Seven years after she won the fourth season of "American Idol," Carrie Underwood has been a top-tier country star for long enough that she can advise a friend to "turn off the static on the TV" (as she does in her new album's pep-talky "Nobody Ever Told You") without sounding like an ingrate. Yet if Underwood has undoubtedly established herself beyond the talent-show realm, she's been less successful embodying a persona more complex than Top-Tier Country Star: When Mitt Romney published a playlist of favorite campaign-trail tunes in March, it made sense that the sometimes-wooden presidential hopeful included Underwood's "All-American Girl."
"Blown Away," the singer's fourth album, has been described as a turn toward darkness from a singer who first topped the country chart with "Jesus, Take the Wheel." And insofar as the moody title track finds her willing death-by-tornado upon an abusive father, that's true. (Elsewhere, "Two Black Cadillacs" offers a bleaker spin on the revenge fantasy in Underwood's 2006 smash "Before He Cheats.") Mostly, though, "Blown Away" finds her using her remarkable voice to deliver feel-good bromides like those in the lightly reggae-inflected "One Way Ticket": "Life is like a ride on a party bus," "It matters where you're going, not where you been," "We're headed to a heaven where the beat don't stop." Who knew the victor's circle would be so dull?
Two stars (Out of four)
-- Mikael Wood