NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kellie Pickler wants you to know she's a traditional gal — and she's making it very clear with her new album, "100 Proof."
The platinum blonde "American Idol" alum is pulling back from the pop-country tunes that once defined her, like "Red High Heels" and "Best Days Of Your Life," and replacing them with ones that reflect her traditional country roots. The album was released this week.
"I guess it's been like three-and-a-half years since my last record came out. ... So a lot has happened in my life. I'm married. I've grown up a lot, because when I started this I was 19 and green when I did my first record, 'Small Town Girl,'" said Pickler. "So much has happened in my life. Most of it is on the record."
Pickler, 25, took cues from her musical heroes, the big wigs of women in country music. The opening track even name checks one of those legends in "Where's Tammy Wynette."
"I love Tammy Wynette. She's a big reason why I fell in love with country music. You wouldn't know that if you listened to (my) past things," Pickler said. "I love that sound, and I wanted to sprinkle a little bit of the people that influenced me to be here in the first place but make it my record."
Pickler wrote more on this album than in the past, penning six of the 11 songs. Two are very personal and reflect her separate, complicated relationships with her mother and father.
"Mother's Day" explains her mixed feelings about the day — how she avoids it but wishes for a reason to celebrate. Her mom abandoned her when she was little, and they have no contact today. Pickler wrote the tune with husband Kyle Jacobs and reveals emotional growth that took years.
"I went through all of the stages of hurt and crying and mad and angry and just red, seeing red. I went through all of those emotions, which anyone would ... I had to get it out, and then I realized, this ain't working. This ain't making anything better," she said. "When you get to that place where you can forgive and just let go, it's so freeing."
On "The Letter," Pickler thanks her dad "for never giving up on us" and addresses his past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Pickler was raised by her father but lived with her grandparents when he was in prison.
"My dad was very much a part of my life growing up. However, when he was incarcerated we wrote letters back and forth, and I have every single one of them," she said.
"I see so much growth in both of us in a good way. There's a lot that's happened since the first letter was ever written," she said, fighting back tears. "Where we were then versus today, I mean it's night and day. It's my little treasure chest."
As for the rest of the album, Pickler doesn't lose her sassy personality.
"There's songs that are fun, upbeat. We've got 'Unlock That Honky Tonk' that's rockin'. There's a lot of banjo. There's a lot of steel. There's a lot of fiddle. There's a lot of my favorite musical instruments," she said.
"Tough" was the first song released from "100 Proof." A friend wrote it for Pickler based on a conversation they had about her life.
"You think physically tough, but this song is about being emotionally tough. It's about being a tough woman. It's about letting the things and the obstacles and the speed bumps you hit in life; it doesn't bring you down. It makes you strong. It doesn't make you weak," said Pickler. "Like it or love it, this is the way I am."
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