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Music Preview: Sara Evans finds formula for country radio success

Sunday, January 28, 2001

By Jerry Sharpe

Do you call it selling out?

Or is it about survival?

 
 
Alan Jackson,
Sara Evans

Where: Mellon Arena, Uptown.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: $38; 412-323-1919.


Jerry Sharpe covers country music for the Post-Gazette.

   
 

Sara Evans insists on the latter. The country chanteuse broke into the business as a traditionalist, but after a pair of discs that received critical acclaim and only so-so sales, she saw the light.

This was about "saving my career," confesses Evans, who tired of the cold shoulder her music received from country radio. So, a little pop, a little rock and a little country later, she's riding high on the charts. She took a lesson from the Dixie Chicks in recording "Born to Fly," blending all of those elements, and now finds herself a radio favorite.

The 29-year-old Missouri native has a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well on this latest album in a mix aimed at various audiences. "Born to Fly," and the single of the same name, include plenty of fiddle accompaniment. Tunes range from soothing traditional ballads to pure pop to country rock. Bruce Hornsby even lends a hand with some peppy piano on "Every Little Kiss."

Clearly, Evans arrived at a formula.

"If I'm going to have the career I came to Nashville to find," she says, "I've got to get on the radio and give today's fans what they want."

Mission accomplished.

While she acknowledges that "Born to Fly" veers away from the roots shown in her initial recordings, she's comfortable with the direction she took.

"It's just me," Evans insists, describing her new sound.

New or not, she's now touring with one of country music's most celebrated traditionalists, Alan Jackson. Evans will open his 8 p.m. show Friday at the Mellon Arena. The tour spans from California and Texas to points east.

But Evans is no stranger to touring. She grew up on a Missouri tobacco farm with parents who played bluegrass. She started performing with them at age 4. In 1991, with music as her first love, she moved to Nashville where she honed songwriting skills and worked as a waitress at the Briley Parkway Holiday Inn. There she met Craig Schelske and joined his family's band, which found regional stardom in the Pacific Northwest. For about three years, they opened shows for such artists as Willie Nelson, Clay Walker and Tim McGraw.

Evans married Schelske in 1993, and the couple moved back to Nashville two years later.

Famed songwriter Harlan Howard heard Evans' demo of his "Tiger by the Tail" and was impressed. His involvement led to an RCA recording contract.

Three discs and a sharp turn later, Evans is right where she wants to be.

On the radio.



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