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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 12/14/2010

Album review: Crystal Bowersox, "Farmer's Daughter"

By Allison Stewart

"American Idol" runner-up Crystal Bowersox is likable, but doesn't deliver a great album.

"American Idol" couldn't have invented a more appealing contestant than plucky, dreadlocked Crystal Bowersox, last season's runner-up. With a voice like Sheryl Crow's after a week of gargling with sandpaper and an Oprah-ready backstory featuring poverty, illness and abuse, Bowersox was the anti-Carrie Underwood.

Her scrappy but underwhelming debut, "Farmer's Daughter," is proof that the "Idol" machine is better at minting stars than it is at making albums.

Bluesy and soulful, with a voice incapable of artifice, Bowersox is Bonnie Raitt in a Lady Gaga world, and no one in charge seems to know what to do with her. The usual "Idol" assault of big-name songwriters and generic inspirational ballads wouldn't have suited, so Bowersox is largely left to her own devices, writing or co-writing all but two tracks here. "Farmer's Daughter" emphasizes folk ballads and mid-tempo blues, without a memorable hook or a strong melody to be found. Its best tracks are simple and sweet ("Holy Toledo"); its worst tracks ("Mason") are awkward beyond measure.

The pros do better, but not by much. "Hold On" is the requisite big ballad/exercise in music-industry cynicism written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger and former "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi, two masters of the form. Shallow and craven, its appeal is undeniable, as is Kroeger and DioGuardi's fundamental understanding of how to harness Bowersox's remarkable voice.

Bowersox too often brings to mind Taylor Hicks, another "Idol" contestant with a fundamental un-trendiness and a voice built for bars. Doomed by unremarkable material and an inability to translate his retro-blandness into '00s relevancy, these days Hicks functions as a cautionary tale to which Bowersox should pay close attention.

Recommended tracks: "Holy Toledo," "Hold On"

By Allison Stewart  | December 14, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags:  Crystal Bowersox  
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Excuse me ??? But did you REALLY listen to this cd? And I would like to know how old whoever wrote this review is . Crystal has done an amazing job with this Cd. AMAZING... She is on the top downloads on itunes.. Please give it a listen again . AND listen to ALL songs... Thanks

Posted by: jodemh82 | December 14, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Are you serious? Did you honestly listen to the CD? If you think Crystal Bowersox brings to mind Taylor Hicks....well that's enough to convince me to never read one of your reviews again. Probably along with a lot of other readers. Crazy!

Posted by: journal1972 | December 14, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

She needs to find a unique voice to showcase her talent.

Posted by: ASKENNEDY | December 14, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I followed Season 9 on Idol and liked many of the performers. I had Crystal as one of my favorites, but worried about her "retro" singing as being hard to translate into commercial success.
The two who I think have the best "shot" are the teen contestants Siobhan Magnus and Aaron Kelly. I think Casey James and Lee Dywyze are, like the admirable Crystal Bowersox, destined for a solid, but 2nd tier career as performers.
Siobhan on stage, or fronting for a band. Siobhan is multitalented, intelligent, extremely entertaining in interviews. One of the best raw, unpolished female vocal talents to appear on Idol. With many flaws, but flaws that mostly can be trained & polished away. Controversial, but attractive and memorable.
Aaron Kelly as a country soloist or a country band frontman. Aaron was 16 and blessed with an exceptional voice and seems perfectly slotted for the lucrative Country-Nashville scene.

Michael Lynche, the 300 lb "soul-love" falsetto? Ain't commercial. Sorry.
Casey James can't sing that well, but is commercial because he looks good, is a 1st class lead guitarist, sings well enough..and fits in to all sorts of band organizing efforts producers are doing.

Crystal Bowersox? Wonderful person, fine singer and songwriter who may never be BIG! but who is already one fine performer. She will have a career and make a decent living - so Idol likely has helped her tremendously.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | December 14, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I think this album is actually a breath of fresh air. I don't know how the writer intended it, but "A voice built for bars" is a complement in my book. Gritty, bluesy, real, as opposed to the autotuned fodder that is relevant these days. Crystal Bowersox should look to Taylor Hicks, not as a "cautionary tale", but as a business model of what he has done on his own: Grab control of your career post-idol as soon as possible, go indie and cater to the niche audience that appreciates the classic genre, tour as much as possible and build a reputation as a live performer. Cultivate a smaller, more durable career with fans who are going to stick with you even if you're aren't being spun on top 40 radio, which to most serious music fans, is a joke anyway.

Posted by: Levi4 | December 15, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I would also like to know how old this writer is. This CD is is so refreshing. This is the kinda music us older rock n rollers have needed. (i'm 45). I have missed this kinda music. Just because all the teenyboppers aren't going crazy for her doesn't mean she won't be good. All the young kids in music these days sound the same and it's all about outrageous crazy outfits. The writer needs to realize that she is different. She's Melissa, Sheryl, Bonnie, Jewel, Janis, KD, Tracy, MCC and Wynonna all rolled into one with some Crystal sprinkled on top. I good go on and on. Teenagers that are into Beiber, Perry and Neyo, YoYo, and Blah blah blah might not get into her but trust me she will have a huge fan base. Every song on this disc is great, when you first listen it feels like you've heard them before they are that good. And Crystal is one hell of a songwriter.

Posted by: linkloveslabs | December 16, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

It seems Ms. Stewart thinks singing about heartache, love, dreams, and real life experiences isn't relevant to today's listeners. Maybe she's partly right. Kids growing up with their mental development avoided while their eyes are glued to led screens, their fingers frantically keying text drivel, and their ears plugged from the reality around them, may well relate better to a techno show where alien-looking creatures attempt to screech over the brain-disolving noises.

But for the rest of us, thank you for being there, Crystal Bowersox! I hope there's enough sane people left to make you a great success!

Posted by: wigginsrl | December 18, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

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