In Jo Dee-land, things look 'alright'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Jo Dee Messina doesn't sing the title cut from her latest CD "I'm Alright" in a wistful way.

When she belts out the uplifting lyric, "It's a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight, so I guess I'm doin' alright," it's hard not to be transported into the up-tempo world of Jo Dee-land.

These days, Jo Dee-land just keeps getting brighter. Her profile was raised at the Country Music Awards last week, where she took home the Horizon Award (for career progress). She has also dabbled in TV. Earlier this season, she costarred with Don Johnson in an episode of CBS's detective show "Nash Bridges."

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Her second, most recent Curb Records release, "I'm Alright," has gone platinum. Many of her fans attribute her success to her infectious energy and bubbling-over-with-confidence lyrics.

"It's always been the kind of music I've sung," the redheaded firebrand says in an interview on a comfy tour bus parked behind the Wolf Trap concert venue outside of Washington, D.C.

Messina munches crispy grilled green beans and tenderloin in the hour before going onstage as the opening act on country star Vince Gill's tour.

"Here, have another one," she offers, pushing her plate in front of a hungry reporter throughout the interview.

As down home, real-deal as Messina's hospitality and sound might be, culturally, she couldn't have grown up farther from Nashville or Austin.

"I used to listen to a station out of Rhode Island," the Holliston, Mass., native says. She began singing at 14, moved to Nashville at 19, and won a string of talent contests as part of the early dues she had to pay on her way up.

New England may be an unlikely starting point for a future country music star, but you can't tell Messina's a Yankee from her music. Her early influences include Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Hank Williams Jr.

Her break came with "Heads Carolina, Tails California" on her self-titled 1996 release. In it, she sings of a new start, literally grabbing the keys and driving away.

Her sound today is less pop than Shania Twain, with more of a '90s spin on '70s twang and honky-tonk. "Bye Bye," from the "I'm Alright" CD, resounds with the kind of conviction needed to leave a relationship gone bad.

That song, as well as her career, suggests a forward trajectory that refuses to be pulled down by life's lows. "Bye bye, love, I'll catch you later/ got a lead foot down on my accelerator/ got the rearview mirror torn off/ I ain't never lookin' back, and that's a fact," she sings.

"Stand Beside Me" depicts a decidedly softer, more vulnerable side. It's about finding the right guy: "I want a man to stand beside me/ not in front of or behind me."

Out on stage, Messina is a flashing smile in the spotlight, a nonstop blur of black outfit and red hair.

Between her decidedly aerobic sets of music, she talks with the audience, telling stories of growing up, cherishing her close relationship with her mother.

"It's hip to be square," she says, emphasizing her message that it's important to be comfortable in your own skin. The quasi-country-girl power theme resonates with women of all generations in the crowd at Wolf Trap. A seven-year-old girl in a pink halter-top dances hand in hand with her mother on a quilt stretched out on the lawn.

Messina is testing new material on this audience in addition to the 2,000 members of her fan club as she selects tunes for her third CD. The song "Even God Must Get the Blues," found on the "I'm Alright" album, was included in part because of overwhelming feedback from those attending her shows. It laments that so much bad news is featured on nightly newscasts, and it seems to strike a chord with her fans.

"My mom is head of my fan club," answering all of the e-mails and letters, says Messina, who recently rewarded her mother with a brand-new station wagon. It's just the kind of vehicle her mom needs to pursue her passion - garage sales.

*For tour schedule and more information, log on to www.curb.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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