It’s true that she’s a Tony-nominated Broadway star gone country (and another blonde twentysomething, to boot), but don’t count Laura Bell Bundy out just yet. The singer has just released an exceptionally strong country EP in Achin’, a surprisingly hushed, down-and-out country soul collection, such as a major labels seldom produce.
Bundy earns every bit of the ‘country Norah Jones’ description she’s been selling on sultry opener “Drop On By,” but that’s actually among the less country songs here. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the only one the singer didn’t have a hand in writing.
“Cigarette” and “Curse the Bed” fall more squarely in the country heartbreak ballad mold, with the singer trying to figure out how to move on in the wake of broken relationships. Bundy writes and delivers these songs with such cool confidence that it’s easy to overlook the fact that what she’s doing here is actually pretty difficult – Kellie Pickler has been missing these marks for years. Bundy sounds so sure of herself, right out of the gate, that she very nearly leapfrogs her own generation of country bombshells: the solo-penned “Homecoming Queen” sounds like a lost Lorrie Morgan hit, with a vocal performance to match.
The wailing of “Please,” on which Bundy pleads for a second chance after crossing over love’s cheating line, only serves to highlight the relative restraint of the other five tracks. Barring the total “Stay” treatment, where the only instrument is a guitar strummed by a baked bean heir in a dorky hat, this is about as stripped down as mainstream country gets. It’s all the more surprising for having been produced by Swift chum Nathan Chapman.
The EP concludes with what is, in somewhat peculiar fashion, probably its most broken, and most telling, track. “When It All Goes South” finds Bundy unable to enjoy a relationship even when it’s going right – she’s already regretting putting herself in such a vulnerable position and bracing for the eventual nosedive, with a pessimist’s (or is it just a realist’s?) understanding that good things never last.
And they don’t.
Because Achin’ isn’t actually presented as an EP: it’s immediately followed by a second half, Shakin’, which kicks off with lead single “Giddy On Up.” Fans of that single’s over-the-top, theatrical style (think Dolly at her campiest) will likely get a kick out of the second half, but there isn’t much here for the rest of us. Even in terms of passable guilty pleasures, “Giddy On Up” is the best Shakin’ has to offer.
But there’s an enormous amount of promise in the first half. If Laura Bell Bundy can find some way of balancing her slow-burning numbers without going quite so big and dumb on the others, her next full-length collection may be a great album rather than just a great EP.
Download the whole album today for $5.99 (Amazon MP3)
Or buy the first six tracks whenever you want for $5.94. $4.95 if you skip “Please.”