Tough times create cool songs.
By JOHN HAYES
Jo Dee Messina's "give-a-damn" is busted. That's what she sings, at least, on "Delicious Surprise," her first new CD since she made "A Joyful Noise" in 2002.
The "give-a-damn" in question, however, remains firmly intact when it comes to her career, health and mental well-being.
It's her fading interest in personal foibles and injuries of the past that no longer passes the "give-a-damn" test.
"I feel I don't want to make a living out of tragedy," she says in a recent phone interview. "I want to make a living out of music. That's what I do best; that's what I have to offer."
Fair enough. But it brings up a tricky journalistic maneuver: Messina says she's gotten past and doesn't want to talk about the drinking, multiple tragedies and dissolution of a long-term relationship that negatively impacted her personal life, issues that she freely discussed last year.
Nevertheless, she wrote or co-wrote five of the new album's 12 songs.
"I'm moving on," she says, steely determination evident in her voice. "I passed that point in my life. I look different. I'm in better shape than I've been in a long time, a better place physically, emotionally. To keep going back and living in yesterday isn't beneficial. I'm ready to work out."
"Delicious Surprise," her fourth studio album, is a radio-friendly country-pop collection that leans more to the country side.
The CD took four years to complete, a long time by her standards.
"It's snapshots of my life," she says. "I'm really proud of it. There's a story song or two, and most of it is spoken in the first person. It's about pondering life.
No matter what you're going through -- happy and in love, going through a breakup or falling in love -- there's a song for you. I'm so thrilled, as if I'm listening to someone else's record."
Her optimism abounds as she describes self-penned songs that contributed to her personal catharsis:
U"It Gets Better": "The world can be cruel when you're looking for answers and can't find them. The song says 'I've been through hell / I've been alone.' Well, we all go through the same things. In our pain and in our fear, it feels like nobody gets it and that makes us feel isolated. But we're all joined together more than we think."
U"Life is Good": "The simplicity of having another day to live and taking another breath -- what a blessing that is. Sometimes we all get lost in the rat race and keeping up with everyone else. It's about just enjoying it ... realizing that the things we think matter don't matter at all."
At which point Messina stresses how much she really, really "gives a damn" about a recent personal tragedy, precisely the kind of detail she said she wouldn't talk about.