Jo Dee Messina Turns Trial By Fire Into Burn

New album a step on singer's Phoenix-like rise from financial ruin.

NASHVILLEBurn, scheduled for release Aug. 1, has been a two-year labor of love for Jo Dee Messina.

And appropriately for such an effort, the album — the follow-up to her sophomore disc, I'm Alright — is putting her back on track following a career derailment.

After her 1996 self-titled album yielded the huge hit "Heads Carolina, Tails California," a too-much-too-soon career rush almost sank her. By the end of 1997, she was in massive debt, her tour bus was recalled, her musicians were deserting her, and she had put up her small Nashville house and her old Eagle car for sale to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

I'm Alright set her back on the road to country radio success, establishing Messina as the first country woman singer to have three consecutive multiple-week #1 hits, with "Bye Bye," "I'm Alright" and "Stand Beside Me." But, after that, country radio's impatient maw demands follow-up singles — and she didn't have any.

Now, the new album's first single, "That's the Way" (RealAudio excerpt), has Messina at #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

"I'm grateful radio afforded me the time to make this album," Messina said. "I was sad to leave the other record, though, because it became part of my life. It was scary."

The new 11-song set is an emotional roller-coaster ride reflecting Messina's "whatever-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger" resilience.

"This album chronicles my life," she said. "It's very honest, which leaves me in a vulnerable state because it's so much me. If that's lame, then I'm lame."

On Burn, Messina again works with producer/friends Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw in the studio. McGraw lends his voice to "Bring on the Rain" (RealAudio excerpt). Messina said she was amazed when McGraw ran into her vocal booth. "I think we both related to the song's message of hope in the darkest times."

Messina says she was surprised that Nashville songwriters began penning songs aimed at her. Two cuts from the new album, including the first single, "That's the Way," and "These Are the Days" (RealAudio excerpt) were written specifically for Messina. But the singer didn't realize they were personally tailored for her until after she recorded them.

"Annie Roboff and Holly Lamar (who co-wrote 'That's the Way') had learned of my trials and tribulations trying to get I'm Alright done and how we ended up in the poorhouse," Messina recalled. "I couldn't have reached a lower point professionally and personally, so when I listened to this demo, I was saying to myself, 'I'm so there. Oh, you go girl.' "

She felt the same kinship toward "These Are the Days," which Lamar co-penned with Stephanie Bentley. "It reminds me of how, even at the craziest times, I sit back and chuckle," Messina related.

Another album highlight is the title track, which allowed Messina the chance to stretch vocally. Co-writer Tina Arena offered the song after not using it as a single for herself. There is also "Downtime," which includes one of Messina's trademark zingers: " 'Cause just like your love this is only a phase."

After opening several Judds' dates earlier this year, Messina will kick off her own extensive tour on July 29 in Ionia, Mich. Scheduled dates run through Oct. 16 in Grand Ronde, Ore. and include a performance at the Gstaad Festival, a premier country festival held Sept. 8–9 in Gstaad, Switzerland. Wynonna, Asleep at the Wheel and Chad Brock are also slated to appear. In addition, Messina's song "God Even Gets the Blues" will be included in the upcoming Ruth Project compilation CD of female Christian and country artists.

Messina is riding high on her momentum. "Country is in a great state. I don't remember ever seeing so many young children at shows and artists crossing over, which extends our audience," she said. "I've always stuck out as being edgy. Though I will not make a conscious effort [to reach pop audiences], if someday one of my songs appeals to pop fans, I won't fight it. But I will never abandon country."

Jo Dee Messina tour dates:

July 29; Ionia, Mich.; Ionia Free Fair

Aug. 2; Wausau, Wis.; Wisconsin Valley Fair

Aug. 3; Harrison, Mich.; Clare County Fair

Aug. 5; Cohasset, Mass.; South Shore Music Circus

Aug. 6; Watertown, N.Y.; Watertown Fairgrounds Area

Aug. 8; West Allis, Wisc.; Wisconsin State Fairgrounds

Aug. 10; Sedalia, Mo.; Missouri State Fair

Aug. 11; Sikeston, Mo.; Bootheel Rodeo

Aug. 15; Fairlea, W.Va.; West Virginia St. Fair

Aug. 17; Cherokee, N.C.; Cherokee Smoky Mountain Casino

Aug. 19; Pecatonica, Ill.; Winnebago County Fair

Aug. 23; Wellington, Ohio; Lorain County Fair

Aug. 26; Du Quoin, Ill.; Du Quoin State Fair

Sept. 2; Gilbert, Pa.; West End Fair

Sept. 8–9; Gstaad, Switzerland; Gstaad Festival

Sept. 17; Frederick, Md.; Great Frederick Fair

Sept. 21; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tingley Coliseum

Sept. 22; Lubbock, Texas; South Plains Fair

Sept. 28; Memphis, Tenn.; Mid-South Fair

Sept. 29; Oklahoma City, Okla.; State Fair Arena

Oct. 7; Yuma, Ariz.; Yuma County Fairgrounds

Oct. 8; San Bernardino, Calif.; Coussoulis Arena

Oct. 11; Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Civic Arts Plaza

Oct. 12; Alpine, Calif.; Viejas Casino

Oct. 13; Fresno, Calif.; Big Fresno Fair

Oct. 14; Kelseyville, Calif.; Konocti Harbor Resort

Oct. 16; Grand Ronde, Ore.; Spirit Mountain Casino