The Northeast doesn't have a reputation as a hotbed for country music, but for 23-year-old singer/songwriter Nicole Frechette, there's an audience for country no matter where she performs.

The Northeast doesn't have a reputation as a hotbed for country music, but for 23-year-old singer/songwriter Nicole Frechette, there's an audience for country no matter where she performs. "I look at it like being a diamond in the rough," she says of opting to keep her home base in southern Connecticut.

That's not to say Frechette hasn't had Nashville on her mind. She spent a week there in 2006, cutting her self-titled debut. Unlike many self-released albums, Frechette's self-financed set is ripe with high production qualities, with lead single "Yeah Right" penned by hitmaker Phil Vassar.

Frechette's music fits well with the streak of fiery young women like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood on country's airwaves. It's not just the clarity of her voice that's strong—so is Frechette's commanding pallet of emotions in her delivery. It drips with Southern charm, expressing loss at one moment, defiance at the next, and hinting at a tone reminiscent of Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines. Her postal code may suggest Yankee, but listening to tracks like the violin-laced ballad "Cross Against the Moon," one can hear the tender anxiousness of a small-town girl dying to bust out into bigger things, as the song's narrative suggests.

While she grew accustomed to studio work in 2006, Frechette started to hone her live performance skills last fall. Like many country singers, she began by hitting the local bar circuit, but quickly booked gigs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Yet, with this sudden influx of work, she's finding it tough to pay her band while continuing to perform. "So far, I've been losing money at my gigs," she says with a laugh.

But in the past few months, it's apparent something is starting to click. She's booked to open for Jo Dee Messina during Labor Day weekend in Woodstock, Conn. She shared a bill with Tim McGraw last month at the Colgate Country Showdown at Boston's Tweeter Center and will soon share an as-yet-unannounced bill with LeAnn Rimes.

Media interest has remained steady, with a local TV performance as well as features in the New Haven Advocate and the Madison Source. She was also voted New England Country Music Organization's 2008 female vocalist of the year and female vocalist of new country, plus her album nabbed CD of the year.

This winter, she plans to head back to Nashville for a time to lay the groundwork for lyrics for her next album.