Album Review – Cam’s ‘Untamed’

It’s no secret that Cam’s single “Burning House” was one of 2015’s best mainstream country singles. The song peaked at number two, but the slow burning track proved that you didn’t need a party anthem to get radio play and recognition, especially for a brand new, female solo artist. That song piqued my interest in Cam’s debut album and I’ve been anxious to hear more of her music. It’s odd that her label decided to wait until mid-December to release an album, especially coming off a gold certified single like “Burning House.” There’s little buzz around a December release date. Cam became a household name once “Burning House” took off and her debut album, Untamed, carries a variety of sounds for Cam to build her pop country career around. With that said, its pop country set to some good lyrics. Cam shows off her songwriting chops, co-writing all 11 songs on Untamed.

Untamed begins with the title track. A harmonica blast on top of crickets sounds and a train horn fades up before the percussion clapping kicks in to set the beat for Cam’s vocals. Cam sings about partying out on a spot where the cops don’t go.” The pop country jam has a unique production between the prominent harmonica and banjo sounds, but it’s the same old story mainstream country has treated us to time and time again. “Hungover on Heartache” compares the end of a relationship to a hangover. Cam uses the verses to describe her feelings and pain; it’s not a bad song lyrically. However, Cam’s vocals seem to drown in the chorus a bit and trail as the lines finish. This is a good song that’s otherwise hindered by a weak vocal performance.

On “Mayday” Cam sings of a failing relationship that’s ready to end, even if those involved are not ready. She uses the metaphor of a sinking ship to describe their relationship as they both gear up for the inevitable end. The mid-tempo production is slightly overproduced, but the drums carry the song nicely. “Mayday” is well paced, well written, and well sung, sitting as one of the better tracks on Untamed. This is followed by the album’s hit single “Burning House.” As I wrote in the song review, ““Burning House” features a beautifully haunting production. The lone acoustic melody on the introduction combined with the opening line of “I had a dream about a burning house” sets the mood perfectly for the sadness to come. The phrase “less is more” couldn’t be more relevant to “Burning House.” The simplicity of the three instruments allows the listener room to breathe and focus on the story.”

“Cold in California” is a love song that finds Cam and her love separated by distance. He’s dreaming of a life under the spotlights in California, and she’s willing to let him go. However, she shows her devotion to him and is willing to take him back if he gets cold in California. The only issue I have with this song is the over production. There’s too much happening behind the vocals that distracts from the story. Cam follows this with her debut single, “My Mistake.” Josh praised the song in his review, saying, “Cam shows she has dynamic vocals throughout the song too. While she grabbed the listeners’ attentions right away, she’s also able to hold their attention throughout the song. She has good presence and it’s something that will serve her well as she is establishing herself in fans’ eyes.” I’ll echo that “My Mistake” is one of the few songs on Untamed on which Cam showcases her vocal powers.

On “Runaway Train”, Cam compares her heartbroken self to a runaway train. She’s been burned by this man and won’t let her anger be subdued. The production is fittingly upbeat and chaotic in conjunction with the lyrical picture Cam paints. The acoustic guitar picking adds a bit of bluegrass flair into the song, the percussion adds an EDM-like influence, and the electrical guitars bring in the rock music. Strangely, though, it all works for me on “Runaway Train.” Cam brings more natural country sounds with “Half Broke Heart.” The song kicks off with a fun piano intro, but abandons it for guitars and drums. The relationship in the song isn’t described as serious, yet Cam still finds herself upset when this man leaves her so suddenly. She uses the chorus to emphasize that even though her heart is only half-broken, it’s still broken. “A half cold beer ain’t cold, I’ll be back soon is still gone, a half-smoked cigarette’s still smoked and a half broke heart’s still broke.” As far as pop country goes, this is a song I can get on board with. The lyrics for central story aren’t that drawn out, but the song’s overall package is delivered nicely.

“Want It All” is a tailor-made pop anthem. The lyrics are generic about not letting life get you down. The pop production is just as generic with calculated guitar riffs and the token country banjo. Shockingly, though, Cam’s vocals are quiet and subdued on the chorus. With all the other pieces in place, I would have imagined a more dynamic vocal performance ready to captivate the mass of listeners the song is designed to capture. The most country song on the album is fittingly a song about the country. “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty” is a commentary song about city girls who act country. From never getting their cowgirl boots muddy from working in the fields to their perfect makeup and fashion in public, Cam effectively puts these “fake country girls” in their place over the course of the song. The problem is that I don’t find this message to be authentic coming from Cam. The rest of Untamed screams calculated and polished. Even the sleek album cover photo completely diminishes the notion of the song. I don’t understand why this song was included on this album as Cam contradicts her message with the rest of the album. This is the type of song that would seemingly fit with Miranda Lambert or Kacey Musgraves.

Untamed closes out with “Village.” Cam wrote the song for her friend Claire, after the passing of Claire’s brother. “Village” is written from the perspective of the brother as a guardian angel giving comfort to Claire as she’s left to carry on life without him. The lyrics are touching and vulnerable and the production is simple and subdued. “Village” is a great song to end the album as it showcases Cam’s strengths as both a singer and songwriter working together.

Overall Untamed is album unsure of what it wants to be. Maybe Cam herself isn’t quite sure of the direction she wants to take her music. There are times where Cam lets her vocals loose and delivers (“My Mistake”, “Runaway Train”), but other times where her vocals are lost in the shuffle of the production (“Hungover on Heartache,” “Want It All”). Sometimes the album blends pop and country together well and other times it lets the overproduced pop take a front seat. When she wants to, Cam can sing well, and the few times she does, she brings forth some good pop country songs that I enjoy listening to. The album just isn’t consistent in its delivery of these good elements. Untamed is an unfocused album for the most part.

Grade: 6/10

6 thoughts on “Album Review – Cam’s ‘Untamed’

  1. Zack Kephart January 11, 2016 / 11:43 am

    I’m mostly in agreement here. Not a bad album by any means, just disappointing, especially when Cam had one of the best singles last year with “Burning House”. Granted, I wasn’t expecting 10 more of the same song, but I do wish we could have heard that same quiet, subdued production on some other songs because that, in my opinion, is where Cam is at her best. The only other spot where that type of atmosphere is present is on “Village”, which wouldn’t you know it, is probably the best track here. “Mayday”, while maybe not as good as the aforementioned songs, is another great example of how when Cam tones it down just a little bit, the end result is a fantastic country-pop song done right. “Cold In California” tries for that same feeling but the production (as you noted) bogs down an otherwise great song.

    “Untamed” and ‘Want It All” are just…….bad. There’s no other way to describe them. Maybe I’m a tad bias towards the title track given that I immediately tuned out of it once I noticed the theme being formulated, but ‘Want It All” is a total pop mess. Of course, guess what the next single is rumored to be? 😉

    Other than that, I think you hit the nail on the head regarding “Hungover On Heartache”. Not bad, but overproduced. I never cared for “My Mistake” honestly. The production on that one really annoys the heck out of me. It tries to be country, it tries to be pop…..it just doesn’t work. “Runaway Train” works for me as well, and if I have to file it as a guilty pleasure then so be it.

    You make a valid point about “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty”. It’s something I never really considered when viewing the song in THIS album. After realizing this the song leaves a sour taste in my mouth as well (at least in the context of this album. As an overall song I have no problems with it).

    When grading “Untamed” as a whole, I’d bump this up to a 7 only because I feel “Untamed” does more right than wrong. If we still did the .5 grading though I wouldn’t think twice about giving it a 6.5

    Great review, Derek!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond January 11, 2016 / 11:57 am

    Where this album gets it right is that Cam for the most part sounds like she doesn’t really lose it vocally. The production at times can be great like on “Village” or “Mayday” “My Mistake” “Burning House”. There was only one song that I truly dislike and that was “Want It All” which I found to be a generic pop song.

    I did love the unique production on “Untamed” like I don’t remember the last time you hear a Harmonica in mainstream country. I honestly didn’t hate the song as the production kept me into it enough. The other songs I all found to be rather bland and a little all over the place.

    I hope they re-release My Mistake or hopefully Mayday. Now in a just world we would have Village released but unfortunately it would be career suicide if Cam relased back to back ballads even if I care more about quality than what will give the singer more success or whatever.

    Anyway my final grade 6/10 not a bad album but it lacks a clear direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SRM January 11, 2016 / 12:25 pm

    I didn’t notice it until I heard the whole album, but Cam has an incredibly thin voice. She sounds fine on the acoustic-leaning tracks like “Burning House”, “Mayday”, and “Village”, but when she has to sing over Jeff Bhasker’s percussion-overdriven mixes on the uptempos it just sounds terrible to me. I think it’s most noticeable on “Runaway Train” where she’s going for this firestorm vocal but can barely manage to stay on top of mix without really straining.

    Speaking of Bhasker’s production, I got the feeling that he doesn’t quite know how to make a country record, and just tried as many things as he could, which is why we’re left with a hodgepodge of sound. It drives home just how odd of a choice he was to produce the album. I feel like Cam would do better in the hands of someone more experienced in the genre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scotty J January 11, 2016 / 11:17 pm

      ‘Speaking of Bhasker’s production, I got the feeling that he doesn’t quite know how to make a country record’

      We could fill a mid sized arena with ‘country’ producers that resemble your comment. Just do a little deep dive into the prior acts that many of these producers have worked with and it becomes obvious pretty quick that these guys have absolutely no idea how to make a real country record.

      I’ve said it before but this is a very underrated reason for the type of music that mainstream country is putting out.

      Like

  4. Jason January 11, 2016 / 4:17 pm

    I really wanted this to be good. After first listen, there’s nothing really bad, as Want It All, Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty, and Untamed are merely mediocre. Mayday, Burning House, and Village are the clear best songs on the album, although the choice to put a song comparing love to a sinking ship right before a song comparing love to a burning house baffles me… the themes just seem too similar. After that… nothing stands out. It’s the same pop-country fluff, and although the writing is a bit better than usual, it’s typically nothing special.

    6/10

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michelle January 20, 2016 / 2:12 pm

    Hahaha…thank you!!! I like Cam’s Burning House, but the song Country Ain’t Never been Pretty should not be sung by her at all! She seems to be the epitome of a pretty girl and her singing this song makes her sound like the biggest hypocrite ever. I laughed when I first heard this. I could see Gretchen Wilson (if she is still around) singing this song.

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