The seeds for the title track on Kellie Pickler‘s fourth album, The Woman I Am (due out November 12th) were sown soon after the country singer and former American Idol contestant’s recent Dancing With the Stars victory. A journalist asked her which one of her songs she’d play for a new listener who had never heard her music and she said: “You know, honestly I don’t know if I’ve written it yet, but I’m going to.”
Inspired by that declaration, Pickler and her husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, wrote the title track later that night.
In recent years, Pickler has branched out from the sheen-pop sound of her first two records, starting with her acclaimed 2012 album 100 Proof, which favored a rough-and-tumble honky-tonk sound that conjured her heroes Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. On Woman, she capitalizes on that confidence, and aims to evolve and expand on Telecaster twang and natural, raw, romping feel of 100 Proof. “I love that classic, traditional sound. I love that tear in Tammy Wynette’s voice,” Pickler tells Rolling Stone. “There’s still a little bit of that sound that we did on the last record, but it’s not the same album.”
Pickler stuck with 100 Proof’s winning formula, again drafting producers Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten to helm the record. “They have a way of bringing out the best in me and I think they really helped me discover the artist in myself,” she explains. “They’ve helped me find my own sound.”
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On a dozen new tracks tracks, that sound spans the sonic country landscape between the lead-off single, the pining ballad “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” and its breezy, country-rock follow-up, “Little Bit Gypsy.” The guitar-heavy, shuffling song, which Pickler says is the record’s poppiest moment, sounds like her take on Tom Petty covering Elvis Costello’s “You Belong To Me.”
Included on Woman is an up-tempo rocker called “Bonnie and Clyde,” a tune Pickler co-wrote with Jacobs and Liz Rose — the songsmith behind a handful of Taylor Swift cuts, including Swift’s debut single “Tim McGraw.” She also finds herself in a lighthearted mood on “Ain’t No Cure for Crazy,” and exploring her roots on “Selma Drye,” a song she wrote with Phillip Lammonds and Billy Montana, that was inspired by its namesake: her tobacco-chewin’, pistol-packin’ “hillbilly” great-grandmother. “She was a spitfire,” Pickler recalls. “She lived in this little trailer in front of [my grandparents’ house] for over 40 years. She never drove a car, never had a driver’s license – that was the devil. She was just a strong woman and that song is really about her and her generation of women, and how they were raised.”
Many of Pickler’s family memories offer little in the way of fond nostalgia for the singer, who was raised by her paternal grandparents after her mother abandoned her at a young age and her father drifted in and out of prison. Pickler sang about that difficult background on 100 Proof’s heartbreakingly personal centerpiece “Mother’s Day,” and touches on it again on Woman’s equally personal “I Forgive You,” a song she’d kept in her back pocket ever since the Small Town Girl sessions.
“It just wasn’t meant to be at that time,” she says, explaining why the song is only just now seeing the light of day, admitting that it she wasn’t ready, both in her family relationships and emotionally, to do it justice.
“I love this song because there’s so much closure and healing [in it],” she says. “I think there’s so much grace in the words ‘I forgive you.’ I think people are really going to identify with that and I hope that song helps a lot of people.”
Comfortably continuing to find herself in her unapologetic country roots and effortless candor, Pickler says she plans to keep heading down that path. “I think it would be fun to maybe make a bluegrass-type record one day,” she says with excitement, perhaps already pondering what’s next.