Signature lead singer’s voice gets lost in "Pioneer"
“Pioneer” is an extremely odd combination of songs for a band whose previous hit “If I Die Young” and the extremely popular current single “Better Dig Two” both featured understated instrumentation, detailed lyrics and plenty of room for the haunting vocals of The Band Perry’s lead singer Kimberly Perry. Rather than expanding that motif beyond the first track, “Pioneer” consists mostly of ballads and songs with just a little too much electric guitar and heavy percussion to fit even in the modern definition of country music.
“Pioneer” misses what makes the Band Perry unique
A banjo twanging in taught, nearly silent air. Vocals uninhibited by blaring amplifiers. Lyrics that paint a picture of a girl whose obsessive love for her husband is just not quite right. These were the things that made The Band Perry stand out on country radio, and “Pioneer” wanders away from them in a bland direction.
There are three types of songs on The Band Perry’s newest album: There are tracks that harken back to “If I Die Young” with a banjo and haunting vocals, and maybe a splash of rock influence. Then there are generic ballads, each as long and forgettable as the last. And finally songs like “Done,” the second single off of “Pioneer,” with so much rock-influence it’s hard to call them country with a straight face.
Too many ballads takes the life out of “Pioneer”
The banjo songs are classic Band Perry. “Better Dig Two” does everything you could want it to; it’s not afraid to let Kimberly’s voice stand on its own two very sturdy legs, even when it ramps up from just banjo to a full band. The rock songs are hit and miss, with “Night Gone Wasted” sitting at the bottom of the boring heap. But the thorn in this album’s side is the collection of ballads. Just as you start to bob your head along to “Done,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” kicks off the ballad parade — which continues to trample the album’s momentum every time it tries to build any. Most of these ballads are at least four minutes long, causing irreparable damage to the flow of the disc — and they aren’t good enough songs to stand on their own either.
Lady Antebellum has the lovesick country ballad down, and The Band Perry should let them do their thing. Generic background vocals and lyrics like "take the keys to my car / and the keys to my heart / and just drive" in “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” combine for an almost cringe-worthy level of cheese. If you drop the tempo and the volume, I should be rewarded for listening harder with rich, intricate lyrics. The exception to this sluggish, dreary rule is “Mother Like Mine,” which features Kimberly's lovely voice singing words you want to listen to: “She's the sky that holds the clouds / She's the lady of the house / A blind believer in all I dare to be / There's no safer place I've found / Than the shoulder of her white nightgown.”
Leave room for her voice to shine
The Band Perry has been together a long time; the three siblings have been making music together since they were children. Back then, Kimberly was the lone star as her brothers acted as roadies — though eventually making it on stage as well. As the band matured the balance improved, and “Pioneer” is certainly not The Kimberly Show — nor should it be. But when your best songs demand the instruments take a back seat to let her voice do its thing, it’s probably best to give that voice a chance to shine. “Pioneer” gets too lost in electric guitar and drums to let the signature of the band — Kimberly’s voice — take the lead.