Meet Another Side Of Terri Clark

The third album can be a tough one. In Terri Clark’s case, she hit the big time straight out of the box, and the newness of country stardom is already beginning to fade as she gears up for the release of CD number three. In time, so could the romanticism of making music. The million-selling country star has had her fair share of commercial expectations to live up to over the past three years, ever since she burst on the charts with album number one and her tough-as-nails breakthrough single, “Better Things To Do.”

The third album can be a challenge, too, because often fans have already come to expect a particular sound and ideology from an artist, and it may be tricky for that artist to step outside the mold (and proven formulas) set by the first couple of records. In Clark’s case, the 5-foot-11 Canadian cowgirl was billed as country’s first female “hat act,” and she has come to epitomize the genre’s token “tough gal” singer.

Now, Terri Clark wants you to meet her softer side.

The lead-off single from How I Feel –set for release May 19–is “Now That I Found You,” a pretty ballad with romantic lyrics. It could have just as easily been recorded by Whitney Houston.

“You can hear a definite difference,” Clark says of the new album. “It’s softer and mellower. Even in the way I’m singing, I’m emulating a different feeling, using different vocal ranges. I’ve changed a lot in the past three or four years. I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into only being able to show one side of myself–there are other sides of me I want the public to know.”

But don’t expect the hazel-eyed brunette to box up her trademark Stetson and boot-cut Wranglers any time soon, especially as she prepares to hit the road opening for Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn this year. “I’m not getting rid of the hat, but I am softening (my image) because that’s how I feel at the moment,” explains Clark, who turns 30 this summer. “I’m growing up, and I’m maturing. I’m trying more to project publicly what’s going on inside me, that way I don’t have such an alter ego thing going on where I feel like I’m living one way and acting another way.

“So far it’s going well. Response to the single has been great, and I haven’t had any backlash about wearing dangling earrings on the CD cover,” she says with a laugh. “The thing is, it’s supposed to be about music, and I feel like I’ve done the best album of my career.”

As Clark points out in her artist bio, she “could have done another adolescent, euphoric album.” Instead, the singer opted not to repeat herself or keep up a certain image. When the plucky and determined singer moved to Nashville from the plains of Alberta in Western Canada straight out of high school, she was initially turned down by every record label on Music Row because none believed that a female singing hard-country could succeed. Mercury signed her in 1994, and by 1995 she had proven the other labels wrong. “Better Things To Do” made her a star that year, and she followed the smash hit with “When Boy Meets Girl,” “If I Were You” and “Suddenly Single.” Her second album, the aptly-titled Just The Same, spawned her successful Warren Zevon remake, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” as well as “Emotional Girl” and the popular title track.

“I love the first and second albums,” Clark clarifies before explaining her departure on How I Feel. “I would never in a million years regret anything I’ve done up to this point, because those albums brought me to where I’m at now. It’s all been deliberate and part of the plan…They are very uptempo, hard-driving, and they take on that whole ’I am independent woman–hear me roar’ attitude. A lot of kids like that, and I’m glad. I have a lot of kids who are fans, and I don’t want to lose them, but I feel the need to garner a fan base that is a little more adult-contemporary oriented.” (Interesting note: Clark competed against adult-contemporary titans Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan for top female vocalist at this year’s Juno Awards, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys). “It wasn’t like some big formulaic thing where we sat down and said we want to go after such-and-such audience. The album goes from traditional country to “Now That I Found You” and “I’m Alright,” which have more of a pop groove.”

“I’m Alright” sets the tone for the entire project, as any good album-opener should. Co-written by Clark’s labelmate Kim Richey, the optimistic song’s “Shot down but I’m still standing” chorus probably best summarizes that which is offered up by the album title: How I Feel.

“There’s been a lot going on in my life the past three years,” Clark says with candor. “I went through a tough divorce after being with the same guy since I was 18; I went from anonymity to seeing my name in magazines and people chasing me down for autographs; coupled with running a corporation (a la leading a band, road crew, support staff, etc.) and having to hire and fire people I care about. A lot has happened to me in a short amount of time. It forced me to grow up and take a really hard look at myself. There’s a lot of self-discovery and self-acceptance on this album. You realize you’re much stronger than you thought you were after you go through trying times. You get through it and realize you’re still standing.”

The most personal of the dozen tracks is “Not Getting Over You,” the only song on the album she wrote alone. Clark relates of the song: “When I write by myself, I write ballads. I become much more introspective. I have a deep, passionate side to me that most people don’t see because I don’t let them…yes, ’Not Getting Over You’ is sad (the title says it all), but I had to do it, as a healing thing. I put something behind me when I heard the playback of this record.”

There’s a handful of songs on the new album which aren’t so personal, yet they don’t detract from the album’s overall vibe, either. “That’s Me Not Loving You,” for instance, simply stems from a memorable hook line Clark thought of, while the ditty “You’re Easy On the Eyes” has the uptempo wit and sass of “Better Things To Do.” They’re just songs Clark finds entertaining. And as long as she keeps finding songs she loves, personal or not, the fan who used to plaster her bedroom walls with country star posters is unlikely to lose her romanticism for making music, no matter how used to stardom she gets.

“My romanticism is just shifting, that’s all,” she explains. “It might shift directions, but I’ll always be an unapologetic music lover. I could go without ever watching another television show or movie as long as I live, if I could just listen to music. My stereo is on 24 hours a day.”