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Country singer Chely Wright finds strength to face the music

After a recent and very public coming out, the country music star says she's prepared for whatever professional fallout may come.

May 07, 2010|By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

Wright said it was a confluence of conscience and circumstance that put her in a position to detonate this career bombshell at this time. For one thing, she feels the tug of a career desire to make music that is less beholden to radio airplay and more defined by the album statements of a veteran song crafter.

"Look, I'm not 19 years old. I'm getting older. I want to be an artist who can be relevant at 60 and still getting better. You look at people like Levon Helm and Emmylou Harris and they're still getting better and challenging themselves. I'm about to turn 40 and I don't want to be trying to figure out a way to rewrite 'Single White Female' and 'Shut Up and Drive.' There's nothing sadder than trying to redo that."

In 2005, Wright released "Metropolitan Hotel," a collection that revealed an artist who wanted to move toward an alt-country sound, but instead of taking a leap, it was more of a tentative half-step, she admits now.

"I panicked. I got insecure about my abilities to grow artistically and then I got a little seduced by what I knew — you dance with the one that brung you and commercial country music has been so good to me. So I made half of the record in an artistic fashion looking toward a Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams vein and then the other half I made with country radio in mind."

It was while working on the new album that Wright decided her old choices and concessions were no longer manageable in her life.

"I had my breakdown — which some of my friends called breakthrough, which is a nice way to say it — and I was halfway through the recording process of this new record when I decided to come out. I was already set on course to make this record with [producer] Rodney Crowell and it was not going to be defined by a country radio sound. I didn't decide to come out and then make an alt-country album to go with it."

The alt-country path may lead to good reviews but Wright says there is a major trade-off at the concert box-office.

"When you have a big hit in country music or a couple of them, as I have had, you can fully expect to enjoy a career in touring for the rest of your life. You can pay your bills through live music in some capacity, in some way, shape or form. There is no greater fan in music than a country music fan and once they sign up, they love you for the rest of your life. I am prepared to lose that and I expect I will lose that. This is the right thing to do."

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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