“Jesus, Take the Wheel” is one of several songs on Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts that came out of a writers’ retreat held during the record’s planning stages. It’s a good song, although its best line is actually in another, similar Hearts tune: “Here’s a map and here’s a Bible.” Which means that Underwood’s debut is thematically unified, as befits an American Idol winner who gets her persona workshopped and who gets what turn out to be three ace Diane Warren (was she at the retreat?) songs to help define that persona.
So while material like “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” has its charms— Underwood’s reading of “All the paparazzi flashing/Can make a girl feel pretty good” is modestly terrifying—name-checking her Oklahoma hometown seems like an afterthought. Her home is in the cosmos with Diane Warren, all paved rock gardens and supermarket sushi with plenty of hot towels. On the evidence of “Some Hearts” and “Lessons Learned,” Warren is some kind of insidious genius of the almost–power ballad, her chord changes celestial, deferred pleasure, and Underwood interprets her perfectly. Elsewhere, the place-name songs and fantastically energetic arrangements sound too much like work for a singer who believes in divine intervention.