MICHAEL McCALL, For The Associated Press
All "American Idol" winners face the challenge of finding original material that gives them a musical identity of their own, especially after spending a season in front of millions singing songs other people made famous.
As we know, many fail to accomplish that goal. Reigning "Idol" champ Scotty McCreery faces an even tough challenge because he's so young (about to turn 18 as the album is released) and so obviously free of the complexities that make artists compelling.
But unlike many "Idol" winners, McCreery didn't win because of a showy, melodramatic voice. McCreery's natural baritone features a down-to-earth quality that connects on an everyman level.
This talent shows on "Love You This Big," his debut hit introduced on "Idol." He sounds like he's quietly singing the lyrics to one person, even as crowds raise their hands and sing along. This ability to quietly express emotion also comes across on the album's title cut, "Clear As Day," based on young love blossoming in a parking lot after a football game.
But the latter also illustrates McCreery's limitations: Just how big is the audience for a tragic ballad that mentions exchanging class rings?
What McCreery does well shines as clear as day throughout his new album. But are the songs strong enough to transform a good cover singer into singular artist? Not quite yet. "Clear As Day" isn't a disappointment, but neither is it the kind of remarkable debut that established recent country stars like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum — or, more to the point, former "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: McCreery spends too much of "Clear As Day" trying to make significant statements about country lifestyles. His best song, "Write Your Number On My Hand," lightens up and celebrates making the best of a casual day. Set to a jaunty ukulele and a shuffle rhythm, it lets McCreery show off the flexible side of his voice as it slides and slurs notes through this sunny song.
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