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Scotty McCreery

Clear As Day – 2011 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Karlie Justus

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CDs by Scotty McCreery

Considering American Idol's pop bent and country radio's current flair for the pop and rock-tinged mainstream, not many people would have banked on the viability of a traditional country-leaning winner whose audition song eschewed usual favorites such as I'll Stand By You for neo-traditional '90s mainstay Travis Tritt's Drive in My Country.

Sure, there's been Carrie Underwood - perhaps Idol's biggest success story of any genre - Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin and Bucky Covington, as well as a few other floaters who found their country callings after the Idol buzz ran its course. But Scotty McCreery's unobstructed rise to the top of the reality singing competition also showcased an unprecedented and unwavering declaration of love for country music and heroes such as George Strait and Josh Turner, two artists completely unassociated with any of the cyclical flirtations of pop-country music.

In that regard, his debut, "Clear As Day," is adventurous: McCreery's statement as an artist throughout the competition triumphs here, an uncompromising portrait of himself as a singer, North Carolina native and small-town high school student through winning songs such as current single The Trouble With Girls and the Keith Urban-penned Walk in the Country. It's clearly rooted in those neo-traditional artists McCreery is a fan of, with an updated sheen that wraps things up nice and tight.

Despite those advances, the album is still very much a first release from an Idol winner: At times it feels rushed and uninventive, and McCreery's voice seems to sense those holes and push too hard. (One exception: The title track is one of the best, and one of the few his nuanced vocals don't have to compensate for with tricks and charm.) McCreery had his pick of cuts, underscored by the nearly 30 different songwriters featured. However, the range of material feels stifled by too many songwriters in the Music Row writing room, especially on the laundry lists found on Water Tower Town and Dirty Dishes.

Producer Mark Bright handles McCreery's clear talent with care, only once lapsing into string-filled melodrama. "Clear as Day" won't win over any new fans, but will fully satisfy fans from American Idol - and, in the meantime, serve as a good starting place for Scotty McCreery the country music artist and not just Scotty McCreery the American Idol singing champion.