Kellie Pickler's new direction is a good fit, but much like a great pair of blue jeans it will take a few wears before the singer seems totally comfortable. '100 Proof' is an album she should (and is) proud of, but almost more exciting is how this underestimated singer will slink into the traditional country genre on the next album and the one after that, and the one after that.

The uptempo tracks are packed with catchy but never gimmicky hooks and melodies. Beginning with 'Where's Tammy Wynette,' Pickler shows her grit while leaving a message of hope and inspiration for her fans. 'Tough' accomplishes the same thing, but others -- like 'Unlock That Honky Tonk' and 'Little House on the Highway' -- get lost amongst these tall trees.

Once again Pickler opens up about her mama drama, but 'Mother's Day' -- like most of the songs on '100 Proof' -- isn't a pity-party. She says she wrote the song from a place of forgiveness and hope for the mother she wants to become one day. It shows. 'The Letter' is a song she wrote to her dad. While it's a beautiful performance, her specificity renders it somewhat inaccessible. She's certainly earned the right to be selfish if she wants, however.

One track that's easily overlooked is 'Rockaway,' a song Pickler wrote about her husband Kyle Jacobs. The lyrics and story don't stand out upon first listen, but the soothing melody sticks around far longer than any other song on '100 Proof.'

These songs are connected by an optimism that is beginning to bear fruit. While the risk she takes in changing direction causes her to hold back the slightest bit, Kellie Pickler 2.0 is an upgrade that will make her a viable star for years to come.

4 Stars

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