Lauren Alaina is well and truly back. 6 years on from her debut album ‘Wildflower’, Lauren has poured her heart out in a brand new collection, looking back at her struggles with bulimia and family issues with optimism and a renewed confidence. ‘Road Less Traveled’ is, in many ways, a personal autobiography of the past few years (with a few fun moments thrown in) and it’s a showcase of great quality, proving what force Lauren could potentially be in the genre. You only have to look at the album cover to see where she’s at in her life now; there’s a reinvigorated image with a fierceness and determination, and it shines through in her music.
I must be honest, before seeing Lauren performing at Country2Country last year, I had no knowledge of Lauren’s music and career whatsoever. However, she grabbed my attention with her immense stage presence, warm charisma and most importantly, her incredibly powerful voice. Yes, she veers very much to the pop side of the genre which might be off-putting for the traditionalists, but there’s great substance to her lyrics. In fact, the album is much more ‘country’ in places than I ever expected it to be, and there really are some absolute gems here.
‘Doin’ Fine’ appropriately opens the album and sets the theme. “Daddy got sober, Momma got his best friend. I’ve cut down crying to every other weekend” – a very honest insight into Lauren’s personal struggles. It’s a song about gradual healing that looks back on the past with a determination to move forward, realising that “everyone’s a little broken”. The powerful instrumentation reflects the passion and internal battle Lauren has faced with her family issues and she deserves huge credit for letting fans into her world with such heartfelt lyrics.
‘Three’ is another one that really pulls on the heartstrings, outlining the demands of the music industry that have limited her time around her loved ones. It’s not all fun and games as a touring artist as Lauren explains here – “There’s so much I had to miss out on. Six years of missing home for three minutes on the radio”. She looks back at a three-year-old chasing a dream “with a hairbrush for a microphone” saying “that was me”. It’s a lesson in perseverance and self-belief that will resonate with any aspiring musicians out there.
My personal favourite on the album, however, is ‘Think Outside The Boy’. A tale of a girl becoming overly wrapped-up in her love for a boy, restricting her own life to maintain a relationship. “It’s never too late to cut the strings and to take back your fate. You’ll find yourself again along the way, just think outside the boy”. This is the kind of material Taylor Swift was producing back in her country days (ahh, the good old days!). A beautifully crafted melody with sublime use of banjo and even a pedal steel. Don’t be surprised to see this one released to country radio; one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages.
The album isn’t without its fun, poppy moments though. ‘Next Boyfriend’ is one of those guilty pleasure tracks that, as a country fan, I shouldn’t like but I really can’t help it. Tracks like this and the bouncy, infectious ‘Crashin’ The Boys Club’ showcase Lauren’s versatility and great mainstream appeal. If Taylor Swift released ‘Boys Club’ it would be a mega-hit. This would be my only complaint with the album though – I still can’t work out if Lauren wants to be a country artist or a pop artist. As much as I like these playful songs, playing them on country radio would be shameful. But hey, it’s never stopped Sam Hunt!
In the latter stages of the album, we see a return to the deeper, emotional side to her song writing. ‘Same Day Different Bottle’ tackles the issue of her Dad’s alcoholism head-on (he’s now been sober for over 3 years), in the hope that it will resonate with many out there facing a similar predicament. The album finishes with the gorgeous ‘Pretty’, encouraging girls out there to be proud of their appearance no matter what anybody else believes. It’s a refreshing song of self-confidence and pride in a time when girls might feel like they must conform to a certain image. Another immensely powerful melody with a message that will strike a chord with many.
If, like me, you had any pre-conceptions about this album and expected just ‘another one of those’ pop-country efforts, I urge you to give this one a chance. Lauren Alaina has gained another fan here; it’s a seriously impressive collection from a very promising talent. Whether she’ll stay country in future is the big question, but there’s enough on this album to keep everybody happy and I think it’ll surprise a few this year.