Most artists welcome the stopgap greatest-hits package. Not Jo Dee Messina. "It really wasn't my idea," she sighs. Her Greatest Hits set, released in May, debuted at No. 1 on the country chart and gave her some breathing room with fans awaiting a new album (it's been three years since her last one, Burn). "It was the label's idea to come out with it," she explains. "But I'm fine with it. I'm out there supporting it."
So Messina's on the road this summer, promoting her best-of collection. (She headlines Country Jam 2003 -- which also features Diamond Rio, Terri Clark, and Sammy Kershaw -- on Saturday.) "The excitement and energy that comes from the audience is such an incredible thing," she says. "It just makes you love your job even more."
At 33, Messina sounds alternately weary of and grateful for her position. She's spent quite a bit of the past seven years -- since her first single, "Heads Carolina, Tails California" -- touring. But there was plenty of doubt going around, when her self-titled debut album wasn't quite the blockbuster industry pundits predicted. "Every day, the thought [of failure] crosses my mind," she says. "This could all slip away so easy."
But 1998's I'm Alright spawned three No. 1 singles: the title track, "Bye-Bye," and "Stand Beside Me." Two years later, Burn -- which was a No. 1 country album -- offered two more top singles, "That's the Way" and "Bring On the Rain," a duet with labelmate Tim McGraw. And all's well now.
Messina's going to be on the road for much of the rest of the year. Between tour stops, she's laying down songs for her next album, which she hopes to have on the shelves sometime early in 2004. And unlike many of her contemporaries, who've opted for pop success by toning down the twang, Messina says she's a country girl at heart, and things will always be that way. "I like the quaintness of country music," she says. "I like the simplicity and the realness of the music. I'm going in the opposite direction."