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by Linda Ryan

April 10, 2012

Source Material: Kellie Pickler, 100 Proof

by Linda Ryan  |  April 10, 2012

On her third album, January's excellent 100 Proof, Kellie Pickler eschews country-flavored pop for a more traditional sound, and her distinctive Southern twang has never commanded so much attention.

Pickler's fondness for country music dates back to her childhood. Raised by her grandparents in Albemarle, N.C., the spirited singer grew up listening to classics from Patsy Cline, Hank Sr., Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. These artists formed her musical backbone and informed the repertoire she reached for when performing in talent shows, auditions and even on American Idol.

From the first few notes to the last, 100 Proof is soaked in classic country; even the sepia-toned artwork lends an air of dusty, weathered twang. Pickler's go-to staples can be heard in the album's arrangements, the instrumentation, even her vocal inflections. So let's break down the key tracks here and isolate her biggest influences.

"Where's Tammy Wynette"

On this sassy slice of old-school C&W, Pickler ruminates about love, admitting that she needs "a honky-tonk angel to tell me how this whole thing works." And when it comes to advice on how to put up with your man, Tammy Wynette wrote a whole book. Literally. Let's face it: for years, she put up with George Jones' crap, so who better to turn to for some motherly advice. Want my advice? Forget trying to skillet-fry a chicken in high heels and a skirt. Who does that? No one. Not even trophy wives. No charge, honey.

Stop Cheatin' on Me

This one is a good old-fashioned cheating song, with a twist. "Stop cheating on me," Pickler coos -- or what? "Or I'll set fire to your house"? No, that's too Miranda Lambert. "Or I'll take a baseball bat to your classic car"? No, too Carrie Underwood. Instead, Pickler chooses the the tit-for-tat threat, "Or I'll start cheating on you," which is the sort of equalizing, empowering response Loretta Lynn might've given back in the day.

Unlock That Honky-Tonk

This rabble-rouser finds Pickler fighting for her right to party -- on a Tuesday night down at her local dive. Which seems to be closed. Oh dear. How can you get your honky-tonk on when the joint is closed? What is it about these places that we just can't stay out of them? Why can't we be satisfied watching The Biggest Loser instead? When it comes to honky-tonks and how they can change a person, Kitty Wells has the inside track.

Long As I Never See You Again

Here's a breakup song that, in the finest country tradition, offers a zinger at the end of the chorus: "I'll be OK/ I'll go my way/ We can still be friends/ I'll be alright/ 'Long as I never see you again." We've all been through it, but Patsy Cline reigns supreme when it comes to falling to pieces when you see your ex.

Tough

On "Tough," the American Idol Season Five contestant assures us that "there ain't nothing wrong with a woman who got a little backbone." She's right, of course -- just ask Tanya Tucker, who's one tough cookie. Listen to how she toughened up Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away."

Mother's Day

This song is so replete with sadness it's hard not to feel for Kellie, whose mother abandoned her when she was a baby. As she sings, "For a girl who has so much/ There's so much that I miss/ On days like this," you can't help but wince. It's a struggle to find happiness sometimes; feeling sorry for yourself is much easier and requires less effort. One listen to Lee Ann Womack's "Happiness" and you know that this lady gets it.

Rockaway (The Rockin' Chair Song)

This song is about finding your soul mate and spending your life with that person -- from dating to having babies to growing old in his 'n' hers rocking chairs. Dolly Parton had a similar theme on "Rockin' Years." Do you think 20 years from now we'll even still have rocking chairs, or will La-Z-Boy recliners take over as the settee of choice for the gray-haired set?

Little House on the Highway

This is a song about the thrills of being on the open road in her tour bus; Miranda Lambert wistfully sings about wanting that same kind of joyful freedom on "Airstream Song." For me, '"little house on the highway" is code for trailer, and I'd prefer my home to be an actual building with a strong foundation. (And if we're dreaming, preferably somewhere sunny.) No, the open-road life holds no romance for me, but Kellie and Miranda sound great waxing poetic about it anyway.

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