Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born on April 24, 1982. Her debut album was 2003’s THANKFUL. PIECE BY PIECE (2015, RCA/19) is her seventh studio album. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, Jason Halbert, Jesse Chatkin, and Chris DeStefano. In the liner notes of this Deluxe Edition I’m reviewing, Kelly writes: “Thank you to all of my fans reading this who have supported that 19 year-old girl who auditioned for ‘American Idol’ and have been with me ever since. It’s been quite a ride and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!”
Starting things off is ‘Heartbeat Song’, the album’s lead single, penned by Kara DioGuardi, Jason Evigan, Audra Mae, and Mitch Allan. It hit #1 on the Billboard US Dance Club Songs chart. This energetic song includes these earthy lyrics: “You, where the hell did you come from?/You’re a different, a different kind of fun/And I’m so used to feeling numb/Now I’ve got pins and needles on my tongue/Anticipating what’s to come/Like a finger on a loaded gun/I can feel it rising/Temperature inside me/Haven’t felt it for a lifetime”. Oliver Kraus plays violin, viola, and cello on ‘Invincible’, the second single. It hit #2 on the same chart as its predecessor. It’s a song of great confidence: “Now I am invincible/No I ain’t a scared little girl no more/Yeah, I’ m invincible/What was I running for?/I was hiding from the world/I was so afraid, I felt so unsure/But now I am invincible/And I’m a perfect storm/Now I am a warrior/A shooting star”.
‘Someone’ follows. It’s an adult contemporary ballad addressed to a former lover: “I hope you will find/Someone to cry for/Someone to try for/Someone to turn your crooked roads into her streets/Someone to fight for/Someone to die for/Someone whose arms will hold you tight enough to be the reason you breathe/The reason you breathe”. ‘Take You High’ uses an orchestra arranged and conducted by Joseph Trapanese. It includes these cheesy lyrics: “When your angels fall out of the sky/I’ll be the wings that make you fly/When you come down/I’ll take you high/If I’m dreaming don’t roll over yet”.
Kelly and Greg Kurstin wrote the album’s third single and title track, ‘Piece by Piece’. It peaked at #6 on the US Billboard Adult Top 40 and #6 on the Billboard Canada AC Chart. It’s a moving autobiographical song: “Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me at six years old/And you know he never walks away/He never asks for money/He takes care of me/He loves me/Piece by piece he restored my faith/That a man can be kind and a father could/Stay”. Jerry McPherson plays guitars on ‘Run Run Run’, a strong duet with John Legend. It’s an emotional song: “Tell me how you closed the door knowin’ nobody could love you more/Tellin’ all your friends that this love was just made for bleedin’/Hung up underwater but still we keep on tryin’ to breathe in.../Our lust for fighting/Tied up in silence”.
Fred Martin and The Levite Camp sing backing vocals on ‘I Had a Dream’, a terrific adult pop song with a great message: “Remember that the footprints you’re leaving will tell us all who you really are/It’s too bad you can’t see what you’re worth/Spreading your legs ‘stead of using your words/Character is shown by the things that we do/The one thing you’re never gonna hide is the truth”. Sia Furler and Greg Kurstin wrote ‘Let Your Tears Fall’, which offers comfort: “Watch a tear fall/Let them fall, fall and I’ll make the seas calm/Take you in my arms/You cry/Let your tears fall/It’s not a crime to fall apart sometimes/It’s not a crime/To ask why (2X)”.
‘Tightrope’ is a pretty ballad that finds Kelly being honest: “And maybe you and I will fall in time eventually/Maybe we’ll both die trying but I can’t bring myself to leave/Cause I’ve looked and I ain’t seen nothing like you/The way you light up every room tonight so easily/And I have moved mountains babe just to stumble into your good grace/And I, I still can’t compete/You’re on the tightrope”. On ‘War Paint’ Jason Halbert and Eric Olson play keyboards and bass, while Aben Eubanks plays guitars. This pop/rock song cries out for peace and intimacy: “Why in the hell do we fight on the front line/When we both know that we’re here on the same side?/We can be beautiful without the mistake of our war paint.../Hold me close and kiss my skin/Don’t be afraid, let me in/I’ll hold you close/And take your hand to my heart/Here I am”.
Dan Rockett wrote ‘Dance with Me’, while Nicole Hurst sings background vocals. It’s all about having fun: “And when the music starts and the lights go down/We will all be found/No one’s fighting anyone/We’re all dancing on the ground/Come on and dance with me (2X)/Feel the music like a lover’s kiss/Feel the rhythm like a warm embrace/Come on and dance with me (2X)/I’m wide awake, yeah/It’s 4 AM and the room won’t stop/My heart is pounding, how your body rocks/My lips they quiver on your skin/Let’s take this dance and just breathe you in”. ‘Nostalgic’ is a pop/dance number: “When I’m sleeping I still kiss your face/I can’t have it when I’m awake/Even though we lost it, I still get nostalgic/Even if we wanted/You can’t turn back the hands of time”.
The standard edition of the album ends with ‘Good Goes the Bye’ on which Tony Lucido plays bass. It’s about a relationship ending: “Slam goes the door, hush goes the phone/Out goes the flame/And I’m standing here alone/Burn goes the drink/Down go the tears/Drip goes the sink/And I’m missing you like hell/Break goes the heart/Wrong goes the right/Good goes the bye”. The Deluxe Edition of the album includes 3 Bonus Tracks. ‘Bad Reputation’ is a funky R & B number that uses The Regiment Horns. Many women will relate: “Well, I tell ‘em, tell ‘em yeah, you’re nothing to me/I tell ‘em that you’re just another/You’re just like any other/Well, I try to sell ‘em but they ain’t buying it/Baby, they see me start to stutter/When they ask if I’m your lover”.
‘In the Blue’ was written by Kelly, Jesse Shatkin, Anjulie Persaud, and Fransisca Hall. It’s about longing: “I see your face in every stranger/Footsteps down the hall/Warm breath, back of my neck/Shadows on the wall/And your voice is loud as thunder, hey/I can hear it crashin’ in my head, yeah”. One of the co-writers on ‘Second Wind’ is country’s Maren Morris. Chris DeStefano plays pedal steel on this song that finds Kelly being direct: “You can hate me, underestimate me/Do what you do cause what you do don’t phase me/Just when you think I’m at the end/Any second I’m a-catch my second wind/Na, na, na, na/Na, na”.
The sixteen track Deluxe Edition of PIECE BY PIECE has eight ballads and eight faster paced songs, although I would have interspersed them more. The most frequent theme for sure is relationships not working or not working out at all. Second to this is the theme of personal strength and aspiring to greatness. Unfortunately here, Kelly doesn’t tie those things to God. There is one song about a happy relationship, one about partying, and the standout title track about the importance of being a good father and good husband. The pics of Kelly in the booklet are modest and beautiful. I’m rating this pop/dance album 88%. It’s a good album, but not her best. For more info connect with Kelly on Facebook.