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Jamie O'Neal, On My Way to You (Mercury)
Blame Shania Twain for the way this album hesitates between twangy banjos and sweeping ballads. And for the way the first half is determined to be fluffy and fun. Still, O'Neal does have a vocal identity of her own. Where Twain is sexy in the tradition of effervescent pop girls next door, O'Neal's a little sultrier, her voice relatively husky for an album with so much crossover ambition. But, among the pop-oriented songs, only "Tryin' to Find Atlantis", with its comic New Age misadventures about finding the perfect man, has a correspondingly clear identity as an example of songwriting craft. Though O'Neal can't beat Twain at her own game, the first half of the album is still the stronger. The second half veers too often into ballads stuck somewhere between real longing and grandiose guilty pleasures. And for sultry country singers who mope a lot, I'll stick with Kelly Willis.