Katrina Elam 

Thursday, December 2; Family Arena in St. Charles

As a beautiful blond young-country charmer with a knack for soaring choruses, Katrina Elam shares superficial similarities with the soulless Faith Hill, last seen in an overapt role as a Stepford wife. But Elam's pop-damaged peers can't match her passionate delivery and pristine phrasing. Her debut disc showcases not only her rich, expressive voice but also her surprisingly subtle songwriting. Elam's nuanced takes on relationship issues are a welcome change from the genre's usual frying-pan-to-head slapstick sass, and her slow songs, delicately decorated with piano and strings, never become bloated ballads. Elam isn't too pensive to party; she serenades the yee-haw crowd with the fiddle-fueled "I Want a Cowboy," and she gallops through most tracks at a perky-pony pace that should keep her set list lively.

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