Unapologetically (Deluxe Edition)
That period of time between leaving high school and fumbling into one’s mid-twenties is difficult enough. Kelsea Ballerini had to navigate those years with the added weight of a good chunk of the country-music world watching, having opened that decade with the youthful country-pop of her 2015 debut, The First Time and finding a more mature voice on 2017’s Unapologetically. If her sophomore record is any indication, she got through the growing pains with grace, proving her readiness for more ambitious levels of stardom and expanding her sonic palette to include grander pop arrangements and R&B elements. Maybe more significantly, the East Tennessee native embraces vulnerability in an intimate way on Unapologetically. The album is structured in three parts; in the first four songs, Ballerini deals with the fallout of the breakup she went through as her first album was released, delivering a pep talk to herself with the swaggering “Miss Me More.” In the middle third, she unpacks a period of self-discovery and acceptance of change, contrasting the leaps and bounds she’s grown since leaving home with the story of a former jock who can’t leave his football glory days behind on “High School.” And finally, she blossoms in the light of a new romance, as evidenced by the swelling title track, outfitted with choruses that seem to glow with the same energy as someone who’s just fallen in love. Like a typical Ballerini album, Unapologetically finds her in the writer or co-writer chair for every song (apart from a couple of bonus tracks), showcasing her nuance as a lyricist and emphasizing her development as a songwriter. She cleverly subverts the dreamy doo-wop rhythm of “I Hate Love Songs” with a laundry list of romantic clichés she hates, building a sincere love song in the process. And she asserts her multitudes on the gentle “In Between” by accepting contradiction. It’s no small feat to pack such subtleties into country-pop’s confines, but with her second record, Kelsea Ballerini proves herself a pro—unapologetically.