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Jo Dee Messina

Burn – 2000 (Curb)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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CDs by Jo Dee Messina

These days, an artist's image is everything; to reach the coveted status of diva, a singer needs to develop one and stick to it tenaciously. The third album from Jo Dee Messina is a pretty clear exposition of that principle. The Massachusetts native and country chart-topper made her splash with glossy pop songs offering depictions of women who were self-reliant, tough and feisty, at least on the outside; having done so, she and her producers (Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw) wisely, though perhaps not bravely, stuck to the formula, as the album's first single, "That's The Way," makes clear. "That's the way it is, you've got to roll with the punches," Messina sings, and it appears that there are millions of young women anxious for the advice.

Don't waste of time trying to figure out why the CD or the artist are classified as country. It's an historical fact, and though it looks as if Messina aspires to cross over into the larger pop market, complaining about it seems pointless, if not downright churlish;. better - and fairer - to take or leave Burn on its own merits, and there are a few of them. Messina has a powerful voice that's usually straightforward and well-controlled, avoiding most of the excesses that pop-leaning country singers sometimes fall prey to. McGraw and Gallimore's production is ornate, with huge drums sounds, highly-processed guitars and lots of keyboards predominating; there's the occasional moan of a steel guitar or fiddle, but otherwise little to put the music in the country camp.

That leaves the songs. Most are well-constructed, mid-tempo anthems celebrating the strength of the singer's character in the face of adversity, usually romantic. On the album's opener, she confesses the need for a little "Downtime" to recover from a failed romance, but finds that "your memory's taken second place to a good book and a nice long bath," and such inspirational, self-healing sentiments infuse songs like "Dare To Dream" and "These Are The Days." Even the search for love is conditioned by this attitude; on the title track, she encourages her partner to "be anyone you want to be," but demands that in return he "laugh for me, cry for me" and a bunch more, and only occasional vulnerability surfaces. "Burn" closes with "Bring On The Rain," a restrained duet with McGraw that reinforces the resilience-is-good message of the album. If that theme, set to polished, churning pop-rock backing, is what you want to hear, you're gonna love this CD.