Australian singer and songwriter Sherrié Austin broke new ground with her 2001 release, Followin’ a Feelin’. While she had several hits with her first two pop-infused albums and sales close to half a million records, Austin chose to leave Arista, an established label, and sign with the independent Wrensong. The singer took a year off from touring and recording to focus on songwriting, and the result was an album that returns to traditional country music and reflects early influences such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Austin was exposed to country music at an early age. Her mother loved the genre and played Parton and Johnny Cash records at home; Austin started singing by the age of 13. She told Chet Flippo of Billboard about her early influences: “I loved Dolly. She was my absolute favorite. I loved the songs she was writing, as well as Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John. I was also a ’70s baby and love that music, like Elton John and Simon & Garfunkel and Bread.” Austin’s parents began traveling with her around Australia to sing at country music festivals with a tent packed in the back of their van. Her big break came when she was just 14 year old—she opened for Cash during his 1985 tour of Australia. Although Austin was building a reputation as a singer, she declined an invitation from the Australian Country Music Association to move to Nashville when she was 15 years old because she felt she was just too young.
Two years later, though, Austin and her family moved to Los Angeles, California, so she could pursue her singing career. Once in Los Angeles, Austin landed a role as Pippa McKenna on the popular NBC sitcom Facts of Life. An actress at age 17, Austin remained committed to music and took voice and keyboard lessons with Robert Edwards, vocal coach to Linda Ronstadt. While in Los Angeles, Austin worked with Colourhaus, a pop band led by Phil Radford. The singer was still drawn to country, though, and moved to Nashville when she was 22 years old.
When Austin got to the country music capital, she arranged a meeting with Will Rambeaux, who would be a co-producer on three albums and collaborator on many songs. In 1995, Austin signed with Arista Nashville. Then president of the division, Tim DuBois saw potential in Austin, and the label allowed her two years to develop her debut album. Words appeared in 1997, drawing critical attention and popular response. Four songs from the album—“Innocent Man,” “One Solitary Tear,” “Put Your Heart in It,” and “Lucky In Love”—made it onto the country charts, and Country Music Television (CMT) named Austin its Rising Star. Video play boosted the sales of all of Austin’s albums, showcasing her sparkling good looks. But the singer does not rely on her looks alone, and critics have commended her both for her vocal talent and her interesting musical arrangements. The album combines country and pop sounds, producing what Chet Flippo of Billboard called “a mature mix of earthy love songs and uptempo numbers.” Maria Konicki of All Music Guide called Words a “spectacular debut,” and identified Austin as one of the genre’s “fresh sounding female vocalists.”
Austin’s second album was even more commercially successful than her debut. Love in the Real World, released in 1999, included “Never Been Kissed,” which went to number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks charts for sales, video, and dance. The label, while continuing to rely on traditional marketing, introduced some high-tech distribution techniques: Austin’s website gave fans another way of connecting with the singer, and “Never Been Kissed” was delivered to radio by email through Liquid Audio, making her one of the first artists to utilize that technology.
The success of the single “Never Been Kissed” and the album Love in the Real World was fueled by Austin’s personality and big voice; Chaz Malibu of KRST radio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told Billboard, “[Austin] has so much spunk…. When she sings, you can just hear the attitude, and it’s great.” The sophomore album retained the pop feel of Words, but some reviewers found the fusion uncomfortable. Maria Konicki noted in All Music Guide that she felt the record was “a bit of a disappointment,” since it wasn’t really pop nor was it truly country. Billboard’s Paul Verna, though, called the singer “effervescent,” and thought Austin showed “a marked progression and maturity” on Love in the Real World. Ralph Novak of People also praised the album,
Born Sherrié Veronica Krenn on August 28, 1970, in Sydney, Australia.
Opened for Johnny Cash’s Australian tour, 1985; played Pippa McKenna on sitcom Facts of Life, 1988; signed with Arista Records, released debut album Words, 1997; released hit single “Never Been Kissed” and second album, Love in the Real World, 1999; left Arista and signed with Wrensong, 2000; released third album, Followin’ a Feelin’, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Wrensong W.E. Records, 1229 17th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212, phone: (615) 321-4487, fax: (615) 327-7917, website: http://www.wrensong.com. Website —Sherrié Austin Official Website: http://www.sherrieaustin.com.
calling the songs “thoughtful, melodious compositions” and noting that Austin displays “an unusually mature mind and voice.”
True success did not come easily to Austin, though, even after the release of her second album. Arista was subsumed by RCA Label Group, and Austin had to decide whether to stay with the new Arista or move on. She chose to join Wrensong, an independent label for which she had already been writing. Austin also took a year off from touring and recording to focus on her songwriting; she told Ray Waddell of Billboard that the year was spent “detoxing my soul.” The resulting album, Followin’ a Feelin’, was released in 2001. The title sums up Austin’s process: she focused not on what would sell on the radio, but returned to the inspiration that led her to country music in the first place. Followin’ a Feelin’ is a collection of nine original songs—many collaborations with Rambeaux—and one cover, of Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit “Jolene.” Austin’s songs also reflect her return to traditional country music, and Konicki found the result “virtually flawless.” She also wrote that “Austin sounds liberated, confident, and energized” on the album.
Partnered with Wrensong, Austin was poised to take a more active role in the marketing and promotion of her third album. She continued to tour and remained a presence on the Internet, and the label used targeted marketing as a way of reaching her fans. Austin commented on the new arrangement in Billboard, saying, “This is very exciting and fulfilling, because I was always interested in both sides of the business. I get to contribute not only as an artist, singer, and songwriter but also in making marketing, A&R, and promotional decisions.” The shift in focus seems to have reinvigorated Austin, and the positive critical response to Followin’a Feelin’ indicates that there is a market for her new music.
Words, Arista, 1997.
Love in the Real World, Arista, 1999.
Followin’ a Feelin’, Wrensong, 2001.
Billboard, June 14, 1997, p. 26; May 15, 1999, p. 21; July 3, 1999, p. 32; August 7, 1999, p. 19; August 14, 1999, p. 30; February 17, 2001, p. 33.
Entertainment Weekly, August 13, 1999, p. 76.
People, September 27, 1999, p. 45.
“Sherrié Austin,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com, (July 1, 2001).
“Sherrié Austin,” Listen.com, http://www.listen.com, (July 1, 2001).
“Sherrié Austin,” Wrensong, http://www.wrensong.com, (July 1, 2001).
Sherrié Austin Official Website, http://www.sherrieaustin.com, (July 1, 2001).
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