Great album, but no breakthroughs on the commercial front.
That led to a stylistic change on "No Place That Far" with a more glossy, pop-veering sound and little of the traditional bent.
Apparently, the place in mind was number one on the charts because that was exactly where Evans landed on the smash single title track with backing vocals from Vince Gill.
And now the Missouri native isn't afraid to mix up different musical sounds on her latest, "Born to Fly," which the confident singer hopes will propel her to the next tier.
"I was determined to try not to make it anything (in particular musically). I was determined to ignore any criticisms that I might get about not holding onto that traditional sound. I was just writing songs and choosing songs that I thought were beautiful and left it at that."
"(Co-producer) Paul (Worley) and I had a blast in making this record," says Evans in a telephone interview from her Nashville area home. "Some of it came out sounding pretty country. Some of it came out sounding not so country. I really believe I found this time 'Sara's sound.'"
Evans makes no bones that she is upbeat about the new album. "I definitely am positive. It's funny (that) I'm an optimist. I'm a Type A personality. I'm a perfectionist, but I love, love sad sad songs, sad movies, that whole thing. I rarely get down. I rarely am in a bad mood. We're real go getters."
Evans, 29, indicated she expected some negative reaction from traditional diehards about "Born to Fly."
"I knew they (the criticisms) would be there, so I determined myself beforehand not to pay any attention to that because it's not really accurate and not really fair. My voice is traditional and is really country. There's nothing that says that Sara Evans has to stick to traditional country music especially when it doesn't seem to be what the fans are wanting."
While "Born to Fly" does not have the spare sounding tradition of "Three Chords...," it certainly is not devoid of traditional country. The sad ballad "I Learned That From You" is filled with lots of pedal steel adding to the emotion.
Evans certainly has one powerful voice, even more evident in concert than on the silver platter.
She has been compared to country diva Patty Loveless, something that suits Evans just fine thank you. Listening to "Born to Fly," it's easy to imagine Loveless singing almost any of the 11 songs.
Evans penned six of them. That is nothing new as Evans wrote large chunks of the material on both "Three Chords..." and "No Place..." The interesting thing is Evans never wrote a song before preparing for her debut.
Not surprisingly, there is a hopeful edge to many songs.
"I was so happy and secure and confident. I really did have this incredible attitude that life is incredible, that life is wonderful. Lots of emotion came from that."
Indicative of the strength and positive outlook is "I Keep Looking." The song, which Evans wrote the song with Nashville veteran Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin, contains the line "I keep lookin' for something more," later followed by "It's only human not to be satisfied."
The trio also wrote "No Place That Far."
Evans says, however, "I Keep Looking" was not really intended to be viewed with such an upbeat outlook. "It wasn't really meant to be a positive song as much as humorous that we're not satisfied - we're always looking for something better than we have. That's me totally."
"I hate a bedroom a certain color, and then I change my mind. I think there's something better. I suffer from that."
Prior to writing for the new album, Evans says she listened to "to a lot of Sheryl Crow, and I was listening to Martina McBride's new record, 'Emotion' at the time. I thought that was very cool. I was also listening to (folk-oriented singer) Patti Griffith. That was kind of what was in my head."
Evans says that she "just thought the song selection (on McBride's album) was so cool and the way the lyrics were not so straight down the middle and not the typical lyrics that you'd hear on a Martina record or a country record. Sometimes you don't even know what she's talking about. I thought that was so cool."
"If she can do it, I can do it," Evans says, adding, "I just allowed myself that freedom."
Evans says another influence were the changes she has undergone since her last album. Besides having a big hit under her belt, she became a mother, giving birth to her son, Avery, in August 1999.
Musically, Evans ascribes the biggest change to drummer Matt Chamberlain, a rock drummer who has worked with The Wallflowers, Pearl Jam, Fiona Apple and Macy Gray.
"He's just amazing," says Evans. "I was a big fan of his drumming. It absolutely made all the difference in the world. It sounds absolutely different than everything else because of him."