While "Fearless" received much praise, the music was not aimed squarely for commercial radio, and the album did not do boffo numbers at record stores.
And in the music business, that could lead to a crossroads in one's career. Especially in these difficult economic times for all record companies, who want the hits and want them right now.
So, it's not surprising that the Canadian is keyed up for her brand new disc, "Pain to Kill," the first country release of 2003.
"The last album, I didn't have any expectations either way," says Clark in a telephone interview from her mother's home in Edmonton, Canada. "I thought it could have sold well or maybe it wouldn't, but I felt like I really needed to do it artistically. I was out of the spotlight for awhile. It was more of a critical success. The critics really really liked it."
Clark says on "Pain to Kill," she "wanted to really sort of blend together everything I love about music into one record. I have been known in the past for being that kick ass girl with the hat. My show has always reflected that. It's always been energetic. After 'Fearless,' an introspective record, I was ready to rock again."
But Clark, calling right before ready to head on a family ski vacation, says she wasn't necessarily going into the album with that set idea.
"It just ended up being that way," she says. "It's really odd. I never have gone into album that 'this is going to be an album that is female empowering.' I obviously went into it looking for the greatest songs I could find, I could write. I'm very lucky in that my songwriting relationships in Nashville lend me to find some great songs in co-writing sessions."
Clark wrote five of the dozen songs on "Pain to Kill." "I surely, but slowly started to find these things that ran together with the same thing that went into a little package," says Clark. "Real life. Real stuff and digging deep and at the end, feeling comfortable with yourself and being in your own skin."
The lead-off song, "I Just Wanna Be Mad" is already a Top 10 single. The song describes a woman having a spat with her husband, wanting to stay mad for awhile even though she loves him.
"I Just Wanna Be Mad" almost didn't make it as the lead-off single, which can be all important in determining how well an album does upon release. Hit singles, of course, give increased visibility to an artist, and with a hit single on his or her hands, a singer will tend to have much larger album sales.
"There was a bit of a dilemma," says Clark. "The label was really hot on 'Three Mississippi'. My management and I were really keen on 'Mad.' We were fighting for 'Mad.' We wanted something with real tempo. It was a song to relaunch, if you to put it that way, my career...It was definitely the right decision to make, no doubt."
Clark found the song while visiting her sister in Toronto. Carson Chamberlain, a former Mercury executive instrumental in Clark's career from the get go, said he had a song he needed to Federal Express to her. "Another artist had a hold," says Clark, referring to an artist who puts dibs on a song preventing any other artist from recording it. "I thought it was a song that was really relatable, and everybody had been there."
John Michael Montgomery was the other artist interested in it. "Isn't that so odd?" asks Clark in her straightforward style. "He was really close to recording it."
"I really like the way it was written," she says. "It was written in a really clever way. You could hear one side of the conversation going on, but you can't hear the other."
The recording of "Three Mississippi" entails a funny story involving producer Byron Gallimore, producer for Tim McGraw for a long time and Jo Dee Messina.
"I was writing with Angelo and Hillary Lindsay, and Angelo had written a couple of tunes," Clark says. "We were just writing songs one day, drinking a little coffee and went to lunch. He said, 'Have we played 'Three Mississippi' for you?' I said, 'I've got to hear that.' It's a cool title. It's a little different vocally for me. It allows me to stretch. I'm a pretty hard country singer. I think this song shows a little more vocal range than a lot of my other stuff has."
"There's another song in Nashville with the same title," says Clark. "It's not at all like (the song on my album)."
Clark told Gallimore she wanted to cut the song.
Gallimore told Clark, "'Hey girl. I love that song. I think it's a hit. I think it should be cut.' We were both in agreement we should cut the 'Three Mississippi' song. We get to the studio, and he says, 'This is a different song than the one I've heard, but I think this is a hit too.' Thank God it's a great song. We both had two different 'Three Mississippi.'"