If Carrie Underwood had ever developed a deeper and more prolific songwriting acumen, and perhaps stuck a bit closer to her Oklahoma roots, she could have veered dangerously close to becoming the next generation’s version of Dolly Parton, not from a stylistic standpoint musically, but as a person of seeming impenetrable integrity; someone who can assemble fans and allies across musical, political, and social spectrums and divides. Even still, she might be the most ideal candidate from the crop of mainstream country performers to ascend to that Dolly-esque spot of universal consensus as time continues.
A unapologetic Christian who also happens to be a vegetarian (“wannabe vegan” she calls herself), Carrie Underwood sings pop country songs, but honors many of the traditions and niceties of country music much more than most of her mainstream peers, from simply treating everyone with respect, being grateful for her success, and honoring her commitments to the Grand Ole Opry to a degree no other radio-played country artist can even come close to. It’s really hard to find fault with her, even if her music leaves you flat.
Expressing one’s faith in song probably isn’t as widely accepted in 2021 as it was during Dolly Parton’s heyday, or any other country artist like Johnny Cash who cut more Christian and Gospel music than anyone. Having the audacity to mouth the word “Jesus” can be triggering to large swaths of society these days. But similar to Dolly Parton and Cash, Carrie Underwood can get away with it because you don’t feel judgement coming from her, only love and charity. If you consider Gospel music simply as proselytizing, you’re missing the point. Devout or otherwise, everyone should be able to appreciate these expressions of someone’s belief and culture.
After the surprising and very real success of Carrie Underwood’s Christmas album My Gift released in late 2020 that featured mostly religious-themed Holiday standards, Carrie decided to continue utilizing her pandemic lock downtime in the studio to record less seasonal material as a way to share her faith. Similar to the Christmas album, many of the songs will be familiar to the audience, even the secular members of it. But unlike the Christmas record that felt a little unimaginative in approach, My Savior feels smartly textured, and inspired.
It may be easy to question why Carrie would even bother with such an album. The Christian music market is as competitive and saturated these days as any, and new takes on old standards won’t necessarily set the Gospel market ablaze. But this is one of those albums where it’s just as much for Carrie Underwood herself as it is anyone else, and that passion for the material comes through in the performances. After you hear Carrie Underwood’s rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” you won’t question why the world needed another recorded version of it.
God touched this particular soul with an incredible dollop of singing talent; that’s for sure. But where Carrie Underwood’s voice can sometimes come across as a bit much in country—almost too powerful when brought to what is supposed to be understated material—the soaring heights she is able to achieve is just about perfect for giving praise through timeless compositions that can act like launching pads for those blessed enough to scale them such as Carrie Underwood.
This is not a country record. This is a Christian record. However, along with turning in her first volume of exclusively religious material, Carrie Underwood might have also delivered one of her most country records yet, not just from the nature of the material, but the rootsy aspect of some of the music. Such a tasteful and loving approach was brought to each composition, from the opening harmonica solo performed by Buddy Greene who joins Underwood later on an understated “Amazing Grace,” to the steel guitar of Russ Pahl, who plays on numerous compositions, including what might be Underwood’s most country track ever in “Victory in Jesus.” Charlie Worsham also appears on the album on both guitar and mandolin, as does CeCe Winans, who can make a country record herself any time she wants.
It’s been long said that Carrie Underwood should make a straight up traditional country record someday, and would likely kill it if her cover performances of classic country songs live over the years are any indication. But on deck first was her expressing her Christian faith with a carefully selected group of songs she knew she could clobber, backed by surprisingly tasteful and rootsy production that makes My Savior not just another Gospel record running through the standards, but Carrie Underwood’s defining moment leaving her mark on this important portion of America’s cultural imprint.
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Purcahse My Savior