Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Most artists who make the move from a major label to an independent tout their newfound artistic freedom, but Deana Carter really means it.

On "The Story of My Life," her first album for Vanguard, Carter produced, wrote all the songs and played acoustic and electric guitar, bass and keyboards.

Released March 8, the album was recorded in the Los Angeles-area home of engineer James Michael. No one from the label heard a note of music until the album was finished. It debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

Carter burst onto the country music scene in 1996 with her multiplatinum Capitol Records debut, "Did I Shave My Legs for This?" and its No. 1 singles "Strawberry Wine" and "We Danced Anyway."

Her follow-up, 1998's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," went gold, but after a 2002 greatest-hits project Carter left Capitol and signed with Arista Nashville in what would prove to be a creatively and financially unfulfilling move. Her one album for the label, "I'm Just a Girl," peaked at No. 6 in 2003 on the country chart and spawned just one top 15 hit.

For her next project, she signed with Vanguard because "it was a label that believed in me," she says. "They were taking me as I am. They weren't trying to change me, [and] they didn't have any stipulations."

At the majors, Carter says, she was discouraged from working with the producers of her choice and from singing her own songs. At Capitol, she claims, at least one record executive (who is no longer there, she hastens to add) would bring a stopwatch into the studio to time the length of her songs.

"It got to be like a factory," says Carter, who believes she has "earned the right to be true to myself."

After the Arista album, she parted on good terms from parent RCA Label Group, saying RLG chairman Joe Galante knew her musical leanings were no longer in the country mainstream and "cared enough about me to let me go do what I need to do."

At Vanguard, she says, "they were offering that [freedom]... It was like a breath of fresh air. I was like, 'Where do I sign?'"

Carter, a Nashville native, moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. And while the move didn't signal a shift away from country music, she says it did make her feel more free to experiment musically. "I can be myself without worrying about not being country enough," she says.

Even so, country fans have known about the new work for a while as thanks to a CMT "In the Moment" special on the making of the album and the birth of her son. The special was telecast in December and again during the album's release week.

Carter plans to tour behind the album. She has dates booked from April through July, including a variety of clubs, festivals and corporate events.

Excerpted from the April 3, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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