Jo Dee Messina

Burn

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Co-producers Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore struck gold on Burn, Jo Dee Messina's third offering for Curb, and her last for five solid years. The formula on her first two offerings, her self-titled debut (1996) and I'm Alright (1998), seemed to work, and the pair didn't tinker with it all that much, except for the fact that the pair could see the bend in the road where the fork between contemporary country and slick adult pop came together and they met it head on. Given the monster set of contralto pipes that Messina possesses, it didn't matter; she crossed over into the pop mainstream anyway. The hits here include the awesome "These Are the Days," written by Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley, which wound layers of acoustic guitars, pedal steel, and a soaring harmonica that filled the center as fiddles and mandolins colored the backdrop. Messina expressed the "never say die" philosophy in the song with hunger and verve, putting it across with conviction and even a little mischievous delight. The title track is a love song like no other she'd recorded before. Its ringing guitars and nearly urban R&B bassline carried the monochromatic melody line into deep emotional territory, and once more Messina put the song across as if she'd lived it all, asking the question "Do you want to be a soldier, for love?" with all the authority necessary to communicate it to fans. "Dare to Dream" is such a straight-up pop/rocker it's a wonder it wasn't on every Top 40 station simultaneously. The album opens with the killer single "Downtime," which defines the heart of contemporary country: its themes of determination in the face of adversity, the belief in true love as a redemptive force, and a musical backdrop that is equal parts pop, country, and the light rock that powered the 1970s. There's even a more convincing argument for rock on the set in the Roy Hurd and Templeton Thompson tune "Nothing I Can Do," which has a near thundering guitar riff in the verse. Burn is a kind of small masterpiece that never dates, despite its occasionally sugary sound and very slick production; it's a testament to the vocal prowess of Messina, who is able to convey even the most ordinary lyrics with authority. Of the recordings she issued between her debut and 2005's Delicious Surprise, Burn remains her finest moment.

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