By Mandi Bierly
Updated April 12, 2007 at 07:31 PM EDT
Credit: Mark Sullivan/

Last month, while previewing Nashville Star‘s season finale in the pages of EW, I said that if country fans didn’t vote the way I wanted them to (i.e., choosing eventual winner Angela Hacker), they deserved American Idol season 5 finalist Bucky Covington, who drops a self-titled debut April 17.

Cut to the EW issue hitting stands tomorrow, in which I’m giving Bucky’s album a B+. Now, I know I’m not the only one who didn’t think he had it in him after this, but who else will admit that they were wrong after enjoying a full-length “Sneak Peek” of the album’s 11 tracks?

addCredit(“Bucky Covington: Mark Sullivan/”)

If you’ve only got time (or will give time) for one song, make it”The Bible and the Belt.” Bucky’s throaty Southern drawl, and someserious guitars, rock those hillbilly blues: “Mamma sang the gospel,daddy drove it home/ Momma was an angel, daddy was a brimstone/ Onefoot in Heaven, one foot in hell/ I found religion ‘tween the Bible andthe belt.” If you dig that, you’ll also enjoy “Ain’t No Thing,” inwhich Bucky emulates one of his idols, Jeff Healey:”I can get feelin’ down/ I can cruise downtime/ And find a good placeto cry/ And drink a bottle dry/ I could see closin’ time/ I could easemy mind/ In all them little honky-tonk joints/ But baby what’s thepoint…”( Let’s hope he can sell those barn burners live.)

The rest of the album, spearheaded by Sawyer Brown frontman MarkMiller (who contacted Bucky the day after he got the boot from Cowelland Co.), is a lesson in versatility. While I can appreciate theold-school sounds of the first single “Different World” and the gospelrevival “Hometown,” I’d like them even better if George Jones would’verecorded them. I prefer my nostalgia, as sung by a 29-year-old anyway,a bit more cocky — and the three men-and-a-hot-rod road-trip anthem”Back When We Were Gods” produces. (Unlike the rebel-rousingalbum-opener “American Friday Night,” that references Domino’s. Notsexy.)

For folks who like Keith Urban’s poppy exuberance, there’s “It’sGood to Be Us,” and for those who prefer Trace Adkins-styleI’ve-been-wronged pissiness, there’s “Empty Handed.” Covington had ahand in writing one track on the album, and that’s “Carolina Blue,”which sounds like a steel-guitar smooth-groove tribute to another ofBucky’s idols, George Strait.Finally, should you like to push your country to the extreme, there’sthe cheeky “I’m Good,” in which Bucky asks the Lord to help him woo thedeacon’s daughter. (He’s diesel fuel and she’s holy water.) And thenthere’s the one weepy ballad, “I’ll Walk.” He and his prom date have afight. She gets out of the car. She’s wearing a black dress. You seewhere this is headed, right?