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Jo Dee Messina: the hardest working girl in country burns on

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2000

Jo Dee Messina stuck to her guns when advised to declare bankruptcy a few years ago. One of the hardest working, most energetic singers on the country scene would hear none of it.

And the result was the massive success of "I'm Alright," her second disc, where three straight songs - "Bye, Bye," "I'm Alright" and "Stand Beside Me" - went to number one, the first time the feat was ever accomplished by a woman on Billboard's charts.

But that disc was released a good 2-1/2 years ago, and Messina sensed it was time to not necessarily stick to what got her where she is.

The result is "Burn," a disc on which the Holliston, Mass.-native seems to have matured. She continues in the pop country segment niche, but the album has a more serious, introspective, subdued tone than her first two albums, all of which were produced by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw. And her voice is probably stronger than ever without sounding forced.

"I think when we went into make the record, we consciously wanted to make it a little different because the record had been out for 2 1/2 years, and we didn't want to people to think we were giving them the same old, same old," says Messina in a telephone interview just before the album hit the streets in early August, going to number one on the country charts its first week out. "But we didn't want to stretch it too far out where it didn't sound like me any more."

"We showed to show a bit of progression lyrically and musically in this album, but kept it where you'd expect me to do where it didn't throw existing fans off guard," she says.

"I think we found different grooves, different feels of the music," she says. "With instrumentation, there's more layering on this record than on the last."

But that was not necessarily by some preconceived notion. "I think it just kind of happened," she says. "We were hearing different parts that would work and put them all into the mix."

Unlike her first two albums, Messina has no songwriting credits this time around.

Despite that, Messina, 30, is adamant that she have a connection to the lyrics.

"Lyrically, it reflects my life over the last two years, from front to back, top to bottom," says Messina. "You can hear my life the last two years. It's very honest, very real. It's really true to where I was at during the making of the album."

That means having a broken heart or two (since repaired presumably by her engagement to her manager Don Muzquiz), making the right choice in relationships ("Angelene") and enjoying one's lot in life ("These are the Days").

"The songs selected for this album definitely had to be songs that I reacted to, songs that allowed that progression musically. I take into great consideration the performance of the song because I spend most of my time performing so I want to search for different grooves so I search for things that are comfortable."

"In my live show, I've do a lot of uptempo songs. If I'm going to slow the show, I feel it's something that better be worth saying. 'Bring on the Rain' is very simple. It's very slow. It's a very simplistic arrangement. However, it plays with the heavy message."

McGraw sings backing vocals on the song.

"'Bring on the Rain' hit me right off the bat because of what it said," says Messina. "It talks about finding hope in the darkest hour. I very much cling to that. It's last on the album because it's most different, but it's kind of like an afterthought. You live your life with me for the two years going from top to bottom and then it's an afterthought. It's 'by the way...as long as I have my friends and family, around me, I can pretty much deal with what life deals me.'"

As for the chance to sing with McGraw, Messina says, "As much as I love the song, he loved it. He had joked about him singing on it. I kind of crossed my fingers and prayed that he wasn't joking too much. We'd always wanted to record a song together, and we hadn't found the right one yet. When this came along, this seemed like the perfect opportunity."

One type of song ruled out was a love song, of course, since McGraw is married to Faith Hill.

McGraw and Messina met through Gallimore, who heard Messina on a radio show and offered to produce demo tapes for her.

Messina recorded separately from McGraw and was on the road when he took his turn at the mic.

"I can't tell you why nothing I wrote is on there. I'm still writing. I'm still working on that. I'm still wanting to record the stuff I write, but for some reason, it didn't fit the direction we were going. Some of my stuff sounded dance. I'd written some Latin stuff for my stage show."

"I write whenever I have an idea," she says.

The mid-tempo title track was the first song Messina found. "That song was pitched to me. That song was something that I really agreed with what it said - be what you want to be in life, and I'll support you 100 percent, and when it comes to a relationship, I want you to give it all. It allowed me to expand stylistically. It's a different style of singing. It gets a chance to show the broadness of singing ability. I'm not stuck in the typical tempo stuff that you'd expect from me. I can do this too."

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