The original version of “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders is a love anthem that is part tenderness, part defiance. In covering this standard from the early nineties, Carrie Underwood transforms it into a vulnerable, passionate country song. Rather than do a paint-by-numbers cover, she strips the song of its original piano and power-chord theatrics and sings it with just an acoustic guitar and gorgeous fiddle, a choice that should by all laws of reason and logic make it impossible for her version to match the emotional impact of the original, since all she has to sell the song is her voice.

But good Lord, what a voice. It’s not just being able to hit the notes that makes an effective singer, but knowing when to hold back and when to let go. Carrie Underwood is a stunningly effective country singer because she lets the lyric guide the way; she understands that it’s the song is what counts, and the singer just the messenger delivering it. The result is a transformation of a song we’ve all heard countless times into something brand new. She drops the rough outer skin of the original that was needed for it to be an effective rock ballad, and the song is reborn as a fearless declaration of true love, country style.

It’s time to stop dancing around the obvious. Carrie Underwood is clearly the most gifted female vocalist to grace the country charts in a generation, and there’s no point in pretending the jury is still out on that claim. Please, no more caveats that she’s too new or unproven to stand among the greats. It didn’t take two albums for Trisha Yearwood or Wynonna Judd to prove their talents were otherworldly, and Carrie Underwood is the first woman in a decade and a half that is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those two legendary vocalists. We’re witnessing the early recordings of a woman who will be one of the definitive country artists of our time. Start taking notes and paying close attention. History is being made every time she sings.

Grade: A+

Listen/Watch: I’ll Stand By You

Buy: I’ll Stand By You

More Carrie Underwood:

Carrie Underwood, Dixie Chicks Claim Top Digital Country Crowns

Country Rocks the Grammys as Chicks, Carrie Clean Up

Carrie Underwood Joins the Five Million Club

Single Review: Carrie Underwood, “Wasted”