|Personnel: B. James Lowry (acoustic guitar); Dan Dugmore (electric guitar, steel guitar); Brent Mason (electric guitar); Josh Matheny (dobro); Ilya Toshinsky (banjo); Steve Nathan (keyboards); Jeff Roach (synthesizer); Lonnie Wilson, Marshall Richardson (drums); Alyssa Bonagura, Kathie Baillie, Michael Bonagura, Wendy Moten, Perry Coleman (background vocals).
|It's not like Jo Dee Messina hasn't taken time off before. Other than a holiday album, A Joyful Noise, which appeared in 2002, it was five years of silence between 2000's Burn and 2005's Delicious Surprise, and after that it was another five years before Unmistakable, which appeared in three EP installments in 2010. So Me, showing up early in 2014, just four years removed from the Unmistakable EPs, at least betters the pattern by a year. More importantly, it's her first release since her 17-year contract with Curb Records ended in 2012. Me was funded through a Kickstarter campaign and released by Messina's own newly founded label Dreambound Records, so it's her baby all the way, affording her the kind of creative freedom Curb is hardly known for giving its artists (former labelmate Hank Williams III, whose relationship with Curb was never less than tense and testy, comes immediately to mind). Now that Messina has complete control of her career, in and out of the recording studio, what has she come up with? Well, Me is pretty much made up of what she's always done, a smooth mix of contemporary Nashville country and pure adult pop that rises a notch or two above the mere formulaic because of Messina's feisty attitude and powerful voice. True, there are more rock touches to some of the songs, and there are plenty of snarling, big-sounding electric guitars on these tracks, and a couple of songs like the funk pop "Take It" or the pure pop "He's Messed Up" have no country elements at all, but then none of these would sound too much out of place on a 21st century contemporary country station, either. Arguably two of the best songs, "Love on a Maybe" and "Breakin' It Down," are in the emotional and confessional mode of Taylor Swift, say, but with a little bit more rough edge and grit. "Peace Sign" might not be a great song, but it's affecting and memorable, mostly because of the kiss-off refrain "one finger shy of a peace sign," and the lead single, the driving "A Woman's Rant," gets to the point and pounds it home, and is truly enough of a justifiable rant to make an immediate impression. In a way, Messina is a bridge between traditional country female artists like Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette and younger contemporary stars like Taylor Swift, retaining the stubborn, don't-mess-with-me country girl image of the former while engaging in the more urban, uptown country girl pop of the latter. It's really what Messina has always done, though, and with the freedom granted Me after her release from Curb, she hasn't changed much, which will comfort her many fans. ~ Steve Leggett