"The Voice" season 3 winner Cassadee Pope lands this week (Oct. 8) with her solo debut country record. Titled "Frame By Frame," the 23-year-old, who signed with Big Machine Label Group soon after taking the crown last year, ventures to prove naysayers wrong by exploring her roots. On the album's 11 tracks, the singer-songriter (and former Hey Monday front woman) fuses her pop-rock sensibilties with contemporary country sounds (e.g. country-pop flair). Cassadee finds a delicate balance between Taylor Swift's "Red" and Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away," both striking, cool and youthful.
"Frame By Frame" is certainly not country by purist standards (save for the emotionally tender "11"), but when the mainstream is populated by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton taking their beer-swigging turns at hip-hop, you can't really fault Cassadee for incorporating diverse sounds on her record. Like Shania Twain before here, there are glimmering hints of fiddle, mandolin and steel guitar, all peppered throughout the boisterous pop elements.
The album's lead single "Wasting All These Tears," the intro to which is structurely similar to The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two," is a delicious snapshot of what you'll find on "Frame." From the romping opening number "Good Times" to the clap-happy "Everybody Sings" (an outsider anthem which also includes an Avril Lavigne-esque breakdown chant), Cassadee guns for crossover appeal and sounds fantastic while doing it. As a songwriter, she certainly knows how to craft a catchy melody and infectious hook (aided, of course, by many of Nashville's finest tunesmiths). Take a listen to "This Car," harkening to "Fearless" era Taylor, for a nostalgic glimpse at young love and one of the album's bright moments.
"11," appropriately another link to Taylor ("15" anyone?), is probably the closest Cassadee comes to embracing the storytelling roots of more traditional country music. The song, co-written with producer Nathan Chapman, is a hard-hitting look at divorce and its affects on a child. She delivers the tale with heartbreaking accuracy, wishing she had never turned 11 in the first place. Instead, she clutches onto her childhood with teenage angst.
Throughout the record, Cassadee flirts with varying tempos, hooks, themes and sounds (even "Proved You Wrong" samples Taylor's arena-rock style of "State of Grace"). There is not one overtly predictable element to her album. My only (musical) complaint? There are shades of folk potential on other tracks, like "You Hear a Song," that the singer should have explored to add an element of adventurous diversity on the collection. I know I have been one of Cassadee's harshest critics, and while I may not be completely convinced of her country roots, I find "Frame" to be quite an enjoyable album, chock full of head-bobbers and fun summer tracks. If there is one thing I have learned in regards to the mainstream, it's that you have to enjoy the music for what it is and not get wrapped up in labels.
(Side note: Can "11" be the next single, please?)
Other gems: "Champagne," "I Wish I Could Break Your Heart"
Overall Grade: B+