Gretchen Wilson and Avril Lavigne

Record review

Phases & Stages

Gretchen Wilson

Here for the Party (Epic)

Avril Lavigne

Under My Skin (Arista)

"It's really just about being proud of who you are!" So says 31-year-old Illinoisan Gretchen Wilson, who's bowled over Nashville with her rowdy, straight-talking smash "Redneck Woman." She "ain't no high-class broad," prefers Wal-Mart lingerie to Victoria's Secret, and, God love her, can recite the collected works of Charlie Daniels, Tanya Tucker, and Hank Jr. by heart. On her debut, Here for the Party, the single mom and former bartender is also feisty enough to call out a "Homewrecker," not above double-fisting Jack straight up on the title cut, and sober enough to treat the dissolving relationships of "What Happened" and "The Bed" with both realism and regret. If Party's high gloss occasionally contradicts Wilson's earthy, boisterous Southern-rock/ gospel hybrid, "Chariot" and hardcore honky-tonker "When It Rains" make it abundantly clear she's holding the reins. Believe it or not, so is little miss understood Avril Lavigne. Though dismissed as an all-attitude, no-talent mouthpiece for the Matrix on multiplatinum 2002 debut Let Go, Under My Skin finds Lavigne doing exactly what 19-year-olds should be doing: falling in and out of love, equally unafraid to kick some overly eager cad to the curb on "Don't Tell Me," then confess "I just wanna sit and stare at you" elsewhere. Collaborators, including Ben Moody (ex-Evanescence) and fellow Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk, help shape 12 tight little pop-rock packages, but again, there's little doubt who's in charge. As Lavigne sings on the chugging "He Wasn't," "We've all got choices, we've all got voices."

(Both) ***

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