Sunday, April 26, 2020

Review: Kelsea • Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini’s third studio record is a country record only by association. While her first two albums were low-risk, color-by-numbers takes on country-pop, the self-titled Kelsea challenges – and maybe overstretches – the abilities of country music. Rather than make a springboard from the genre and into a deeper experimentation, Ballerini uses it as a plug-and-play platform that equally welcomes appearances from both Halsey and Kenny Chesney.

“Club” and “Homecoming Queen,” for example, could strike home runs on country airplay – if not for the youthful jeers against party culture and high school stereotypes. “The Other Girl,” the Halsey feature, bends a country staple – the “other woman” song – into a feminist overthrow of the two-timing man and slathers it over a simmering downtempo pop soundtrack. And if the country-disco styling of Kylie Minogue and Kacey Musgraves was stripped of its glam and left with the energy, the result would be “Needy.”

The approach provides variety and produces songs that are no more or less enjoyable than more traditional cuts like “Half of My Hometown,” a nostalgic highlight with Kenny Chesney on background vocals, and the self-referential “A Country Song.” While its songwriting is left a bit under-cooked in spots and its genre blending sometimes feels clunky compared to the seamless country-pop giants who paved the way for Ballerini, Kelsea is an admirable attempt at a next-generation crossover in the making.

Kelsea is available now under Black River Entertainment.

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