Up until this past summer, when 2008 fifth-place finisher Brooke White released HIGH HOPES AND HEARTBREAK, I had overwhelmingly ignored practically every artist that was ever on "American Idol" that ever released an album. I just felt, and still largely do, that even as it tries to promote new talent, it also seems to promote the continued corporate approach to pop music of today. Brooke's album was the sole exception up to that point, a breezy bit of 1970s California-inspired pop.
In her wake, then, there is Katharine McPhee, who finished second to Taylor Hicks on "Idol" in 2006. I wasn't exactly high on her self-titled post-"Idol" 2007 album, thinking it sounded like everything else on today's adult contemporary and R&B radio. However, her second album, UNBROKEN, is a different sort of album from its predecessor. For while it still contains the AC and R&B elements of its predecessor, there is a noticeable emphasis, as there was on Brooke's album, on acoustic-influenced 1970s pop elements, like on "Lifetime", and the up-tempo "Had It All". Katharine also does a fairly good vocal workout on "Faultline" without resorting to the irritating melisma that seems to be part-and-parcel of far too many divas that will remain nameless. She gets able assistance, both in the writing and performing aspects of the songs, from people like Rachel Yamagata and veteran guitarist Mark Goldenberg, who worked with rock icon Linda Ronstadt thirty years before on her somewhat controversial but hugely successful 1980 new-wave rock album MAD LOVE. The big surprise in this collection, however, is Katharine's reggae-influenced cover of "Brand New Key", which had been a #1 hit for three weeks in the winter of 1971-72 for folk-pop songstress Melanie. Katharine claimed that she had not heard Melanie's original before she was about ready to record it, but she sounds quite comfortable doing it.
It's this kind of largely uncluttered production on UNBROKEN that, like Brooke's album from '09, sets it apart from the more hyped-up "Idol" divas Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood: nothing extreme, everything done just right and tasteful, but with a good deal of originality. This may likely end up being one of my personal favorites in 2010.