When quoting Jo Dee Messina, it’s tempting to end every sentence with an exclamation point. The Boston-bred redhead talks in exclamations –each word more emphatic than the one previous. That’s especially true when she talks about Burn, her first new album in more than two years.
“From when we started making the record to when we finished, it seemed like an eternity!” Messina says in a phone interview from the road. Both albums reflect events in her personal life.
“I’m Alright was pulling yourself out of the ditch,” she says. “Burn is trying to stay out of the ditch. It’s still the same sentiment, but I’m at a different place, and you can tell that if you listen to the music.”
To the outside observer, Messina’s life does seem to be on the upswing since the making of her last album, during which she endured romantic heartbreak, near bankruptcy and career doubt. Since then, I’m Alright has sold 1.7 million copies, according to SoundScan (her self-titled debut stopped at 340,000 in the U.S.), and Messina has toured with George Strait and won the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award.
On the personal side, she now sports a multi-carat diamond on her left hand, courtesy of her tour manager and fiancé, Don Muzquiz. Though she won’t say much about her romance or wedding plans, one song in particular on Burn, “These Are the Days” — with a line that goes, “These are the days you will remember for the rest of your life” — could pass for Messina’s theme song of the moment.
“You look around and see some folks that don’t appreciate what they have. I almost want to shake ‘em,” Messina says. “People complain about this and that, lack of time. I get lonely inside, too, like I miss my mom and my friends or the ability to go see a movie. But I always come full circle and say, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to look back on when I’m 90 years old.’”
The first single from Burn, “That’s the Way,” has a similar shake-it-off and go-with-it message. Messina will showcase the tune and others from the new album when she makes her appearance July 26 on CMT All Access, an hour-long concert special to be broadcast live on CMT from Franklin, Tenn.
“I’m looking forward to it, because I always watched the All Access shows, and I’ve always wanted to do them,” she says. “I was part of one with Neal McCoy a couple of years ago, and I just couldn’t wait for the time where I was at a point that I could do my own.”
Messina’s show will include a run through her list of country hits; her guest will be singer-songwriter Phil Vassar, who penned two of her chart-toppers, “I’m Alright” and “Bye, Bye.” Vassar recently released his own self-titled album on Arista Records and scored a Top 5 hit with “Carlene.” While she’s excited to have a friend along for at least part of the ride, Messina admits she is still a little apprehensive about doing a live TV show focused squarely on her.
“If you mess up, it’ll forever go down in history!” she laughs nervously. “There are different things to consider, like camera angles. I just saw the set yesterday. I would never separate myself from the band, but there are a couple of parts where I’m on a separate platform. It’s to make effects possible and for the camera shots.”
While she feels anxious about the upcoming event, Messina is just glad the album is finally ready for release. She says it took two years to make because she and co-producers Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw couldn’t find the right songs.
“I mean, we had dates booked that we had to cancel because we didn’t have enough material,” she says. “We’d have, like, one song, and you need three songs for a session. There are incredible songs out there, but we were looking for a certain thing … something that was most current in what I was feeling.”
Some of the last songs they found were written especially for her by award-winning songwriters Annie Roboff and Holly Lamar, including “That’s the Way” and “These Are the Days.” Another cut Messina is particularly proud of is “Bring on the Rain,” a beautiful ballad on which her co-producer and friend McGraw sings backup.
“So, we’re in the studio doing the tracks, and Tim comes in and he’s goofing around and kinda sings background with me,” she remembers. “Somebody goes, ‘Oh man, you should sing on the record.’ I’m crossing my fingers going, ‘Oh yeah, that would be cool,’ while I’m really going ‘Oh please, oh please!’”
In addition to co-producing and singing on the record, McGraw offered Messina an even bigger present at a recent album release party in Nashville. He chipped in with three others to buy Messina a pristine, 1957 silver Thunderbird. The song “Silver Thunderbird,” on the I’m Alright album, inspired the gift. Amazingly, she says she has yet to take the vintage vehicle out for a spin.
“I haven’t!” she says as she giggles uncontrollably. “I’ve been so afraid to drive it, because if anything happens, where do you find a replacement part? It’s 40 years old!”
She has, however, talked with McGraw about his incredible gift.
“I called him to say thanks, and he’s like ‘Let’s go for a ride!’” she says. “I didn’t know what to say because he really has done so much for me, I cannot even tell you. I was telling Faith this, and I said, ‘How do you say thanks? Thanks seems too inadequate.’”
McGraw had some hard-won advice for his fellow workaholic.
“He’s like, ‘You know what, Jo Dee? Just enjoy it,’” Messina remembers. “‘Maybe someday you’ll learn to take a day off!’”
Messina has decided to take some time off beginning in mid-October, but it’ll be a working vacation. She’s pulling her band off the road for the first time in five years to work on a new stage show, which she’ll debut in late February or early March. Messina has landed a new tour sponsor for 2001, one she calls a “perfect match.” She says she’ll finally be able to give the fans the show she’s always wanted.
“We’ve never had a lighting guy, and we’ve never had video and effects,” she explains. “I’m not going to fire anybody or anything [during the hiatus], but I have to situate the buses, and the trucks and the set … so I have to pull off, and that’s going to be like massive withdrawal for me because that’s all I’ve known, is touring for five years.”
Messina will announce her new sponsor Aug. 1 to coincide with the release of Burn. She says the 2001 tour will be worldwide, taking her across the United States and to Europe and Australia. CMT All Access: Jo Dee Messina, will air live Wednesday, July 26 at 9 p.m. ET. After the show, CMT will broadcast a repeat of the concert, while Messina joins country.com for a live chat with her fans. Send in your questions ahead of time and don’t forget to log in early.