American Idol finalist's long-awaited debut CD a pleasant surprise

Foxes On Idol, 18th August, 2007

Carmen

Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington and Josh Gracin all capitalized on their American Idol fame, immediately signed record deals and instantly became country hit-makers.

There was no such fortune for Carmen Rasmusen, season 2's sixth-place finisher.

Though Simon Cowell once told the blonde-haired, petite country crooner he thought she was "the most commercial" artist in a batch including Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Kimberley Locke and Gracin, Rasmusen took five years to release her first full-length record. The 11-song collection on Lofton Creek Records, Nothin' Like the Summer, hits music stores on August 28 but became available for digital download on August 14.

It's well worth the wait.

If the quality of songs on her new album is any indication of where Rasmusen's career is headed, she may challenge Pickler, Covington and Gracin as the second-best country singer from American Idol (It's pretty clear that no one may catch Carrie Underwood as the top country singer, Idol or not). In fact, she may also end up surpassing several other established country stars.

From the sing-along, up-tempo "Happy" to the tender romantic love ballad, "Gather Me Up,” Nothin’ Like the Summer is filled with several potential top 20 hits, with a few tunes that could break into the top 10. She manages to mix contemporary and traditional country styles into one, bringing back memories of a young Mindy McCready ("Ten Thousand Angels"). As with her 2004 EP, Carmen, she even adds a hint of bluegrass here and there.

In addition to co-writing three tracks, including the soothing mid-tempo summer anthem and first single, "Nothin' Like the Summer," Rasmusen captures songs from well-respected songwriters around Nashville. Lyric Street recording artist Sarah Buxton, who wrote Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy", penned "Silly Me", while Kristyn Osborn of SHeDAISY composed "Stranded". Coincidentally, those two songs, also co-written by Rasmusen's producer Jason Deere, are the best on this CD.

With Rasmusen's near-flawless vocals exuding heart-wrenching emotion, the subjects in "Stranded" and "Silly Me" are blaming themselves for getting involved in unhealthy relationships. Now, they are questioning their own actions and wondering what's next in life.

Rasumsen evens throws in some humor during the country-song-to-a-definition "Spend That Money" and the hillbilly-rock "You Scare Me To Death," a song she co-wrote with Deere after her experience on NBC's Fear Factor in 2006. "Spend That Money," highlighted by stretched notes, the steel guitar and a woman's confession that money (not looks or personality) will win her over, has No. 1 smash written all over it if the song gets the right breaks at radio.

Another standout includes the up-tempo, violin-filled "Your Love" that includes the lines, "... your love is the best distraction, in my heart you're the main attraction, your love is like my momma's homemade pie ..." This sing-along tune has all the making of another hit record.

The story-telling, "Love Will Wait" conjures memories of Trisha Yearwood's "She's In Love With the Boy". Like the Yearwood classic, the parents of a teen daughter don't approve of a boyfriend. While the girl's mother comes around in the Yearwood tune, she doesn't in this one. Rasmusen's song includes a third verse when the couple later gets married and has children.

Songs like the inspirational Keith Urban-esque "Shine" and the soft, anniversary anthem-in-the-making ballad, "Keep Me Forever Falling" also add a nice touch to the record.

There are no weak songs on this CD. However, there are no blockbuster ballads to push it over the edge. In fact, "Silly Me" could have been that song. As good as the album version is, the stripped-down, piano-only mix of the song on Rasmusen's official site is even better. Also, there's no remix of "Photograph," the highlight on her EP three years ago. Bummer.

While it's unlikely Rasmusen will get promotion comparable to the other Idol country singers since she's with an independent label, this CD is definitely one to have in your collection. You will not be disappointed. This is one of the best CD to come from an Idol alum.

NOTE: Rasmusen's label, Lofton Creek Records, includes on its roster Heartland, a country group which rose to stardom in 2006 with a No. 1 country smash, "I Loved Her First". Lofton Creek also recently signed '90s country star Mark Chesnutt.

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