Album Reviews: Trouble by Bonnie McKeeWith American Idol apparently ensconced as a permanent cultural phenomenon, pop music seems to be going the way of the NBA. Ever younger performers are "turning pro" as record labels, desperate to break the Next Big Thing, foist one unpolished, fledging singer after another into the media spotlight. It's an unfortunate trend, not just for us out here in the audience but for the performers themselves, who are often forced to put out make-or-break debuts before they've really had a chance to find their voice.
Case in point: 18-year-old singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee, whose debut album Trouble is strewn with tantalizing hints of an immense talent, buried under piles of glossy, fussy production, trite, derivative tunes, and confused, pop-tart packaging. McKee's voice, equal parts Joan Osborne and Shania Twain, is a force of nature, especially when she really gets to belt on the album's bluesier numbers like "A Voice That Carries" and "Green Grass." And while she has a teenager's fondness for overwrought sentimentality as a substitute for melody, her songwriting reveals solid pop smarts and a self-awareness beyond her years, especially on numbers like "January" and "Confessions of a Teenage Girl" that play with her no-longer-a-girl/not-yet-a-woman status.
"Confessions of a Teenage Girl," the album's best track, is not coincidentally also its least heavily produced. With just an acoustic guitar, shuffling percussion and multi-tracked vocals, McKee shines. Elsewhere, as on the bloated rocker "When it All Comes Down," she's polished to such slick anonymity that she may as well be recording a jingle for life insurance. Let's hope that as this red-headed diva matures, she avoids the Shania trap and puts out music that better reflects the smart, quirky personality only hinted at on Trouble. - Raymond Vaughn
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