CHECOTAH — Since rocketing to superstardom in 2005, Carrie Underwood has typically spent every other autumn getting dolled up for photo shoots, making TV appearances and handling all the hoopla involved with releasing a new album.
Last October, though, the five-time Grammy winner was visiting her native state rather than New York or Los Angeles. She helped build a treehouse-themed playground, which she funded through her charitable foundation, at Marshall Elementary School in her hometown of Checotah. She spent time with relatives, friends and teachers who schooled her there at Marshall.
The 2005 “American Idol” winner even made a trip back to her collegiate alma mater, Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where she participated in the homecoming festivities and received a distinguished alumnus honor.
“I've been able this summer to work a lot on my next album. I'm in and out of the recording studio, kind of taking things a little bit slower, which has been really nice because I've been able to do stuff like this,” she told The Oklahoman at the time.
“I feel really blessed and lucky to grow up here.”
After releasing her first three multiplatinum-selling albums — 2005's “Some Hearts,” 2007's “Carnival Ride” and 2009's “Play On” — every two years like clockwork, the country music standout took an extra six months to craft her fourth record, “Blown Away.”
And the new album, which swept into stores Tuesday, boasts a markedly more mature and eclectic sound than any of Underwood's previous efforts.
The album's title track vividly tells the tale of an abused girl who leaves her drunken father to the churning winds of fate during an Oklahoma tornado. The relatable tearjerker “Forever Changed” chronicles a woman's courtship, marriage and birth, followed by the loss of her memory, while her daughter struggles to cope. A chilling story about the wife and mistress of a supposedly good man meeting face-to-face for the first time at his funeral, “Two Black Cadillacs” practically begs to be made into a music video or maybe even a movie.
“I feel like we took things in a lot of different directions, things that are new for me, that darker, heavier tone, a little more dramatic. And we also do some songs that are really, really organic and sweet,” Underwood, 29, said during a recent live Q&A with Billboard.com.