On her first album, "Did I Shave My Legs for This?," Carter came along as country's barefoot princess, a down-to-earth alternative to glamour queen Shania Twain. Listeners responded to her knack for gently evocative nostalgia ("Strawberry Wine") and sassy self-affirmation (the title song), buying up more than 4 million copies of that 1996 debut.
So how does Carter open her follow-up, which comes out Tuesday? With a blast of aggro-chick attitude set to a booming rock production. It's the kind of thing that could make Shania look nervously over her shoulder, but the approach tips off the album's core problem: Rather than refining Carter's strengths, it sets her off in a variety of random directions.
Carter's voice brims with natural personality, so it takes some doing to make her seem anonymous. But with material that includes a version of Melanie's 1971 pop nursery rhyme "Brand New Key," some over-plotted rural-gothic narratives and generic love songs, this album comes close.
When Carter finds her footing--notably on the reconciliation scenario of "People Miss Planes" and in the inspirational tone of the bluesy title ballad (written in 1971 by the singer's father, Nashville guitarist Fred Carter Jr.)--she captures the kind of unforced expressiveness and bond with the material that made her such a promising arrival.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.