Cry Pretty

Cry Pretty

Carrie Underwood has long been America’s country-pop sweetheart, belting playful revenge anthems and hear-me-roar power ballads. But her sixth album brings a shift in tone: Topical and contemplative, it represents a period of personal change (at 35, she’s a new mom and expecting her second child), and comes at a moment so politically fraught that even traditionally conservative country megastars are daring to ask tough questions. There’s urgency in songs like “The Bullet” and “Love Wins” (detailing the emotional wreckage of shootings and the importance of gay rights, respectively), and courageous reflections on private battles in “Drinking Alone” and “Spinning Bottles.” The title track draws a hard line between vulnerability and weakness. “Falling apart is as human as it gets,” she sings. On any other album, the party songs (“Southbound”) and hip-hop collaborations (“The Champion,” featuring Ludacris) would steal the spotlight, but here they’re simply outshined. Thirteen years after her American Idol debut, we’re finally getting to know the woman behind the mic.

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