Album Review – Lauren Alaina’s ‘Road Less Traveled’

lauren-alaina-road-less-traveled

Lauren Alaina is one of multiple country artists who broke their way into stardom via American Idol. She was the runner-up on season ten, which was won by fellow country artist Scotty McCreery. Like most country artists who gained fame on a music TV show, it’s been a struggle for her to break out at radio. It’s just an innate problem those not named Carrie Underwood have had to deal with at radio. Alaina released her debut album six years ago and ever since has essentially been grinding away at breaking through before her moment came when her single “Road Less Traveled” got the On The Verge treatment. It was a big moment for Alaina’s career and more importantly is what has allowed her to finally release her sophomore album of the same name. I honestly did not expect much out of Road Less Traveled, even though I’ve always found Lauren Alaina to be a pretty talented artist. Well after giving it many thorough lessons, I shouldn’t have had such low expectations because Alaina pleasantly blew my expectations away with Road Less Traveled.

The album’s opening song “Doin’ Fine” sees Alaina singing about the feelings she experienced as her parents marriage broke down and ended in divorce. While a softer production could have really helped, this is a solid and deceptively deep song. “Three” is one of the most honest songs I’ve heard from a major label country artist in the last few years. Alaina sings of how she has to spend six years on the road to just get played for three minutes on the radio. It doesn’t get anymore honest when describing the life of an artist trying to break out at radio to please their label. Alaina also really showcases her big voice well here. One problem this album has is some of the songs are disingenuous to label country. “Queen of Hearts” is most certainly an example, as it’s loud and lacking any country elements. But as a pop song it’s decent and has a catchy hook.  There are a couple of songs that fall into the generic inspiration trap. “My Kinda People” is one of them, as it’s basically a re-skin of “Road Less Traveled.” These songs aren’t necessarily terrible, but just done to death and uninteresting. But then we get to the moments that surprise and straight up impress me. I was most surprised by “Think Outside The Boy.” Based on the title I was expecting something shallow, but it’s quite the opposite. The song is about a woman urging a young woman to not base her life around the boy she’s head over heels for and needs to think about herself because basing your life around one person can lead to heartbreak and disappointment.

Another highlight of Road Less Traveled is “Painting Pillows.” It’s a straight-up heartbreak song about being alone and crying tears into your pillow. This is a modern-day heartbreak country song done right. “Crashin’ The Boys’ Club” is a song I have complicated feelings about. On one hand the production can be annoying and the lyrics are thin. But on the other hand the beat is admittedly catchy and infectious. It’s one of those songs I feel like I should hate, but I just can’t. It’s too fun for me to get grumpy about. The most critically acclaimed song on this album has been “Same Day Different Bottle.” It’s for great reason too because it’s awesome and for me the best on the record. The song is about watching someone destroy their life with alcohol. When you factor in that Alaina based this song off watching her own father go through this, it makes the song even more powerful (kudos to writers Alaina, Caitlyn Smith and Dan Couch). Then you throw in that great pedal steel guitar. It’s simply a phenomenal song. Road Less Traveled concludes with “Pretty.” It’s another song on this album that surprises me with its depth and also sees Alaina incorporating a personal experience. The song is about sending a message to girls that you’re pretty as you are and that skipping meals to get skinnier isn’t the answer. Alaina herself went through an eating disorder, so it’s admirable to see her put this experience into a great song that it can help others in this situation.

Lauren Alaina really surprises me in a great way with Road Less Traveled. I was expecting mostly songs like the album’s title track and there were a few like it on this album. But for the most part this album delivers really good music and at times even great music. I really enjoy the majority of this album and there are multiple songs I would love to see released as singles. I’m still not hopeful radio will take to her, but they should. Alaina reminds me of just how talented she is on this album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be one of the best country records from a major label in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Same Day Different Bottle, Pretty, Think Outside The Boy, Painting Pillows, Three, Doin’ Fine

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Holding The Other, Queen of Hearts


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17 thoughts on “Album Review – Lauren Alaina’s ‘Road Less Traveled’

  1. I was also really surprised by this one too, but it’s remarkable how lyrically and musically similar “My Kinda People” is to “Company you Keep” by Maren Morris, which threw me off a bit.

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  2. Spot-on review, Josh. I was pretty impressed with this album myself, as I believe that Alaina is a great singer, and can really make good songs. I’ll even admit that the title track has grown on me as a good pop song. I especially love the moments where she lets her voice shine, like “Three”, “Same Day Different Bottle”, and “Doin’ Fine”, but there were moments on here that I wasn’t too crazy about, such as “Crashin’ the Boys Club” and “My Kinda People”. So overall, this album didn’t completely blow me away, but to me, it does more things right than wrong, and I appreciate that she wanted to record something personal for an album. I’d grade this about a decent to strong 6 out of 10 because of the more poppy songs on it.

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  3. I was a tad dissapointed with the album, but I loved it as a whole. My favorite song on the album is actually “Three” and “Think Outside the Boy” as both are brutally honest and Lauren Alaina sounds amazing.

    The only songs I don’t care for are “Queen of Hearts” (more boring than bad) “My Kinda People” which is meh, it has a pretty chorus. Also have a love and hate relationship with “Next Boyfriend” at times I love it and other times I can’t stand it.

    Other highlights though for me is Road Less Traveled, Painting Pillows (kind of reminds me of Mickey Guyton “Better Than You Left Me”) and Holding the Other. Pretty is also really great.

    Overall I’m thinking a strong 8 out of 10.

    Also can I just say “Crashing The Boys Club” is the biggest ear candy ever. The song is nothing deep, but one listen and I was hooked.

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  4. Spot-on review, Josh! Surprisingly and personally, I love the album. Some of the songs reminded me of Maren Morris, and that’s a huge compliment since I love her music as well. I love Doin’ Fine, My Kinda People, Three, Painting Pillows, Think Outside the Boy, Same Day Different Bottle (I hope this gets released as a single at some point, it is amazing!), and Pretty. Pretty really struck a cord with me because I’ve been there, I’ve struggled with my weight and image. Lauren definitely has a lot of talent, and I am so proud of her for having the courage to tell her story. Overall, I’d give this album somewhere between a 7 and 8. Really good album.

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  5. I was hoping “Queen of Hearts” would be a cover of Juice Newton’s crossover hit from 1981. Unfortunately, it’s not, and it’s terrible. As for the album as a whole, I’m not sure if the positive aspects compensate for the weaknesses in the album, so I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 5/10. You are right about the lyrical moments that stand out, but the music does little to nothing for me, including songs like “Think Outside the Boy” and “Painting Pillows.” There’s just nothing interesting about those songs in terms of the music.

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    • Alaina simply handles understated ballad-leaning material better than decidedly more anthemic tracks.

      And it isn’t an indictment on Alaina’s range as a vocalist. I think she hits those higher notes fine. It’s more an indictment of how anonymous and sterile they sound. If I really want that sort of polish, some of Mainstream Top 40 handles it better.

      Alaina definitely needs to switch producers the next time around.

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  6. Yeah, I mostly agree with this review. This definitely surpassed my expectations, too, as someone who assumed the lead single would be indicative of the sonic nature and style of the album as a whole (though “Same Day Different Bottle” was a promotional single that indeed gripped me).

    However, I’d characterize this album most as a wildly inconsistent one that is characterized BOTH by triumphant highs, woeful lows and innocuous fodder in-between. Where this album succeeds in a way most efforts from her mainstream peers don’t is she flat-out demonstrates what she is capable of when she goes all-out. However, the album is tragically held back from greatness and cohesion by other moments that are just embarrassing and unnecessary

    *

    Honestly, I’m absolutely convinced now it was a mistake designating the title track the lead single.

    Now I understand how there’s an obvious audience for the slick Jon Levine/Greg Kurstin Adult Top 40 sound most closely associated with Kelly Clarkson and Rachel Platten and it’s certainly not a wise decision to lead off with something like “Same Day Different Bottle”. But as autobiographical as the title sounds and is fitting thematically, it otherwise just doesn’t sound reflective of the record as a whole. But, most importantly as I’ve indicated before on several occasions, the song hasn’t generated any passion with radio callout. It’s that type of song almost no one hates, but few passionately love either (sorry, Raymond!). It’s one of those “Eh, it’s alright!” songs, and those are generally not the kind of songs you want to anchor an album with if you’re an up-and-coming artist.

    The same notion can arguably be applied, sonically, to the opening track “Doin’ Fine” in that it also moves down that Levine/Kurstin road. But I’d argue it would have resonated slightly better to listeners because of the gut-punching sentiment surrounding coping with the divorce of one’s parents. The overproduction holds it back from fully delivering, but the songwriting is admirable here.

    It’s followed by my least favorite track on the album: “My Kinda People”. Again, sterile wall-of-sound obsessed production gets in the way but, worse, Alaina gives off an impersonation of Kelsea Ballerini when she tries to semi-rap the lyrical melody. And there are some really dumb lyrics here like “Don’t care if you’re PHD, or GED, or ADD..” Really, Alaina?

    Fortunately, we start to move onto the album’s highlights with “Three”. A sparse piano ballad that never really builds up or has a cheesy “Eureka!” moment, there’s some STUNNING personal, lyrical detail intact that illustrate that you better be careful what you wish for, because every wildest dream comes with its share of sacrifices that we may not realize until it has come true. The acknowledgement that she hasn’t been to Sunday service for three months is probably my favorite line because it demonstrates just how closely-knit rural communities are and how much it truly hurts to step away from any given community. Easily one of my favorites on this album.

    After the title track, “Queen of Hearts” features Alaina reaching into a slight-R&B flourish. Using Texas Hold ‘Em terminology to describe risk-taking in a relationship, this track unfortunately is held back by generic production somewhere between less interesting Mark Bright-Carrie Underwood and, again, Greg Kurstin-Kelly Clarkson. It’s not bad, but it’s just……………..there.

    “Think Outside The Boy” is another piano-driven ballad: this time with a little more zip in the chorus powered by subtle mandolin and pedal steel. It’s a clever lyrical conceit about not allowing a love interest to define the worth of a woman. Another standout track.

    It’s followed by another (mostly) understated standout in “Painting Pillows”. Seriously: how come Carrie Underwood doesn’t sing understated ballads more often? She should seriously consider taking cues from Lauren Alaina, because it’s tracks like these where Alaina’s presence is most felt and her potential most realized. It’s a song about Alaina unleashing a full range of emotional release on her pillow mourning a broken relationship. It hits just that right intermediary between sadness and angst to truly deliver. Great track!

    The album takes a brief one-two punch dip again with what can unofficially be considered the lead single: “Next Boyfriend”. It’s not terrible by any stretch: just marred by cliches, overly loud, wall-of-sound production and an annoying lyrical delivery and cadence in the song’s chorus. Yeah: not hard to see why this flopped at radio.

    And, sorry, but “Crashin’ The Boy’s Club” is just annoying. I do like the bassline and that you can tell the song is going for a sort of vintage bluesy disco stomp. But I’m sorry: Alaina simply misfires in her attempt to deliver a song about being one of the boys. Rather, she sounds strikingly like early-Taylor Swift here. Nothing wrong with that as someone who enjoyed a fair bit of Taylor Swift’s songwriting in her earlier years, but leave these sort of songs to Gretchen Wilson.

    Thankfully, we then come to the best song on the album: “Same Day Different Bottle”. The theme is nothing new: the tragic consequences of alcoholism. But what makes this a show-stopper is the aching intimacy of Alaina’s vocals and that the production gives her the breathing space and simply accentuates the conflicted emotions Alaina transmits. And when the instrumentation does bulge out, it directly complements the catharsis rather than merely serve as wallpaper or dressing. The steel guitar is most prominent here and makes for what is already an early contender for my Year-End Best Mainstream Songs of 2017 list. Damn awesome song!

    We return to Genericville with “Holding the Other”. It’s just another one of those dime-a-dozen pseudo-inspirational “Hang In There!” cat hanging from a clothesline poster set to song ditties, backed with sterile Levine/Kurstin-esque production. I would have left this off the album to begin with, frankly, especially when it directly follows the crown jewel in the track listing.

    Finally we come to “Pretty”. I can’t say I’m generally a fan of songs that try to come off as motivational and body-positive in that they usually come across as condescending and insinuate certain means of expressions are unnatural instead (looking at you, “Scars To Your Beautiful”, “All About That Bass” and “Try”)……………..and this song unfortunately doesn’t eschew those tendencies either. I concede it may just be me because, being a transgender woman, I KNOW I’m much more than my body but the truth remains that how I look DOES matter to me TOO. And when people say things like “The truth inside you can’t erase, it ain’t written on your face…” or “There’s no difference between a mirror and a liar…”……………..it just sounds rather condescending and betrays the nuanced realities we all endure regarding accepting ourselves. I do believe, unlike Meghan Trainor, her heart was certainly in the right place writing this with her own autobiographical experiences……………….but the framing succumbs to the same gross oversimplifying as those aforementioned songs and honestly rubs me off the wrong way. It doesn’t help that this song succumbs to the “Eureka moment!” and it just isn’t executed well, sorry.

    *

    In the end, there is plenty to love about this album. Where most mainstream males as of late are hopelessly stuck in auto-pilot absolutely uninspired to take any risks and are so insecure about appeasing radio, Alaina gives her absolute best on a few tracks………………..and that alone commands respect.

    However, the album is also weakened by unnecessary tracks that are at best bland and forgettable, at worst puerile: resulting in a frustratingly inconsistent effort. I would almost prefer if the best half of the songs were released as an EP instead: where I would then instantly recommend buying it. But as a full-length LP: I would instantly download “Same Day Different Bottle”, “Three”, “Painting Pillows”, “Think Outside The Boy” and maybe “Doin’ Fine”, but I can do without the latter half. Still, this album deserves credit for tremendous effort in its best moments.

    I’m thinking a Decent to Strong 6 out of 10 for this.

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    • Nadia, I know that I am probably alone here when it comes to loving “Road Less Traveled” (single).

      I’m not ashamed of it. It’s a song that connects with me and I am thankful everyday that Lauren Alaina got OTV treatment.

      Lauren Alaina’s music connects with me because I always have had self doubt, but I always remind myself to be me and live my life my own way.

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  7. Lauren Alaina is a “no-show” on Amazon & Google Play here. It’s the first mainstream-country album in a long time. But there are enough other sources to listen to Road Less Traveled.
    The album is not as bad as expected. But it’s not a good album. Lauren Alainas voice sounds better on the slower songs like “Painting Pillows”. The uptempos are interchangeable. The production is too pop & the instrumentation is on the modern-“country”-side. A little bit more steel or fiddle would help. (5/10)

    New Album: Aleyce Simmonds – More Than Meets The Eye – 13 Tracks – Checked Label Services/Aleyce Simmonds – Released (01/20)
    Unique voice. Unique look. Unique songs. Award-winning singer/songwriter Aleyce Simmonds is one of the big stars down under. Mixing traditional & modern country.
    One or two tracks to please country-radio are part of her albums. The majority of songs are more complex. “Defeated” is an unusual choice for a first single (not one of the radio-friendly tunes). It peaked outside of the Top 10 (Country Tracks Top 40).
    Highlights: “Stop The World”, “Learn To Sleep”, “Anchor”, “More Than Meets The Eye”, “Whiskey Talking” & “As Above, So Below” with Shane Nicholson. (8/10)

    Billboard Country Update (01/30):
    Blake Shelton…
    Chris Stapleton…

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  8. I wasn’t a fan of the song “Road Less Traveled” but I’m grateful that it got her album released. The girl has a killer voice and I wish her the best with her next single. Hopefully it’s “Doin’ Fine.” The production is a little louder than I anticipated based on her live version, but with that said, it probably makes the song more radio-friendly.

    It seems like you could divide this album in half – with a deeper, more “country” sound on one side and the more pop-y fun stuff on the other. So yeah, I’d give it like a 6-6.5.

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    • “Doin’ Fine” should have been the lead single, in my opinion. I’m not even crazy about the production personally, but the theme likely would have resonated stronger to her target audience and thus net some crucial passion scores among females 18-35.

      “Queen of Hearts” would have been a decent choice too, as much as I consider it no big deal, because it’s the closest she comes to Carrie Underwood’s style and you can’t go wrong looking to her for guidance as a female entertainer.

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