The title of country singer Mindy McCready’s fifth studio album, I’m Still Here, somewhat falsely implies that the singer has fallen off the public radar, even though it arrives at the end of her run on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. While it’s true that she hasn’t had a hit single at country radio in 12 years, her status as a scandal-plagued tabloid fixture has earned McCready considerable notoriety in the intervening years and has ultimately distracted from her musical career. That’s a shame, really, because McCready was always an underrated talent, a vocalist with both a distinctive sense of phrasing and a knack for finding a fertile middle-ground between country and pop.
Here only intermittently hints at those strengths. Though McCready has attempted to build a cohesive collection of songs that speaks to her struggles to find sobriety and inner peace, the material here is too uneven to convey that message with any real clarity. Opener “Wrong Again” gets the album off to a strong start, with McCready turning in one of her most pensive, introspective vocal performances. But “I Want to Love You,” “The Way You Make Me Melt,” and “Fades” are all rote, uninspired adult contemporary tracks that play as simple album filler. Lead single “I Want a Man” isn’t a song so much as a laundry list of contradictory statements, and “Songs About You” plays like a ripoff of one of the more memorable songs from Carrie Underwood’s Play On.
On the better cuts, including “By Her Side” and the title track, McCready demonstrates how she has matured into a singer of real sensitivity. She even turns in a cover of “The Dance,” one of Garth Brooks’s signature hits, that impresses for its restraint and melancholy. She’s never been the most technically gifted singer, but the way she swallows her vowels and breaks her voice at the end of phrases gives her performances character. The problem with the record is that there’s no depth to most of the songs, so there’s only so much McCready can do with them. There’s no questioning McCready’s sincerity, but she’s going to have to exercise better taste in material if she wants to make a full-fledged comeback.