Jessica Andrews – “Who I Am”

Released: 10.24.00

Peak: #28

“I am Rosemary’s granddaughter,” lies Jessica Andrews, and I wouldn’t being surprised if she wasn’t “the spitting image of [her] father” either. That was just Music Row tunesmiths Brett James and Troy Verges putting words in her pretty little mouth. But remember, the only Maybelline Chuck Berry ever knew was a cow–truth in songwriting is a tricky concept. And so is “truth”–however idealized the notion of family as tight-knit safety net may be, that doesn’t make the sentiment untrue, and however untrue that sentiment may sometimes prove, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be true.

Andrews was the CMA’s answer to teenpop, complete with bare midriff, failed follow-up singles, and sunlight-streaked hair in her cover art that the careless could mistake for blonde. “[I]f her debut album had come out seven years later, maybe she could have been as big as Taylor Swift,” Chuck Eddy has suggested. And she was a better technical singer than Taylor, for sure. Then again Swift didn’t need Benmont Tench or Mutt Lange (or James-Verges) to write for her, and she eclipsed the material that those old guys gave Andrews all by her precocious lil’ self. More to the point, though, teenpop is directed at teens. Yet where Swift targets her contemporaries, or their younger sibs, Andrews, for all her “I’m young but I am able” boasts, played the good girl strictly for the grown-ups.

To be honest, I always wanted to prefer Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” the defining inspirational country ballad of its moment. Womack looked forward rather than backward, urged kids to try soaring before they rationalize their shortcomings. While Andrews’ acknowledgement of her “clueless” and “clumsy” moments is endearing, after all, maybe a seventeen-year-old shouldn’t be quite so resigned to the possibility of failure. Even the song’s lovely central message seems premature in a young adult–there’s something inherently self-limiting about recognizing oneself, so soon in life, as the sum of all one’s good influences.

But maybe that’s just the rebel-rock contrarian ideologue in me grumbling. Because while Womack’s well-wishing truisms simply make me appreciate her sensibility, “What I Am” unfailingly mists me up–especially now that I’m one of the grown-ups Andrews flatters. And as Andrews became a victim of Dreamworks’ mid-decade dissolution, and was later dropped by the tiny label she migrated to, I can only hope she has as supportive a family as her song pretends.

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  • Craig B  On February 2, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Comforting to know she’ll be just fine if she doesn’t win a grammy. Personally, I wanted to see more of that beautiful farm. But her belly button kept getting in the way.

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