Carrie Underwood's first gospel album is straightforward and stunning
Since being anointed American Idol in 2005, Carrie Underwood has packed more stadiums and festival fields than most of her peers, and has hosted the CMA Awards a whopping 12 times. She remains one of the best-selling country artists ever, and her shows are as deafening as that of any rock star; few things rip harder live than "Before He Cheats," her cover of Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," or "Somethin' Bad," her dynamite duet with Miranda Lambert.
However, Underwood — a devout Christian who's always been vocal about her faith — calls My Savior "the album I've always wanted to make — this is legacy stuff for me." She's incorporated elements of gospel into her sets in the past (notably, her powerful cover of "How Great Thou Art"), and her first single, "Jesus, Take the Wheel," earned awards from the Gospel Music Association. But this 13-song collection is her first complete volume of devotional music.
With a sparse aesthetic that leans on acoustic arrangements and the strength of Underwood's voice, the listening experience is far closer to what one would find in a church service (that happened to feature a band of Nashville's finest players) than the massive sound of her previous albums. After opening with a quick instrumental interlude, she launches into the lush, fast-picking "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus." "Blessed Assurance" follows suit, with Underwood accompanied only by a hushed guitar and harmonica, while album closer "Amazing Grace" makes for a lovely finale and showcase for her exceptional range. Many of these songs reach a dramatic, cloud-grazing crescendo, as Underwood hits the rafters with "I Surrender All" and "The Old Rugged Cross."
In the trailer for My Savior, Underwood joked about the challenge she set before herself by revisiting the very first songs she sang in public, both with her gospel project and My Gift, her 2020 Christmas album: "You've been singing these songs your whole life, but have you ever sang them by yourself?!" The bulk of My Savior's tracks were written in the 1800s — the most contemporary, Bill and Gloria Gaither's "Because He Lives," was penned in the 1970s — but nothing about Underwood's approach feels boring, stale, or preachy. Though many of these hymns have long since entered the public domain, becoming standards and sacred classics for millions of Christians, Underwood manages to offer a fresh interpretation — no small feat, considering "How Great Thou Art" was adopted as Billy Graham's signature song, and Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood, and more have each recorded versions of the songs that make up the album's repertoire. The world may know Underwood as a chart-topping force to be reckoned with, but My Savior is stunning and simple — and one of her most intimate projects yet. A