Kelsea Ballerini Unapologetically Album Review

By: Megan Holley

By Kelsea Ballerini

     The Country Source had the honor of reviewing Kelsea Ballerini’s anxiously awaited sophomore album Unapologetically before its official release, Friday November 3rd. 

     For any artist their second album is pivotal. A debut album gives listeners a taste of what to expect from an artist; there are no preconceived notions. In fact, Ballerini described her debut album to The Tennessean as “an introduction…like reaching out and shaking my hand.” While the second album can put much more pressure on an artist; pressure to fit the same mold, and also appeal to both old and new fans.

     Kelsea’s debut album The First Time was a huge success earning her multiple awards and nominations including 3 No. 1 hits. The album, released in 2015, jumpstarted her career. At the time she was an underdog, signed with independent (and her current) label Black River Entertainment, her success was a welcome surprise.

     Unapologetically is different from The First Time. This difference isn’t in lack of emotion, meaningful lyrics, or integrity… but maturity. Unapologetically shows Ballerini’s growth as a young woman and an artist while retaining the spark and individuality that sets her apart in the industry.

     The album leans very country-pop, which has been Ballerini’s wheelhouse. Not surprisingly, since the pop genre has been an influence to Ballerini since she was a little girl. She hasn’t shied away from this blend and has said the contrast to traditional country is a good thing and varies the country genre. (TeenVogue)

     Unapologetically is honest and raw at heart, experimental in sound, and has something for every mood.  This honesty is sure to connect with fans on a deeper level.

     In Ballerini’s words “It starts with loss, goes into life, and then it goes into love.” It is chronological, autobiographical, and lets her story unfold song by song. It is evident a lot of thought went into this album. Ballerini co-wrote all of her tracks working with acclaimed writers/producers Hillary Lindsey, Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman, and Forest Glen Whitehead, among others. The only exception was the song “High School”, which she herself wrote. Choosing the tracks was no easy task. “I had about 200 songs and I didn’t really know where to start. I was just listening to demos…realizing this being my first intentional album, I was thinking, ‘What is this going to be…what is it going to be about…what is the heart beat?’ I realized that it’s just my life. And as a songwriter, I write about my life”, says Ballerini.

     Unapologetically is a journey from darkness to light. This journey begins with a break-up. The powerful “Graveyard”, sets a dark and moody tone, painting a vivid picture of the graveyard of broken hearts a man carelessly leaves behind. Funeral metaphors fill the song, especially in the chorus “I don’t want to watch you drive away in a black car to a new bar / where you can find another hopeless broken girl in a little black dress/ and take her break her / lay her heart to rest in peace, right here next to me.” The layered vocals give this song a haunting element.

     “Miss Me More” is much more upbeat and is a post break-up anthem about finding yourself again after getting so caught up in a relationship; in trying to please the other person, you lose yourself. Ballerini brings empowerment and girl-power with strong pop influence while still retaining country flair. “Get Over Yourself” also has an anthem vibe that is about finally letting go of a past relationship, while “Roses” is a nostalgic look back on a relationship that was only temporary.

     At this point the album becomes more self-reflective. “Machine Heart” is about acceptance and realization. The production is almost robotic sounding which is a clever tie to the title with lyrics like “I won’t always get it right/but hey ain’t that just life / at least you’re getting something real”, she opens up and shows transparency.

     “In Between” is about becoming an adult and essentially coming into one’s own. It’s extremely personal, telling her insecurities and is a stand out. Another stand out is fan-favorite “High School”. I think she included it in this section of the album because it goes back to her roots of songwriting and identity as a songwriter.  It’s also about moving forward, as opposed to being the guy in the song who is stuck in the past.  Lyrically, “High School” could be considered one of Kelsea’s best songs on the album and a song that can be stripped down to play acoustic live or full production, it has that versatility to it.

     The last section of the album which centers on love is the largest, at 5 songs.  It is influenced by the love story of Kelsea Ballerini and her husband, fellow singer-songwriter Morgan Evans. “End of the World”, has sweeping production and is extremely romantic. She compares Evans to entering her life like “a life line right on time” and having to go through the worst of times “to get to heaven”. “I Hate Love Songs” is bluesy and showcases Ballerini’s stunning vocals and songwriting skills, while also being clever in its comparisons. “Unapologetically”, the title-track, is about no longer fighting being in love. She wrote the song for Evans and he even sings harmony on the track.  Another standout is the R&B style in the song “Music”. This style is different from anything we’ve heard from Ballerini and will most likely broaden her audience, particularly to those not interested in the country-genre. And lastly “Legends”, the first single from Unapologetically can be interpreted in many ways and that is what makes it so special. Originally written as a look back on a previous relationship, now Ballerini sees it more as the future, she tells The Boot “It’s a love song to me now, and it’s about a love that you’re nostalgic about, that doesn’t necessarily have to end. So it’s the last song on the record because, to me, it’s kind of like that forever, which I think will open up to start the next chapter, whatever that looks like.”

     In essence, Unapologetically is a powerful album that fans will appreciate and showcases all that we have come to expect from Ballerini: heartfelt vocals, powerful lyrics, and fearless individuality in the country music genre.

                     Kelsea Ballerini will begin The Unapologetically Tour on 2/8 in Birmingham, AL.

Unapologetically is available everywhere now.