Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Powered by proven commercial clout as a songwriter, powerhouse vocal chops, and an ear-grabbing leadoff single, Rebecca Lynn Howard could be poised to break big with "Forgive," her second release on MCA Nashville. Due Sept. 10, "Forgive" is a diverse record, with 12 cuts running the gamut from hardcore, traditional country to more radio-friendly, pop-leaning material, touching on gospel, uptempos, and power ballads along the way.

She also co-wrote seven of the songs, and according to Howard, the diversity is by design. "I feel like this album is a true reflection of where I'm at as an individual and a songwriter," she says. "It's diverse because my musical influences are so diverse. What goes in, comes out."

The title cut, a ballad featuring a stellar performance from Howard, is gaining steam at radio, reaching No. 32 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart this week.

"Forgive" was produced by Trey Bruce and Mark Wright; Bruce is also Howard's chief co-writer. Howard feels she has made strides between her two releases. "I have a lot more conviction about music than I did before. I wasn't afraid to take musical risks [this time], and this is a more grown-up record, with more mature content. It's just the difference between [being] 18 and 23 years old."

Musically, the record ranges from the country-poppish "Beautiful to You" and light-hearted uptempo "Pink Flamingo Kind of Love" to the contemporary hoedown of "Dancin' in God's Country," the powerful, melodic "Didn't Look Like Alcohol," and the stone-country weeper "Jesus and Bartenders." Throughout, Howard's pure, Eastern Kentucky vocal gives each song an undeniable country slant, regardless of style.

"Trey is a great producer. He gets what I'm about musically," Howard says. "I'm young, I want to be hip, and I want my music to reflect that. At the same time, I can't let go of my roots, tradition, and accent. That isn't going anywhere."

The record wraps with a subtle take on the classic gospel hymn "Softly and Tenderly." The contrast between bar stools and church pews isn't lost on Howard. "Religion and alcohol walk hand and hand in country music," she says. "I know it's ironic, but the people I grew up with that listened to country music, they're people that deal with these issues. Why listen to music if the song says nothing about our life?"

Indeed, the title cut was taken from Howard's experience watching a close friend go through the hurt and frustration of a divorce. "To see her hurting was hard for me, and I told her I hate the fact [that] I get songs from the personal suffering of people I love, but that's the curse of being a songwriter."

Howard will play a series of Canadian dates this fall with Kenny Rogers and Diamond Rio and will perform an acoustic version of "Forgive" for an October episode of the NBC-TV drama "Providence." The song will also appear on a "Providence" soundtrack due Aug. 8 via MCA.





Excerpted from the July 20, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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