The music Carrie Underwood has released since her stunningly successful debut album has been an interesting contrast between commercial music recorded with a clear eye for radio and compelling cover songs recorded for charity. While Underwood has maintained her winning streak at country radio with a trio of #1 hits from her sophomore set, those singles didn’t showcase her talent at delivering truly great material the way that her covers of “I’ll Stand By You” and “Praying For Time” did.

“Just a Dream”, the new single from Carnival Ride, illustrates just how bone-chillingly good a vocalist she is when the material is on level with her talent. It’s a powerful story song about a young widow attending the funeral of her husband, a fallen soldier. Underwood’s vocal is masterful, effective at communicating all of the conflicting emotions, ranging from anger and desperation to distance and denial.

That’s a difficult thing to do, communicating personal feeling while singing in the third person, and Underwood does it as well enough here to be mentioned in the same breath as Reba McEntire. After a year of good songs that Underwood was able to turn into great records with her vocal talents, it’s no surprise that when given a great song, it’s one of the year’s best singles.

Written by Hillary Lindsey, Steve McEwan & Gordie Sampson

Grade: A

Listen: Just a Dream

Buy: Just a Dream