The title of Gretchen Wilson’s latest suggests she has serious reservations about asserting her femininity; the rest of One of the Boys proves she actually has no problem at all asserting that or anything else. Oddly perfect but unfussy, it reveals Wilson as a canny vocalist who has perfected a bland, funny surliness that can’t conceal her vulnerability or intelligence. She allows herself a yodel at the end of “The Girl I Am,” and on “If You Want a Mother,” she crafts a psychodrama that sounds like the Stones turning the Burritos into a catfish taco with ketchup. “We can do it your way from now on, son/And I can show you what a mother I can be,” Wilson sings, and then threatens to ground her no-good man if he misses Tuesday-night curfew.
It’s an amazing track, with Don Rich–style comedy guitar licks and a fey middle section that suggests Wilson could benefit from more sophisticated settings, just like Joanna Newsom. For now, though, the title track will suffice—its greatest moment comes when Wilson lays a series of wordless
woo-ooh-oohs over a minor-key riff, while the sharp, piquant chord change that tops it off is typical of the detail that producers John Rich and Mark Wright provide throughout. It illustrates how high-class Nashville pros can make expediency sound profound, and never mind if you’ve heard it all before.
Complete with pink flamingos and a case of Budweiser, “There Goes the Neighborhood” is a jokey Music Row success narrative that gets Gretchen out of the trailer and into Hollywood. It doesn’t really suit her—Wilson’s genius is for sounding so bored with men’s deceptions that she finds devious ways to have a good time on her own turf. Even so, the line “Yeah, they’re playing possum/While I’m livin’ high on the hog” proves she’s too smart for the song’s modified Beverly Hillbillies shtick.