The Spinners

Unbroken (Katharine McPhee, 2010)

In American, Leo Ray Valencia, Pop on January 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

It’s a bit difficult trying to appraise Katharine McPhee’s sophomore offering Unbroken. The Idol runner-up’s drastic change in musical style (and packaging) gets her closer artistically to what most fans expected she’d be doing, but a little farther from the pop qualities she became famous for early in her career.

Thankfully, she trades the glitz and ditz of her debut release with a more mature, organic sound this time around. Working with the likes of Paula Cole, Ingrid Michaelson and Rachael Yamagata, and with producer John Alagia (John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews Band) at the helm, McPhee passes almost convincingly as a singer-songwriter. She co-writes half of the album’s twelve originals. However, the gaping discrepancy between her first record and this new one leaves you wondering who the real Katharine McPhee is. You wonder if the decision towards the new direction is just as calculated and strategic as the decisions made on her much-overlooked first album to get her as far from that bumblebee dressed persona she used to sport, therefore belying all the introspection offered throughout the record.

Having said that, Unbroken, on its own merit, is a very pleasing listen. McPhee has put together a collection of songs that highlights her vocal range effectively. Must-hear tracks include self-penned “Keep Drivin'”, a lovely ambient track that lets McPhee’s lower register shine; “Faultline”, a brooding yet restrained ballad well-interpreted vocally; and “Surrender”, the best showcase of her lyrical talent (How many lives ’til I get this one right, ’til I give up the fight and just surrender. . .) that could well be a shoo-in for a television soundtrack. Overall, Unbroken is a move to the right direction for McPhee, albeit a few steps too far to be entirely believable. Bring back just a little bit of that old pop swagger and maybe we’ll be wanting to hear some more.

– Leo Ray Valencia

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