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This is the music that I've always wanted to give to people," declares Lacy J. Dalton of her first new album in 12 years, The Last Wild Place. "It's very beautiful and peaceful. It's music that will heal you, and give you hope and strength. That's what it was intended to do." Sounds ambitious, but Lacy has always dreamed big. That's what brought her from her native Pennsylvania to California in the 1960s and then Nashville in the '70s- and finally to country stardom in the '80s with hits like "Takin' It Easy," "Everybody Makes Mistakes" and "16th Avenue." "I'm very grateful for the career that I've had in country music," says Lacy. "And I think a lot of people haven't heard from me in a long time and are curious: 'What is she doing now?' " At the moment, Lacy is relaxing at her home in the mountains above Reno, Nev., which she shares with husband Aaron Anderson and their four dogs. Outside, three feet of snow blankets the ground, and the pine trees are white. She left the hustle and bustle of Music City to come here in 1998. "I got so homesick for the open skies, I thought my heart was going to break," she explains. "Nashville is not where we belong. We belong in the West. We wanted to live where the sky goes on forever and the wild horses still run free." Far away from Nashville, Lacy now makes music her own way, at her own pace, and releases it herself. She now admits to having been uncomfortable with the compromises she had to make to rack up country radio hits. "It was always very, very tough for me, I think, because I really am different," she says with a chuckle. "And I'm becoming more and more OK with that." Lacy visits Nashville to perform and see old friends, but she wouldn't dream of returning to the city permanently- or to the big-time music business. She knows she couldn't have made The Last Wild Place any other way except her way. "This music is not what you hear on commercial radio, generally speaking," she says. "It's very earthy, natural and honest, and I don't think there's anything forced about it. There are times when you're just going to feel completely lost and alone-and this music is for that time."

- Leon Beck