Jessica Andrews


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Facing 20, Jessica Andrews decides to open her music on her third album, Now. Her hold to country was always a little tentative, particularly because it seemed like she was signed partially because she was a teenage girl who could really sing during the height of LeAnn Rimes' popularity. Like Rimes, Andrews wants to leave strict country behind as she leaves her adolescence, but unlike LeAnn, Jessica sounds in control, having a clear idea of who she is musically and where she wants to go. Now is grounded in country, along with other American roots music, but it's held together with an inclusive pop sensibility and a polished, professional production that nevertheless retains its identity and keeps the focus on Andrews, whose voice sounds stronger and better than ever. If initial comparisons to Rimes did not fall to her favor, she now sounds more versatile and assured than her peer, but she goes even further with Now, crafting an album that straddles the country-pop and adult-pop line as alluringly as the best of Faith Hill, whose Cry pales in comparison to this record. Why? Because this is never stifled by diva ambitions. Because this has up-tempo and mid-tempo songs with character and color, along with catchy hooks. Because the ballads, while slick, still have substance. Ultimately, because Andrews is a hell of singer, finding her own distinctive voice and coming into her own, somewhere between Faith Hill and Sheryl Crow. If the production ever so slightly is a little too mature, a little older than her years, it's only appropriate because her voice sounds older than her years. But even if this does have an adult-pop bent, it's still done better than nearly any other adult-pop in 2003, and the times that Now does loosen up offer tantalizing possibilities of where Andrews could go next. And, no matter which way you cut it, as of this writing Now is one of the best mainstream pop albums of 2003, with only Kelly Clarkson's Thankful rivaling it in consistency and quality.

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