In 2003, Jamie O'Neal's life read like the opening line of the Charles Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities.
Photo Credit: Sheryl Nield
"It was kind of the best year of my life because I became a mom and had a baby," she says. "But it was the worse year of my life professionally."
The native Australian had lost her long-awaited record deal with Mercury Records. Her first CD, Shiver, shipped gold (for shipment of 500,000 copies) after its release in October 2000. It included two No. 1 singles, "There Is No Arizona" and "When I Think About Angels." Three years later, though, O'Neal was left in the cold.
"When you're going through something like that, you really feel alone," O'Neal recalls. But she was reassured by her faith. "There's got to be a plan for me," she adds. "There has to be. This is happening for a reason."
O'Neal wrote about her career struggles for the title cut of her second album release, Brave.
"Having faith and knowing that you can get through something is kind of what makes you think, 'I'm going to be brave, and I'm going to fight back,'" she says. "And that's what I wanted to write the song about."
While O'Neal was waiting for a second chance, she was staying busy with performing and her songwriting. She penned songs like Martina McBride's Top 10 single, "How Far." She also was enjoying a new role as a mom to her now 22-month-old baby girl, Aliyah.
"It's just a whole different world," O'Neal says of motherhood. "It's changed me from the inside out, the way I look at things. I feel like everything is more fun, now that she's here, and I see things through her eyes."
Her emotions spilled over into her songwriting, which she jokes drove her co-writers a little nuts.
"Every song I wrote and wanted to write was all about family or having a baby or life when you become a new mom," O'Neal admits. "So I had to move off that subject matter or else they were going to stop writing with me."
O'Neal's expanded family is front and center on her album with optimistic tunes like "I Love My Life."
"That's all about my husband, my little girl and my dog -- not always in that order," she says with a laugh. "Sometimes the dog comes first." Her pooch vocalizes on the tune, and her daughter coos, too.
"It sums up the way I'm feeling about my life," O'Neal says. "I think a lot of people feel that way about their lives, that their priorities are their family. And when they look around at what they've got at their home, they kind of feel like they have everything and that they're really lucky to have what they have."
O'Neal recorded part of the project in the comfort of her own home.
"I like to stay in my robe and my fuzzy slippers and look up on the baby monitor [in the studio] and see my little girl sleeping," she says. "It's just so convenient to be able to sing whenever I felt like it, not 'you have to be here at 10, and we're going to finish up at 2.'"
The end result of her work is an album that does an about face to the type of material that O'Neal recorded for her debut disc.
"My last album was full of a lot of love songs," she explains. "This album, really, there's no love song per se on the album. Every song is either about finding a man or, if you found him, working on problems ... or your baby, being a mom, getting together with your girlfriends. It's kind of everything but love song album."
O'Neal co-wrote nine of the 11 tracks for the album, which includes songs she says are "a little deeper," like "Follow Me Home" and the swampy cut, "Devil on the Left," about a stripper.
But she also squeezed in a tune with a humorous flair. The CD's first single, "Trying to Find Atlantis," which was written by a couple of men, takes a humorous look at the trials involved in the search for Mr. Right.
O'Neal admits she had her share of comedic experiences when she was dating, but there were also a few rough spots.
"[There were] a lot of tears shed for no reason," she says. "Looking back, isn't that always the way? Why did I cry over him? What was I thinking?"