Canadian singing star seeks U.S. success Struggle: After the poor response to the first single from her new album, Michelle Wright is 'very concerned' about her career.

September 22, 1996|By Mario Tarradell | Mario Tarradell,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Four years ago, Michelle Wright was a promising country singer with a hit under her belt and an Academy of Country Music hat trophy in her hands.

Today, she's a struggling artist.

"For Me It's You," Wright's stateside follow-up to 1992's "Now and Then," is her comeback bid, an album comprising fresh material and a few songs pulled from 1994's "The Reasons Why," which was released only in Canada after American country radio passed on its first two singles.

Wright must be experiencing deja vu: "Nobody's Girl," the first single from "For Me It's You," has already stiffed. A country-pop song about the inner strength of everyday women written by respected Nashville songwriter Gretchen Peters, "Nobody's Girl's" poor performance at radio has forced Wright to re-evaluate her place in today's country music.

"I'm very concerned for my career right now," she says from her home in Nashville. "There's no question that it presents challenges, but that's the way it is. I will say certainly it's very competitive here, but it's as competitive in Canada because the same records are coming out. It's just that every artist is at different levels."

North of the border, Wright's star status is the equivalent of Reba McEntire's in the United States. She's a two-time entertainer-of-the-year award winner with a slew of hits, touring success and top-selling albums.

"It's absolutely humbling and schizophrenic," she says about her success in her native country and her fight to break through in the United States. "In my career, I've had many humbling experiences, which I think are good for an artist because you realize you are not greater or better than, or anything special -- you happen to sing and make music, and if you're lucky you'll be successful. How good you are doesn't necessarily come into play either. It's what's shaking for the day."

There's a resigned tone in Wright's voice when she utters those words. It's as if her Ozlike musical vision, where artists can record songs they believe in, regardless of commercial potential, has been sullied by the ugly reality of the business.

"When you're in a conservative format, you tend to become conservative and you tend to second-guess yourself," says the 35-year-old. "That's when it gets really scary, when the artist can no longer go based on their instincts. I feel like I have so much to offer and the challenge now is if I don't go the way that everybody else is going, I'm risking losing my career."

Yet "For Me It's You," an album filled with songs by stellar writers such as Rodney Crowell, Chapin Hartford, Pam Tillis and Bob DiPiero, is Wright's strongest effort.

Even with six producers at the helm, her potent, R&B-influenced alto has been given room to emote. She stretches from the Motown-meets-country energy of "The Answer Is Yes" to the plaintive beauty of "We've Tried Everything Else" without ever resorting to meaningless radio ditties.

"I have a difficulty just singing about trucks and dancing," she says. "I love that stuff; I just feel we have so much of that going on, do we really need to have more?"

Which is why Wright refuses to deliver more of the same. Back in 1992, after she scored a radio staple with "Take It Like a Man," a soul-soaked lament about modern manhood ("One wants a maid, one needs his mother/They either want space, or they want to smother me"), Wright did an about-face with "He Would Be Sixteen," a heartbreaking ballad about a mother's need to know the son she gave up for adoption. Radio didn't take to that one either.

Still, she perseveres.

"I heard Pam Tillis say something on television the other night," she remembers. "She says she considers herself a work in progress. That is so true. If you're an artist that's intelligent and analyzes and works hard and challenges yourself and doesn't just stay where you are, it's only going to get better. I feel like that's the case for me. I am more aware of who I am today, not only as a woman but as an artist."

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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