd sing anthemic country pop, ideal for either country or adult contemporary radio, with none of the delightful tackiness of Shania Twain -- and her debut album, Some Hearts, not only hits this mark exactly, it's better than either album Hill has released since Breathe in 1999. Which isn't to say that Carrie Underwood is as compelling or as distinctive as a personality or vocalist as Faith Hill: Underwood is still developing her own style and, for as good a singer as she is, she doesn't have much of a persona beyond that of the girl next door made good. But that's enough to make Some Hearts work, since she's surrounded by professionals, headed by producers Mark Bright and Dann Huff, who know how to exploit that persona effectively. While some of the songs drift a little bit toward the generic, especially in regard to the adult contemporary ballads, most of the material is slick, sturdy, and memorable, delivered with conviction by Underwood. She sounds equally convincing on such sentimental fare as "Jesus, Take the Wheel" as on the soaring pop "Some Hearts," and even if she doesn't exactly sound tough on the strutting "Before He Cheats," she does growl with a fair amount of passion. In fact, the worst thing here is her chart-topping post-American Idol hit "Inside Your Heaven," which is as formulaic as the mainstream country-pop that comprises the rest of Some Hearts, but with one crucial difference: the formula doesn't work, the song is too sappy and transparent, the arrangement too cold. On the rest of Some Hearts, everything clicks -- the production is warm, the tunes inoffensive but ingratiating, it straddles the country and pop worlds with ease, and most importantly, it's every bit as likeable as Carrie was on American Idol. Which means that even if she's not nearly as sassy or charismatic as Kelly Clarkson -- she's not as spunky as Nashville Star finalist Miranda Lambert, for that matter -- Carrie Underwood has delivered the best post-AmIdol record since Clarkson's debut. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released September 14, 2018 | Capitol Nashville

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Ever since she walked away with the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, Carrie Underwood's strength has been her steeliness. Even at her tenderest moments, there was a sense of remove, as if Underwood were reluctant to let her guard slip, which is what makes the emotional frankness of 2018's Cry Pretty startling. Underwood is self-aware enough to address this shift at the very beginning of the record, which opens with a title track containing the confession that she's "not usually the kind to show my heart to the world," and then she proceeds to spend the next 50 minutes allowing herself to open up to emotions she has usually kept in reserve. "Cry Pretty" is the rallying call for the album, a cry of confidence that can be heard not just in the lyrics but also within the album's musical ambition. Without abandoning the sweeping, cinematic diva-pop that's her signature, Underwood buttresses her country roots while fearlessly threading hip-hop and R&B within her music, going as far as to invite Ludacris in for a verse on the triumphant closer, "The Champion." Perhaps this fist-pumping affirmation isn't as successful as the smooth R&B rhythms holding "Backsliding" together or the rapid rhyming on "That Song That We Used to Make Love To," but the audacity of the Ludacris guest spot underscores how Underwood is taking risks for the first time. Nearly all of them pay off. "The Bullet," an anti-gun-violence ballad that feels especially potent and poignant in the wake of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest shooting, is nervy and affecting in a way Underwood never has been, and it finds a counterpart in "Southbound," a party tune that's as effervescent as anything she's ever cut. These two songs show how Underwood's deliberate maturation doesn't come at the expense of what she's done before. Instead, it deepens and enriches what was already there -- as any good maturation would -- and the result is an album as satisfying as it is surprising. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released October 23, 2015 | 19 Recordings Limited - Arista Nashville

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"Something in the Water," the new single tacked onto Carrie Underwood's 2014 compilation Greatest Hits: Decade #1, was an operatic blowout on par with her 2012 smash "Blown Away" -- something grand and melodramatic, suggesting Vegas as much as it suggested inspirational music. Storyteller, her fifth album and first since her career recap, certainly contains cinematic elements -- Underwood has been proud to be a diva ever since she prowled the stages of American Idol a decade prior -- but the title isn't a feint; she spends a good chunk of the album reiterating, singing about heartbreak, hair triggers, red wine, dirty laundry, and smoke breaks, the mundane details that turn life so joyous and tragic. Subtlety isn't Underwood's strong suit so the songs tend to be a bit on the nose, whether she's pledging devotion to her newborn son on the sweet closer "What I Never Knew I Always Wanted" or streamlining Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" via the stomping "Choctaw County Affair," but that directness is key to her appeal: there are no greys in Carrie's music, only blazing primary colors. Appropriately enough, Storyteller gleams with steely assurance, perhaps the toughest and boldest record yet but one that hardly soft-pedals her softer side. Carrie isn't an unapologetic spitfire like her "Something Bad" duet partner Miranda Lambert. She is, as she says in her album title, a Storyteller, and there's an unmistakable distance between her theatrics and the subjects of her tunes; she isn't living these songs, she's performing them. Like a skilled actor, Underwood chooses her roles wisely -- she's comfortable swaggering through the leadoff pair of "Renegade Runaway" and "Dirty Laundry," while she eases into the comforting melancholy of "The Girl You Think I Am" -- and she knows how to deliver the essence of each song, modulating her performances not only so they match the grand productions of Jay Joyce, Mark Bright, and Zach Crowell but so they always are the focal point. That's no small feat and Storyteller is no small album: it demands attention and it deserves it, too. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released December 9, 2014 | 19 Recordings Limited - Arista Nashville

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If the subtitle "Decade #1" seems too optimistic, consider this: back in 2004, few ever would've bet that the winner of the third season of American Idol would still be on the charts. A decade later, Carrie Underwood was a genuine superstar who left her television roots far behind. Greatest Hits: Decade #1 helps bury those early American Idol memories by sandwiching her coronation song "Inside Your Heaven" between two bombastic new songs ("Something in the Water," the better of the two, opens up the proceedings, followed by "Little Toy Guns") and "Jesus, Take the Wheel," the song that truly kicked off her streak at the top of the country charts. Between 2005 and 2012, every song she released went to either number one or two on the Billboard country charts ("Some Hearts," serviced to adult contemporary, went to 12 on the AC charts and isn't here). Every one of those songs is here, along with the songs that stopped the streak: 2012's "Two Black Cadillacs" and 2013's "See You Again," which peaked at four and seven respectively, positions that are hardly shabby. As the years progressed, Underwood embraced her divahood and the shift occurs with 2009's "Cowboy Casanova," a number one smash that opens the second disc of this double-disc hits disc. It's a neat division but the 21 singles -- which are supplemented by three demos that reveal Carrie works well in a stark setting, too -- are of a piece, expertly constructed post-Shania and Faith Hill country-pop proving that Underwood is the new-millennial heir to their throne. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released September 14, 2018 | Capitol Nashville

Ever since she walked away with the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, Carrie Underwood's strength has been her steeliness. Even at her tenderest moments, there was a sense of remove, as if Underwood were reluctant to let her guard slip, which is what makes the emotional frankness of 2018's Cry Pretty startling. Underwood is self-aware enough to address this shift at the very beginning of the record, which opens with a title track containing the confession that she's "not usually the kind to show my heart to the world," and then she proceeds to spend the next 50 minutes allowing herself to open up to emotions she has usually kept in reserve. "Cry Pretty" is the rallying call for the album, a cry of confidence that can be heard not just in the lyrics but also within the album's musical ambition. Without abandoning the sweeping, cinematic diva-pop that's her signature, Underwood buttresses her country roots while fearlessly threading hip-hop and R&B within her music, going as far as to invite Ludacris in for a verse on the triumphant closer, "The Champion." Perhaps this fist-pumping affirmation isn't as successful as the smooth R&B rhythms holding "Backsliding" together or the rapid rhyming on "That Song That We Used to Make Love To," but the audacity of the Ludacris guest spot underscores how Underwood is taking risks for the first time. Nearly all of them pay off. "The Bullet," an anti-gun-violence ballad that feels especially potent and poignant in the wake of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest shooting, is nervy and affecting in a way Underwood never has been, and it finds a counterpart in "Southbound," a party tune that's as effervescent as anything she's ever cut. These two songs show how Underwood's deliberate maturation doesn't come at the expense of what she's done before. Instead, it deepens and enriches what was already there -- as any good maturation would -- and the result is an album as satisfying as it is surprising. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released October 11, 2013 | 19 Recordings Limited - Arista Nashville

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Daisy in her hair aside, Carrie Underwood looks flat-out glamorous on the cover of Play On, which is a pretty fair indication of what awaits listeners on her third album. Carrie is still nominally a country artist and sometimes will sing supported by fiddles and steel guitar, but this is crossover pop pure and simple, whether it's the thundering rhythms on the Shania-styled strut "Cowboy Casanova" or the succession of maudlin melodies on the preponderance of power ballads. Many of these overwrought ballads are infused with a heavy-handed social consciousness -- Carrie decries hunger on "Change" and homelessness on "Temporary Home" -- unfortunately reminiscent of Idol Gives Back, and they're not the only AmIdol connection here, as fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi co-wrote the strained sassiness of "Undo It" and the sticky, tacky "Mama's Song" with Underwood herself. Carrie takes a much stronger presence as a writer here, co-authoring seven of the 13 songs, and she's attracted to hookless showstoppers designed to showcase her powerful voice, all glory notes with no glory. When she sticks to tunes written solely by the professionals, Play On does have some slick pleasures, particularly on the breezy "Quitter" and "This Time," songs built on solid melodies and delivered without flash, relying on craft and Carrie's considerable small-town charm -- a gift that remains intact despite the misguided attempt on the rest of Play On as if she's nothing but a diva. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released May 1, 2012 | 19 Recordings Limited - Arista Nashville

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Country - Released February 10, 2010 | Arista

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Pop - Released January 12, 2018 | UMG Nashville

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Country - Released April 11, 2018 | Capitol Nashville