Exploding onto the country music scene with the devastating end-of-love song, "There Is No Arizona," she set a high standard for herself as both songwriter and singer. Her new album, Brave, more than builds on that promise, as O'Neal confirms her strengths as a singer's singer, but also makes impressive strides as a songwriter, co-writing nine of the record's 11 songs. Sonically, she draws from her eclectic musical tastes, with songs that run from showcase ballads to swampy Southern rock. Lyrically, she explores struggle, family, womanhood and spirituality displaying a deep understanding of both the peaks and valleys that accompany a life fully lived.
Much of the more mature perspective heard in the new songs emerged after she gave birth to her first child, daughter, Aliyah in June 2003. "Nearly everything changed once I became a mother - the way I felt about life and the way I looked at different things,' she says. "My writing has definitely changed, so a lot of my songs are geared toward the emotions of being a parent and raising a family and just looking at the world through a parent's eyes.'
O'Neal naturally poured her new rush of emotions into music, anxious for the moment when she could share these new songs/feelings with her fans. A born performer, she lived most of her life as a road warrior, singing with her family's band from the age of eight. Her New Zealand-born father, Jimmy Murphy (who co-wrote "Girlfriends' on the new album), met Jamie's mother, Julie, performing on Australian Bandstand, and the couple formed their own act. The duo expanded when Jamie and her younger sister Samantha became old enough to sing.
The family toured incessantly, living in a variety of locations-including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville and Nashville. That made it difficult to form long-lasting friendships during her youth, but it also cemented an appreciation for the entertainer's nomadic lifestyle.
"I'm kind of a restless spirit,' Jamie assesses. "Even now, living in Nashville and having our own home is fantastic, but I also think, "I'd love to go live in Colorado or Montana or somewhere, experience that.' I'm always thinking of the next place or the next experience.'
One of the most important experiences of her youth was the chance to open and perform on the same stage as such significant performers as Johnny Cash, Crystal Gayle and Dolly Parton.
"I would stand at the side of the stage and watch their whole show over and over again, and I just always knew what I wanted to do,' Jamie recalls. "I knew that one day, hopefully, I'd be up there on the stage singing my own songs-and especially with Dolly Parton, because she wrote everything. When I was 10 and 12 years old, that just meant so much to me that she could go out there and tell her stories and people loved to hear them because they were real.'
After living in Nashville twice before, the third time was the charm. Jamie moved to Music City for good in 1996, quickly establishing herself as a standout in the city's bountiful creative community. She landed songs on albums by LeAnn Rimes and Chely Wright, and sang the demos for several titles that would become major hits for other artists, including Faith Hill's "This Kiss' and Reba McEntire's "So Good Together.'
Nashville also brought that first recording contract, that first album and her husband, Rodney Good. The couple married in August 2000, barely two months before the release of O'Neal's first album, Shiver. The next few years were a whirlwind.
O'Neal nabbed a pair of #1 hits-"There Is No Arizona' and "When I Think About Angels'-and both of those titles earned her Grammy nominations as a songwriter for "Country Song of the Year.' In addition, "Arizona' brought a third Grammy nod for "Best Female Country Vocal Performance.' The Academy of Country Music named her the Top New Female Vocalist, she sang on the soundtracks of Bridget Jones's Diary and When We Were Soldiers, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. She toured with Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, opened for Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.
When she decided to take a break from the road, to have her baby and be a mommy for a little while, O'Neal continued to write songs, including the hit "How Far," recorded by Martina McBride. But she kept most of those new songs for herself, standing at the ready for the moment when she returned to the studio to make Brave. "The goal in making this album was to allow the audience to know me better," she says. "You only have 11 songs to show what you're all about, and I feel like the first album was just the tip of the iceberg. So I wanted to dig a little deeper."
The tortured "When Did You Know' summons all of her vocal strength just to face a difficult future; while "Naive' uses Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The U.S.A.' to recall those teen years when our futures looked easy to predict. Maturity and the strength it brings infuse "Ready When It Comes' and "Brave,' two songs about facing a dark, unknown future. "Devil On The Left,' a murky tale of a stripper with bigger expectations, gives O'Neal her own "Fancy' while "Trying To Find Atlantis," the first single, playfully rues the struggle involved in finding the perfect man. "Somebody's Hero' and "I Love This Life' uniquely celebrate O'Neal's new perspective as a mom.
And in fine family fashion, after recording with multi-award winning producer Keith Stegall during the day, she worked with husband Rodney Good at their home studio to finalize all the vocal parts for the album, cementing their partnership in the process. "Working with Keith Stegall is such a comfortable experience for me. He always brings out the best in me and I trust his judgement 100% on my voice and song choices. The only person I trust as much as Keith with my vocals is my husband Rodney Good.'
"We would be up, just the two of us-me in my robe-working at two o'clock in the morning, and it was awesome,' she smiles. "We're both getting to do what we love. We're getting to do it at home, our baby's on the monitor, we're feeling like we have everything that we ever wanted.'