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No one stands in Joni Harms' way

By John Lupton, November 2001

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That's good news, not only for those who already appreciate Harms' well-honed vocal stylings (think of the vocal purity of Suzy Bogguss, but with a much more pronounced twang) and songwriting talents - as on "Cowgirl Dreams," she wrote or co-wrote all the tracks on "After All" - but for those as well who yearn for a style of country music that speaks more of hearth and home than of barrooms and divorce courts.

"After All" celebrates not only life on the range ("Cowboy Coffee"), but also the simple pleasures, such as dancing the night away in a "West Texas Waltz," a song that Harms seems particularly proud of.

"I think it's the stories, more story songs, and certainly some of them lean toward the cowboy not every single one of my tunes, though, on either of those albums are strictly cowboy music. A lot of my taste in music goes back toward the traditional, too, like 'After All' (the title cut) is really not 'Western', but is definitely traditional-sounding country music - and that's what I love, is good old shuffles and swings, and just story songs, and another thing you don't hear a lot of is waltzes, like 'West Texas Waltz' and 'Long Hard Ride' (from 'Cowgirl Dreams'). There just is something about a waltz that is real appealing to my ear, at least, and I think more people than get credit sometimes like that kind of music."

More and more, though, she thought of her music as "Western," and not "Country," at least not in the sense that "Country" seems to be gravitating toward.

"The more 'pop' country got, the more I just realized this wasn't the place for me, and I had a hard time trying to figure out where I fit in, to be honest with you, and I still don't know if this is the spot, but it's a whole lot closer, anyway."

When asked if she sees her singing and songwriting as something of a counter-balance to the prevalence of hurtin', cheatin', drinkin' songs in country music, Harms is quick to question whether or not even these core themes - the "meat and potatoes" of country, so to speak - are really still part of the music.

"I don't know that country music is even that any more, but a lot of the messages that are given, I don't feel, are as strong from celebrities as they should and could be, and that's one thing at least, I hope with my music that I put out there, that it's wholesome enough that people are going to say, 'I hope my children listen to this music, it's got positive messages.'"

As the mother of two young children herself (daughter Olivia and son Luke), these are not the empty words of a multi-million selling, arena-filling artist with a high-powered PR firm to put the right spin on them.

Harms literally lives the life she sings about. While she understands that not everyone gets the chance to grow up and run a family ranch, the values and simple joys she writes and sings about resonate across musical boundaries. When she sings about "Sunday Go To Meeting Clothes," for example, even the most die-hard honky-tonkers can relate.

While her career has certainly been artistically successful, and she continues to broaden her touring horizons (including the East Coast, where she is surprised to be finding more and more fans), Harms hasn't achieved the level of concert and record sales that Nashville expects of "major" country stars like, say, Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire, but she doesn't seem to mind.

Managing the cattle on the ranch and, with the holiday season at hand, a thriving Christmas tree business are still vital parts of her day-to-day life, and a lot more satisfying than worrying about how many lasers and smoke bombs need to be added to the stage show. Of course, even at a more modest level of success, there's less time for riding and roping for Harms.

"You know, I don't have much chance to ride and participate, but the way I get to works out pretty well. I'm doing more than ever on horseback again now, too. In fact, even in France this last August I did a rodeo over there, believe it or not...and they had me do the (American) National Anthem on horseback, which I do quite a lot of, on this gorgeous quarter-horse black times I even go out and do the first song or two of a show on horseback, or ride in parades. It only really shows people that I am what I say."

Harms hasn't become a megastar in modern country music, and that's at least partly by choice. She'd clearly rather satisfy herself and the fans who understand and appreciate what she does, especially when they've stuck with her over the years when she's had to scramble from label to label. It's been a struggle, but she's shown the staying power that's to be expected of a rodeo champion.

"I'm hanging in there, and I appreciate the people who are hanging in there with me. I have had just wonderful attention of emails and mail from people that just really root me on and say, 'Thank you for making this kind of music. It's something that we just don't get to hear otherwise.' My thought is that we really need to have some more family, real, wholesome-type music out there that's going to make people feel better in this world today and maybe steer them and steer our young people in the right direction with messages in my songs...that's one of the things that really keeps me going."

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