The Curse of the Sophomore Album hit Gretchen Wilson hard. Her debut, Here for the Party, was everything the critics said it was and more. "Redneck Woman" was the big-time sing-along anthem, but there were rich ballads and zesty rockers behind it. Here for the Party also called attention to the Musik Mafia, the Nashville songwriting clique that included Wilson and Big & Rich, the duo that was about to blow up with its anti-Music Row approach that, among other things, paired country with hip-hop.
But then Wilson released All Jacked Up and everything that seemed so fresh on the first record now came across as stale and forced. "One Bud Wiser" was a novelty song begging for a better punchline. "California Girls" lamented the artificial Paris Hilton and praised Dolly Parton, who's never been shy about enhancing her, uh, assets. The rest was only better in that it was eminently forgettable. Country fans turned away in droves, and Wilson's title as the Queen of Country Music was short-lived.
Now comes One of the Boys, and the low-key promotional push that's accompanied its release seems right. This is an album that doesn't worry about topping "Redneck Woman" and instead just digs up some interesting, well-written songs (many of those co-written by Wilson herself) and delivers them with a quiet and determined professionalism.
Perhaps the surprise is how traditional the album sounds, with lots of mid-tempo songs driven by pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo. "There's a Place in the Whiskey" is the sole rocker, but it leaves a sweet vapor trail. "If You Want a Mother" finds laughs by sizing up a poor slob who needs to go back to his mama. "Painkiller," an aching ballad that can stand among Wilson's best, is about getting over an ex with a one night stand that will "taste bitter" but bring relief.
Three albums in, Wilson has become — surprise — a rather conventional country artist. One of the Boys has several excellent songs and some obvious filler ("Good Ole Boy"). But if you're a fan of straightforward country music, this album should give you reason to celebrate. — Werner Trieschmann