Grammy-nominated Cam shines on debut

Cam, “Untamed” (Arista Nashville/RCA)

A Southern California native who spent time shoveling manure on her grandfather’s horse ranch, Cam — born Camaron Ochs — blends earthy, from-the-heart sentiments and urban pop rhythms on her country music debut, “Untamed.”

The delicate acoustic strings and intimate vocal delivery of “Burning House,” Cam’s Grammy-nominated breakout hit, offer an emotionally piercing counterpoint to the party-all-the-time themes dominating country radio. The 11 songs on “Untamed” — all co-written by Cam — suggest she’s pursuing personal revelation more than superficial singalongs.

Producer Jeff Bhasker — who has worked with Kanye West, Bruno Mars, fun. and Taylor Swift — and co-producing protege Tyler Johnson occasionally press too hard to bring a rhythmic thrust to the arrangements, obscuring the power of Cam’s lyrics and delivery. The emotion in “Cold in California,” ”Hungover on Heartache” and the title cut are buried beneath overbearing production flourishes.

That said, the clever way old-school sounds mix with modern beats on “Mayday,” ”Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty” and “Half Broke Heart” position Cam as a Dolly Parton for the 21st century.

“Untamed” introduces a talented singer who has charisma and an ability to connect with real-life issues in fresh ways. The musical arrangements strain to push her into the future, but it’s the timelessness of her strengths that make Cam an artist to watch.

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