Originally created 10/25/02

Something in Common

Although a firm fan of the sounds of Nashville, country crooner Jamie O'Neal isn't afraid to infuse her music with a little bit of Memphis.

Ms. O'Neal, who headlines the Augusta Common grand opening Saturday, has a take on country that is of the polished, pop-inflected varietal popular in post-Shania Twain Nashville. What separates her from the multitude of pretty faces singing pretty songs is a little bit of soul.

Instead of filling tracks with the expected guitar, bass and swelling strings, Ms. O'Neal's music swings on the aching burble of a Hammond organ and the discordant wail of a blues harmonica. Ms. O'Neal, who co-writes most of her material, said it's a question of finding the sounds that suit the song.

"After we write a song, we demo them," she said in a recent telephone interview. "That's when we choose the instrumentation. For instance, for me, the organ has a very soulful feel. On my next record, there's a banjo. There's nothing calculated about it, it's about finding what fits the song."

Ms. O'Neal spent her formative years onstage, performing with her sister and parents. She said the experience of being exposed to the good and bad in country music from such an early age taught her important music-business lessons.

"When I grew up playing country music, every artist was unique," she said. "People like Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell and Dolly Parton all had their own sounds. Now, there seem to be a lot of followers and not as many leaders. I think developing a unique style is what separates the people that will have a few hits and the people that will have careers."

Ms. O'Neal released her first album, Shiver, in 2000. The record garnered her three Grammy nominations and a handful of hit singles and, after a lifetime of singing on stage, made her an overnight success.

"It hasn't been hard to accept, but it has been hard to believe," she said. "What's important now is to keep it going. Before all this I was in obscurity, so I could dream as big as I wanted. What's funny is that nothing is as you imagine it. Success is a roller coaster ride - great highs and great lows. But I'll tell you, I wouldn't change it for the world."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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