By John Gerome
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Five years is a long sabbatical in a business where careers rise and fall with the music charts.
But if singer Deana Carter - at Riverbend today with Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban - is worried about being away since 1998, she's not letting on.
The wispy blonde who sang of lost virginity in her breakthrough song, "Strawberry Wine," is at it again, this time baring all in a new video for her latest hit, "There's No Limit."
IF YOU GO
What: Kenny Chesney, with Keith Urban and Deanna Carter
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Riverbend Music Center
Tickets: $22.50-$52.50; 562-4949.
"I've really learned to embrace my femininity," said Carter, a self-professed tomboy. "I want to embrace it and do it tastefully and organically. ... I think it's something to be proud of."
The song, the first single from her new album, I'm Just a Girl, reached No. 14 on the Billboard chart while the album went to No. 6.
'Just a Girl' who paid her dues
That pales beside the numbers she racked up with her 1996 debut, the multiplatinum Did I Shave My Legs for This?
But it marks her first return to the Top 20 since her 1998 follow-up, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, a commercial disappointment that yielded only one hit.
Carter, 37, blames the slump on her old record label, Capitol Nashville. She says she worked with four label presidents before she asked to be released.
"The last record was critically acclaimed, but it just didn't have the economic support," she said. "That's what makes all of the difference. "
She's now on the Arista label and enjoying a career rebirth. Her video for "There's No Limit" is one of the most requested on Country Music Television. She's appeared on the Tonight show with Jay Leno and is performing to large crowds on Kenny Chesney's Margaritas & Senoritas tour.
Fans still remember Carter from "Strawberry Wine," said Chris Parr, vice president of talent relations for CMT.
"That's one of those songs that is a legitimate, bona fide hit, and those don't go away," Parr said. "I think it's probably a key part of why she still has a base out there and has been well received."
The new video doesn't hurt either. It shows a nude Carter slipping on a pair of men's boxer briefs and frolicking around the bedroom.
"It grabs your attention," Parr said. "I equate it to the Faith Hill video for 'Breathe.' People see it and think, 'Wow,' but compared to other music videos in other formats ... nothing is revealed."
A lot has happened to Carter over the past five years. Aside from leaving her label, she divorced songwriter Chris DiCroce and moved to Los Angeles where she's tried her hand at acting, appearing in independent films and TV sitcoms. She also pleaded guilty last year in Nashville to driving while impaired.
"It's amazing how in touch I've become with my strength and the things I've realized because of all this," she said. "I used to think happiness was like the lottery: either you had the numbers or you didn't. But that's not so. Everybody can be happy if you're willing to work at it."
Hand in every song
The changes in her personal life show in many of the 12 new songs, all of which she wrote or co-wrote as well as co-produced.
In "Me and the Radio," a song inspired by her move to California, she sings "2nd Avenue is twinkling behind me - Memories of you do their best to blind me - The river's rolling by, well baby, so am I."
The daughter of respected Nashville session guitarist Fred Carter Jr., her music leans heavily toward pop and rock. The tracks "Wildflower" and "You and Tequila," for example, are mostly acoustic numbers that recall James Taylor or Jackson Browne, while the driving "Girls' Night" crackles with electric guitars.
Carter's career bloomed relatively late. Her childhood was filled with music, with her father playing on records by Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and others. She is named for Dean Martin, who recorded two of her father's songs.
She knew early on she wanted to be a professional singer, but her first attempt in her teens failed. She went to college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and after graduating got a job as a rehabilitation therapist.
But she found the work emotionally draining and quit after about a year, returning to Nashville to write songs while working a string of menial jobs. One of her demo tapes caught the attention of Nelson, a family friend who invited her to sing at the 1994 Farm Aid concert in New Orleans.
She landed a record deal with Liberty (now Capitol), but the release of Did I Shave My Legs for This? was delayed because of corporate changes at the label. When the album finally came out, it sold more than 4 million copies and produced four Top 10 hits, including three No.1s.
Carter says she's paid her dues, and then some.
"You kind of earn your stripes," she said. "You have to prove you have a good work ethic and try to maintain your artistry at the same time."
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