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Album Review

Katharine McPhee, 'Unbroken'

January 4, 2010

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Despite being only 25 years old, Katharine McPhee has gone through three musical incarnations. The runner-up on season five of “American Idol’’ was a big-voiced belter. Post “Idol,’’ she morphed into a dance-floor pop tart whose identity was lost amid calculated songs and star producers. With her first record for Verve Forecast, the newly blond McPhee transforms into a straight-up pop singer with an ache in her voice and a newfound focus. “Unbroken’’ is a conventional set, at times too much so, with a stripped-down musical backdrop of acoustic guitars and piano. McPhee has smartly reined in her vocal approach to find the nuances of the lyrics without trying to raise the roof. The songs, a healthy six of which she co-wrote, deal with longing, emptiness, and pained love. The disc is at its best when it avoids formulaic exercises like “Had It All,’’ which the cliche-loving Kara DioGuardi copenned. When McPhee lets the lyrics breathe, she shines; on the title track, the requisite big ballad, she finds its center and gives it a soul. The cover of “Brand New Key’’ is a mistake since McPhee misses the song’s loopy whimsicality. Otherwise, McPhee version 3.0 works. (Out tomorrow) KEN CAPOBIANCO

Pop
Katharine McPhee Unbroken
Verve Forecast
ESSENTIAL “Unbroken’’