I love Kristin Chenoweth. I first came to know about her after listening to the Wicked cast recording back in 2008. I immediately fell in love with her and Idina Menzel as a result and to this day I tend to check up on both of them every now and then, just to know what they’ve been up to. In that regard, Idina tends to be easier to track, though Kristin hasn’t faded into obscurity either, having joined the cast of a successful TV series (two if you count her guest starring role in Glee) and headlined a couple other theatre productions since.
In the musical end, though, Chenoweth is a rather divisive artist: She’s talented for sure, but the material she chooses to follow seems to be all over the place, so it is very hard to catalog her in any particular type of music, and her squeaky voice means her performances, though always strong, are sometimes a hit-and-miss affair, since her voice isn’t well suited to sing just everything.
Luckily, her voice isn’t a deterrent in this album, where Chenoweth keeps herself to the middle/low end of her vocal range, which keeps her voice from getting squeaky and annoying anyone while she sings – Meaning the chosen material largely suits her voice just fine, since she has a strong voice and it’s the high pitched songs that can make her voice become a bit hard to swallow.
However, the material chosen is a different issue on itself. All songs seem to be hit-or-miss material, not because of how well suited she might be to sing them (She can do them all just fine, thank you very much), but because of the quality of the material itself. The first single didn’t fare well with the critics, and with a good reason: “I Want Somebody (Bitch About!)” was released as the lead single of a country album, Chenoweth’s first foray into the genre. However, the song itself is much more of a pop song than a country song, the lyrics are whiny and it’s over produced – Sure it was written to appeal to the masses, but from a critical standpoint, the song is largely a miss, even for the mainstream pop music market.
Thankfully, the song isn’t really a good representative of the whole album, since the rest of the songs don’t really get to the horrible lyrical simplicity or downright commercial sound of said song. That, however, doesn’t mean the rest of the album is a masterpiece, for the other songs are about as divisive as most of Chenoweth’s work. The main issue in this album is that it suffers from a lack of identity of sorts, never quite deciding whether it wants to be a pop album or a country album – Sure there are country staples and sounds in here, but the performances given by Chenoweth thread a little too close to top 40s/adult pop and shy away a little too much from country.
However, that doesn’t mean the album should be dissed, since even when Chenoweth’s vocal performance at times don’t seem to suit the genre she’s tackling too much, she certainly keeps herself well above nearly any current pop music diva (Except, perhaps, the likes of Adele and the few ones that actually have some talent).
The repertoire for the album, as previously said, ranges from great to weak, in an album that doesn’t quite seem to find a comfortable place, where songs seem to wildly change themes and styles, making it look much more like a collection than a proper piece of work. The mixtures just lack cohesion, even when many of the songs are good. Also, it is important to note that the album has a mixture of covers and new songs, and that actually isn’t a bad thing – Chenoweth manages to do justice to two known songs, first by opening with a great version of Lady Antebellum’s “I Was Here” complete with a chorale backing her up, and then by gracing us with her own version of Dolly Parton’s “Change”, where she delivers a vocal performance that can give Dolly a run for her money – However, said performance can also be seen as a detractor to the song, since a part of the appeal of the original recording is Dolly’s raspy, breathy vocals that make the whole song sound as if it’s being sung while crying. Chenoweth’s version misses that spot and, though vocally flawless, can easily make the song lose its identity and fall in line with so many other heartbreak ballads.
Sadly, not all the newer songs in the album sound as good as the covers, with a quality that ranks from the near-excellence of the nostalgia filled “Fathers and Daughters” to the simple craziness of “What Would Dolly Do?”, a song that’s barely saved by its strong rhythm from becoming unbearable. Sure, it is a fun song, but there’s little more to it than that, since even the vocal performance is far from amazing, making Chenoweth sound like your regular country singer. There are other highlights of the album, though, one of them being “God and Me”, a beautiful slow-paced folk song touching the subject of why God allowed our hearts to break, the full-on country inspired “I Didn’t”, which managed to avoid the oddness of “What Would Dolly Do?” by actually mixing somewhat serious lyrics with a country rhythm.
The odd part of the album (the part that’s more adult pop than country) also has its highlights, those being mainly “Wreck You” and “What If We Never”, both amazing ballads with great performances whose only sin is having been misplaced amid what was meant to be a country music album. Sure, they sound good, but their sound isn’t really close to that of country music, and putting them there just seems to have been a lack of judgment from Chenoweth.
All in all, “Some Lessons Learned” isn’t a bad album – It is certainly enjoyable, but it’s very hard to listen to it and not feel that it lacks a proper identity, since it presents an odd mixture of styles while having been promoted as simply a country music album. I can’t help but think it would’ve fared much better if Chenoweth had presented us with two albums (Or a double album) – A country music album and an adult pop album, dividing the tracks from this album into two discs according to their styles and doing away with the lead single which, catchy and lovely as it might be, seems to detract the whole product from attaining much artistic credibility.
Nevertheless, Chenoweth once more has proven she can indeed sing, and even with the clear division in types of music in the album, she manages to show she can successfully tackle both and shine in them at the same time. I just wish she had learned more than just some lessons, since she seems to have missed the one where you carefully select the tracks for your album to make it sound coherent as a whole and keep it from sounding like a collection of random songs.
Final review rating: 3.5/5
Availability: The album is currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com
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