Picks and Pans Review: Here for the Party

UPDATED 06/07/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/07/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Gretchen Wilson

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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I ain't no high-class broad/ I say, 'Hey, y'all' and 'Yee-haw' and I keep my Christmas lights on my front porch all year long/ And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song." So proudly announces Gretchen Wilson, 30, on "Redneck Woman," the hit first single off her debut disc, which opened at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart. Sounding like a cross between Carlene Carter and the pre-glitzed-over incarnation of Shania Twain, Wilson is a most welcome addition to the ranks of country-rockers. She sings with an exceptional level of energy and control, unabashedly flaunting her good-ol'-gal proclivities. Wilson cowrote "Redneck Woman" with John Rich of Big & Rich, who has been an adviser to her since they met in a Nashville club. The two also cowrote (along with Vicky McGehee) another of the album's highlights, "When I Think About Cheatin'," with its ingratiatingly rueful lyric "Even when I'm tempted by some stranger/ There's never any danger/ I just think about you leavin' when I think about cheatin'." Meanwhile, Wilson, Rich and his usual sidekick Big Kenny cowrote the honky-tonkish title tune, a brash song that reflects Wilson's hard-living background: She moved to Nashville in 1996 from Pocahontas, Ill., where she dropped out of school after eighth grade to help manage a bar five miles outside of town. This may not have been a great triumph for liquor-licensing laws, but it does give Wilson some credibility as a honky-tonker now. And if there's any justice, this rousing Party will make her a big star.

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