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COUNTRY CONCERT AT CAFARO Starry-eyed singer



Published: Sun, September 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Boston-born singer Jo Dee Messina loves the business of country music. She loves her Cafaro Field co-star Dwight Yoakam, too.

By DEBORA SHAULIS

ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

Jo Dee Messina must keep her cool Friday night at Cafaro Field in Niles.

That won't be easy if Dwight Yoakam is nearby.

Friday will be the first time that these country music stars will share a concert stage. Flame-haired Messina says she'll try to act like a co-worker, not a devotee, around hip-swiveling Yoakam.

She's a fan, all right.

"Oh God, I love him," she gushed over the telephone from Fresno, Calif. "I remember when he first came out. He's a very sexy man," she said before breaking into excited laughter. "His mystique ... He's got great music. His whole image -- he's so cool and he's so laid back and he's just so ... real."

Her style: The thought of Messina silently melting like butter around Yoakam sounds cute coming from a woman who sings some of the ultimate kiss-off songs. You know -- "I've got pride, I'm taking it for a ride, bye bye, bye bye my baby, bye bye."

There are many messages of strength on "Burn," Messina's latest CD on Curb Records. It's also an unintentional theme.

"We try to find songs that I can relate to and feel strongly about," Messina said. "That just seems to be the [type of] songs that I gravitate toward.

On the other hand, the abundance of quick-tempo songs on this CD is no accident. She explained: "When I go to listen to songs for a record, I look at them from a live performance standpoint. I want shows to be upbeat."

Crossover: There's plenty of crossover appeal on "Burn"; in fact, some of Messina's songs have landed simultaneously on country and adult contemporary listening charts. Messina insists that her wide-ranging appeal is organic, not contrived.

"When I set out to make a record I don't say, OK, I'm making it so only these people can listen to it," she said. "My music has not changed drastically." Sure, it's a little heavier on guitar sound, and it's, in her words, "kinda rockin'."

"I didn't say 'Let's change our format.' Let's make the best record we know how to make."

What listeners hear in "Burn" is an amalgamation of the music that Messina grew up with in Boston. Yes, Beantown -- home of Rik Ocasek and The Cars, Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. With every style of song your hear, "you take something away from it that you like or you don't care for it," Messina said.

Gone country: The girl with a rock and roll heart gravitated to country music, and at a time when there was only one female artist per music label in Nashville.

"We didn't sell records. Men sold the records in country music. We were like taboo back then," she said.

She stuck with country because "the business is like no other format. ... I know all the radio programmers and directors and they know me. I know the fans and they know me. ... We're all a family. Sometimes I think we bicker like family, too."

Country music sales may have leveled off in recent years, but the industry isn't in trouble, Messina said. It's simply mirroring the times. "By this I mean everything in the world today, including that word processor you're typing on, has come through a progression and it has changed. Some of us balk at progression." She balks every time she loses her Internet connection, she said.

If the road to progress has been bumpy for country music, it's because "we are such a close knit community that any sort of change is like a big shift," she said. "You can feel it more."

Great show: Asked what's special about her live shows, "I think the audience really is what makes it," Messina said. She fondly recalls a recent gig with her band at Universal Amphitheatre near Los Angeles. Seventy percent of that full house was people ages 25 and under, and they were an enthusiastic bunch. "We walked off that stage and said 'Oh my God.' If we could have captured the feeling and put it in a bottle," she would have saved it for those rainy days.

And if anyone knows how to bottle Yoakam's charisma, don't e-mail Jo Dee Messina. Call her.




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