The country songbird’s third album offers a shot of something a little stronger  

“Where’s Tammy Wynette when you need her?” sings Kellie Pickler on the opening cut of her third and latest album, 100 Proof. The tune refers to a broken love affair, but Pickler might just as well be pointing the question toward modern-day country music itself. As a child in North Carolina, Pickler’s grandparents fed her a steady diet of songs by legends like Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton—so it’s no wonder she’s eager to hear the sounds of fiddle and steel guitar on her own recordings. “I definitely love those instruments,” says Pickler, 25. “My best friends and family all know that the traditional stuff is what I’m most comfortable with. That’s the direction I wanted to go in with my music.”

But for a modern country star who’s racked up eight Top 30 singles in six years, an old-school move is bound to be met with resistance. “It’s tricky when you go into the studio,” Pickler says. “While this is the most involved I’ve been with an album, you don’t have complete control and you’re not calling all the shots. The music business is struggling and you have to keep up with the market. So there are songs I wanted cut, but didn’t. Maybe one day I’ll be able to. They say history repeats itself, and hopefully one day there will be room for traditional country again.”

Pickler was nonetheless able to put her own stamp on 100 Proof, a versatile collection that ranges from soulful ballads to sassy rockers. She wrote six songs, working with esteemed Nashville tunesmiths such as her husband of one year, Kyle Jacobs, and enlisted producers Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten to create an edgier sound than that heard on her self-titled 2008 sophomore effort. “On the last album, we went for what we thought would get played on the radio,” Pickler says. “This album began with me in the studio with just an acoustic guitar, singing my favorite songs.”

After the lengthy wait between albums, Pickler is anxious to share the fruit of her work. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is sing and be on the radio,” says Pickler, who first rose to fame in 2006 as a finalist on TV’s American Idol. “I was 19 and green when I first started. I didn’t have studio experience and I’d never been on a big stage. I’ve learned now how to be an entertainer, but I still feel like I’m a new artist.”

–Blake Boldt

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