Jessica Andrews, Now

Jessica-Andrews-NowJessica Andrews

If the barrage of meta-reality television shows has taught us anything, it’s that it is not all that easy to sing well. On Star Search, American Idol, Nashville Star, et al, we get to see and hear the difficulty of hitting those notes, delivering the tune and maintaining one’s poise. So, it’s rewarding when we find someone who can pull off a tune with style and grace. Enter Jessica Andrews, who at 20, has just released her third solid album, Now, for Dreamworks and shows no hint of missing a note or losing her cool.

One gets the impression that Jessica had a great deal more say in her song selection this go-round and the result is a homogenous (if somewhat lengthy) collection. Though Andrews delivers slower numbers like “They Are the Roses,” “Now,” and “I Bring It To You” with the aplomb of a veteran, it is in the more spirited songs that Jessica sounds most comfortable. Unsurprisingly, Andrews co-wrote the album’s most fun songs – “There’s More to Me Than You” and “Good Times.”

The empowering “There’s More to Me Than You” leads off the album with a steady-rocking tale of a break-up gone good, a young woman moving on and better off. “Good Times” closes the album in an optimistic mood. Its simple front-porch feel seems less grand than the sweeping melodies of “I Wish For You” and “To Love You Once,” but Jessica delivers each with equal sincerity.

Andrews’ sound is resolutely Nashville in the sense that it is bold and broad – light on the twang and heavy on the production. “Sunshine and Love” and “Second Sunday” offer breezy pop injected with a dose of soul. “Cowboy Guarantee” and “Windows on a Train” tell tales probably beyond Andrews’ scope of experience, but part of her talent is her ability not to proclaim her youth.

Surely there was healthy discussion as to how to market Andrews – as crossover pop, rocking country, steamy balladeer – but like Faith Hill before her, Andrews has charted a course between the divergent paths with her honest delivery and natural style. Though each of her previous albums was precocious, with Now, Jessica Andrews has found that confidence in herself is her greatest strength.

[This review originally appeared in The Scene.]