When Jo Dee Messina arrives in concert at the Expo Pavilion next Thursday night as part of the PRCA Rodeo, don't begin to think she's just another act to fill out the Tulsa State Fair line up.
With one of the richest female voices in modern country, Messina is an established star in the genre and continues to grow as an artist.
After debuting in 1996 with her self-titled disc and breaking thru in '98 with her double platinum effort, I'm Alright, Messina went on release three more studio albums, rack up a total of nine #1 singles and be honored by The Academy of Country Music, The Country Music Association and Grammy Awards.
Now, with her latest album, Unmistakable, complete and waiting for release, Messina continues to evolve. By branching out and co-writing a third of the new disc's songs, she has been able to express herself and give the new record an even more personal feel.
When asked about the record and her additional songwriting contributions this time out, Messina said, "It really has more to do with the producers being songwriters. They wanted to give me a chance to grow," noting that, in the past, she usually only co-wrote one or two songs. With the new record, she has a hand in five.
Although four of the songs she co-authored are about failed and broken relationships (including the kiss-off single "I'm Done" and "Just Drive," which details a woman's courage to leave a relationship), it's not an entirely negative album.
Instead, the song cycle rotates from a painful break up to the rebuilding of self-esteem, as witnessed by the country hellion attitude of "Biker Chick," and finally the joy of finding true love in title track "Unmistakable," another of Messina's contributions.
When asked about how she chooses additional songs to create a cohesive album, Messina said, "I just gravitate toward songs that I love. It's not something over thought."
"As time goes on," she continued, "I know what works for me in terms of tempo, groove and my range. My first couple records were nothing but experiments--then I found a niche. I've built on it from there and I'm still trying to expand on that."
In the process of developing her musical identity, Messina hasn't just become a top-selling country artist. She has also built a reputation for her strong stage presence and high-energy performances and become one of the few female crossover country artists to successfully tour as a headliner.
Messina's work ethic doesn't just apply to her career, however. Amongst other things, she has kept active in charity work, participated in a USO tour in Italy and even appeared at the White House.
She also displays a distinct discipline and drive in her personal life. It's obvious from Messina's striking features that she's fit and physically active, but few people may know that she's an avid runner. After Messina's current tour winds down in Tulsa next Thursday, she'll follow it by running the Lasalle Bank Chicago Marathon three days later, on Sunday, October 7.
When asked how she got roped into running the event, Messina laughed, "You know I got roped! A radio guy I know said 'If I run it, will you run it with me?', so I said sure."
"Well, the press got wind of it," she continued, "and now he can't do it, so I'm stuck running it alone."
In actuality, Messina's brother and steel guitar player will be running it with her, but you needn't feel too bad for her. This isn't the first marathon for country music's iron woman: she also ran the Boston Marathon last year. Although she paced herself a little too quickly in the beginning and struggled in the latter half of the course, she completed all 26 miles.
"The big deal right now is playing the Tulsa State Fair," Messina told me last week as I clarified the difference between the Oklahoma and Tulsa State Fairs. "We'll be playing songs from the new album and a lot of old favorites like 'Stand Beside Me' and 'That's The Way,' as well."
While Messina is looking forward to getting out and playing the new songs, next Thursday's show will feature a preview of her next CD.
As of last week, a release date had not yet been set for the new disc, and although she would ideally like to have it out before Christmas, Messina admits she hasn't been given a date yet. In keeping with the persona she reflects in her albums, though, Jo Dee is doing her best to shrug it off and credit that to the nature of the music industry.
It shouldn't be long before Curb Records gives it the green light, considering samples of all 14 songs are currently streaming online at www.jodeemessina.com. Unmistakable might be Messina's most mature album to date.
If the clips are any indication, Jo Dee should have a couple more #1 singles and another platinum album to rival Burn on her hands by this time next year.
And while tentative lead off single "Biker Chick" will undoubtedly turn a few heads, cuts like "Always Have, Always Will," "I'm Home" and "I Think About Us" sound like they have what it takes to settle in at country radio for a long stay.
Tickets for Jo Dee Messina and the PRCA Rodeo on Thursday, October 4, are $16 and $23 and can be purchased at the Expo Square box office, online at www.exposquare.com or www.tulsastatefair.com, and by calling 376-6000. The rodeo is scheduled to begin at 7pm with Messina's concert following immediately afterward.
It's not often that we get a tier A Nashville star in concert in Tulsa, so country music fans shouldn't pass this one up. There are plenty of concerts scheduled with the Fair this year, but Messina promises to be the highlight of the week.
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