Anyone in Nashville (or any other music capital, for that matter) will tell you there’s no such thing as a sure bet.
Yes, not even Garth Brooks.
Lari White found out the hard way. After going gold with her second album, she and RCA Records clashed over creative differences on her followup LP. The label agreed to release her from her contract, and now she’s shopping around for a new deal.
Michelle Wright empathizes with White’s struggle. She has had her own share of problems.
The 35-year-old singer showed immediate promise in 1990 with her self-titled debut album, especially in her native Canada, where she won nearly every country music award imaginable. “Now and Then,” her second effort in ’92, fared even better, spawning a Top-10 U.S. country hit in “Take It Like a Man.” Other medium-sized hits followed.
Then the well ran dry.
Her third album, “The Reasons Why,” naturally took off in Canada in late 1994. The first single, “One Good Man,” was released simultaneously in Canada and the United States. It went No. 1 in Canada but stalled at No. 48 in America. Wright and Arista Nashville gave one more single a shot in America before deciding to release “The Reasons Why” there.
“I was going to come with a song called ‘Safe in the Arms of Love,’ and Martina McBride got to it a couple of weeks before we intended to, so she released the single,” Wright said recently from her Nashville home. “So, here I was, sitting with an album to release in America with one single that went to No. 48 and a single that was now a ‘current cover tune.’ It wasn’t appropriate to release an album under those conditions.”
Thus, “The Reasons Why” was canned. And adding insult to injury, McBride’s “Safe in the Arms of Love” was nominated for a Grammy Award last year.
“That was a real shot in the gut,” Wright said. “I needed a hit record real bad, and there it was and it slipped right through my fingers.
“Fortunately, I’m very lucky that I have a record label that went, ‘Okay, let’s go into the studio and make another record.’ That type of commitment is really unheard of.”
Back and rearing to go, Wright returns Aug. 27 with her fourth album, “For Me It’s You,” preceded by the single “Nobody’s Girl.”
What sets Wright aside from the glut of virtually interchangeable country performers is her rich alto voice. She also likes to think she has a few other things on her side.
“I continue to hold on to his, as difficult as it is, that originality is still the name of the game,” she said, “and that if you want to pick up one of my records, you’re going to feel something. You’re going to feel this passion in my voice, this passion in the songs I sing and that it’s not going to sound like everything else.
“I’m not saying it’s great or better than anybody else, because it’s not. It’s what it is. But the bottom line is, I’m the only alto in this format.”
No bones about it, in a town that is driven by charts and numbers, Wright wants radio airplay. And she’s not afraid to admit it.
“If you don’t get played on the radio, then what do you do?” she said. “But at the same time I also wanted not to follow the pack, and that’s where the challenge truly is – how do I maintain integrity and originality and fit in a format?
“I believe I really have something to offer. If I can convince these people at radio to play me, then people are going to hear it and like it and come and see me. I think I add personality to the format.”
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