She’s been billed as the halfway point between Stripped-era Christina Aguilera and Carrie Underwood, and sure enough, Jessie James’s self-titled debut is chock-full of the former’s shouted, melismatic vocal pyrotechnics and the latter’s why-even-bother banjo fills. There’s nothing inherently wrong with James’s intentions to position herself as a crossover star, but she and her producers go about it in the wrong way. By attempting to please fans of pop, hip-hop, and country all at the same time, songs like “Bullet” and “My Cowboy” use only the most superficial aspects of each of those genres, resulting in a diluted approximation of each one that likely won’t impress any of their respective fans. Over the last decade, other artists (most notably Bubba Sparxxx, Buck 65, and Big & Rich) have attempted to develop a hybrid of hip-hop and country with mixed results. James, like Big & Rich before her, approaches this idea as more of a gimmick than a true aesthetic or even as an idea worth taking seriously, which is why so much of the album rings false. As such, it’s no surprise that James’s effort lacks the creativity of Sparxxx’s Deliverance, and it’s even less of a shock to see John Rich credited as the producer of “My Cowboy.” Problems with the production and marketing gimmick aside, the album could have been salvaged with better songs. Lead single “Wanted” builds to a suitably massive pop hook that gives James ample room to show off her powerful voice, but precious few singers could salvage “Girl Next Door” and “Bullet,” a couple of co-writes by the useless Katy Perry. “Blue Jeans” is perhaps the album’s best shot at a Top 40 hit, as it’s the best written of the seemingly endless string of songs that try to position James as some kind of wild child. While she’s able to pull off that bad-girl vamp far more convincingly than Underwood, that isn’t saying much, and James certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Aguilera at her skankiest.
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