On Fearless, her fourth album, Terri Clark takes a bold creative step, writing highly personal songs with a new team of co-writers, working with a new producer and delivering a collection more organic and acoustic in feel than her previous work.
“No Fear,” the mood-setting opening track, and “To Tell You Everything,” a jangly, pop-leaning tune, come from co-writing sessions with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Carpenter and Kim Richey contribute “Last Thing I Wanted,” a rootsy tune with a drum loop and one of only four songs on the album Clark did not have a hand in writing.
The 32-year-old Canadian-born singer co-hosts the Canadian Country Music Awards with Paul Brandt at 9 p.m. ET Monday (Sept. 11) on TNN. Since stepping out in 1995 with “Better Things to Do” and following with hits such as “Emotional Girl” and “When Boy Meets Girl” she has grown up a lot. None of the tracks on Fearless, out Sept. 19, are collaborations with regular writing partners Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters.
“Stepping out of my comfort zone was scary,” she admits during a recent interview. Co-produced by guitarist Steuart Smith, Clark herself and, on two tracks, Keith Stegall, Fearless also finds her working with Angelo, Gary Burr, and Beth Nielsen Chapman and Annie Roboff, whose names are on Faith Hill’s “This Kiss.”
Clark’s first, self-titled album, released in 1995, ultimately was certified platinum, for shipments of 1 million copies. Her second, Just the Same, and third, How I Feel, went gold, for shipments of 500,000 copies. She has not released a new album since May 1998.
“I had been used to the same writing team for three albums, primarily,” she goes on to explain. “I honestly believe that I did the right thing. I don’t think staying safe is a thing for me to do right now. We really don’t know what people want, and all you’ve got to do is do what you want to do, and maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t.” Clark often leaves her trademark black cowboy hat behind these days. She feels that the press and many country music fans don’t really know who she is. “I’ve always been the comedy act, gotten up there and had real energetic, rocking shows. The shows always go over well, but that’s one dimension of what I am,” she contends.
“The other two dimensions are that I’m a musician and a writer,” she continues. “Those two dimensions have been, I’d say, overlooked more than anything. It’s time that I become the three-dimensional artist that my label feels that I am and that I feel that I am.”
Emmylou Harris sings backing vocals on a cover of the Carlene Carter-Susanna Clark tune “Easy From Now On.” Clark also does the highly introspective “Good Mother” by fellow Canadian Jann Arden, which implores, “just be yourself, be yourself.”
“I’m a big fan of folk and bluegrass, things like that,” Clark says. “Less is more, you know? There are ’pitchy’ things on this album. The odd instrument you’ll hear might be a little out of tune. It’s not what you’d call perfection, but it’s real and it’s honest. For gosh sakes, I even play guitar on it, so it’s got to be honest.”
When she co-hosts the CCMA awards Monday night, Clark, who lives in Nashville, will get the chance to touch in with her Canadian roots (she was born in Montreal and grew up in Medicine Hat, Alberta). Though she has not been a consistent industry award winner in the States, the CCMA named her Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year in 1997. Both Terri Clark and Just the Same are past winners for Album of the Year.
“There are a lot of people up for the awards in Canada that many people, watching in the States, will not have heard of before, because it’s strictly Canadian-based artists,” she says. “When I go up there I’m educated every year as to who’s hot, new and doing what. I don’t hear so much about them in the States, unfortunately. It’s a good opportunity for people to learn more about country music in Canada and what’s going on up there.”
In Canada, “country music” can mean Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin and Bonnie Raitt, who all get played on CMT Canada along with artists considered mainstream country artists in the U.S. “The music itself seems to really reach far corners,” Clark explains. “You’ll see very folk-oriented and maritime-oriented music [included] in country music in Canada. It just covers a very broad base.”
Meanwhile, Clark is doing pretty well stateside with “A Little Gasoline,” a midtempo kiss-off tune from Tammy Rogers and Dean Miller. After nine weeks on the country chart, the single was at No. 35. The song was added late to the album because Mercury staffers felt Clark needed to balance her new material with something that had a more familiar feel.
“It was country and the production is honest,” she says. “It’s not overproduced. There aren’t bells and whistles. It’s got a banjo and fiddle in it. Although there are a million songs about getting in you car and driving off, I think it has a summertime vibe. I love the groove.
“It seemed like the obvious first single when everybody heard it. As we move along into the album, I know that ’No Fear,’ ’Getting There’ and ’Empty’ are going to be the next three singles. We’re still trying to decide on the order, but this is a good one to reintroduce me to radio and that was primarily what it was for.”
Clark made an appearance earlier this year at the annual South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. She played acoustically at Antone’s, a famous blues club, and drew a rave review in the local paper. Her new manager, Ron Fierstein, is based in New York and also manages Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin and Carpenter. She’s been to New York only twice, but at the end of the month she’ll make her debut on national network TV, appearing on Live With Regis, and she’s at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village on Sept. 26. As her music broadens in style, so may her audience.
“I just want to represent these songs in a very real, honest way to people who maybe haven’t heard of me before,” she says, “who maybe don’t know who I am because they never listen to country music.”