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With her fastest-rising hit in five years, Terri Clark is ready to rock again

Story by Bob Paxman

Terri Clark relaxes in the living room of her Nashville home and counts her many blessings. "I'm very grateful that after seven years, I still have a job," she sighs. "I honestly don't know what else I would do, because I'm such a klutz sometimes."

And she's almost proud to prove it! Terri points out that she has already had her klutzy moment of the day, though it's still early.

"This morning, I lost my credit card - in my own house! I don't know where it is, and I just had it!" Terri laments and laughs simultaneously. "So, I mean, who would hire me?"

Terri doesn't exactly need to pound the pavement. She's successfully held down the same job since 1995 when the sassy "Better Things To Do" hit the charts. The Canadian songbird has since gathered a legion of loyal fans with strong female anthems like "Emotional Girl" and "No Fear," as well as lighthearted tunes like the chart-topping "You're Easy On The Eyes."

Now the string continues with her latest, "I Just Wanna Be Mad," one of the fastest-rising hits of her career. In January Terri premieres a new album, Pain To Kill.

"I know with words like 'mad' and 'kill,' people want to read something into that," says Terri.

So is there an angry woman lurking under that tall frame and cowboy hat?

"Oh, no, not at all," she answers with a laugh. "Though I guess that is a volatile sounding album title. But there are many different emotions on this album. It's me at 34 saying that I've been up, down, made some mistakes, succeeded, failed. It's a very liberating record for me."

She could also add exhilarating. "I'm more excited about music at this time in my life than I was when I started out," she says. "I have a lot less personal baggage, and now I can really focus on the music."

Terri's "baggage" refers to both an early marriage, to musician Ted Stevenson, and the stress of being a new artist. "I got married when I was very young and still trying to get a record deal. And that was hard," says Terri. The marriage ended in 1996 and she has remained single since.

"We read all the books - you know, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, those things - to try and figure each other out," she adds. "In fact, 'I Just Wanna Be Mad,' which was written by two guys, kind of talks about that - how men are more practical and women are more emotional. Anyway, we tried, but the marriage never recovered."

Terri also admits that she didn't deal well with pressure. "When I came out with my first record, it was scary as hell. I felt overwhelmed and just worried myself sick," she admits. "I landed a spot on the George Strait tour, which was a terrific break, but I even worried about that because I had never played with a band before."

Terri learned to relax and go with the flow. "I've made a big jump in maturity because I've had more life experiences," she says. "Not that I ignore my career, but I take what comes my way a little more easily - and everything is just more enjoyable now."

That includes work, which apparently never stops. Terri freely admits that she's not one to take vacations to exotic hideaways or lay idly around the house. Instead, she spends the time writing and touring.

"I am pretty much a workaholic," she concedes, "although I'm not real happy to say so. Part of that is I'm one of those people who feels guilty if I take any time off." She pauses and smiles. "But I also work because I love what I do. This past year, I did two Canadian tours and several shows in the U.S., even though I didn't have a record out. So with that and writing and recording, that pretty much took care of my year."

But here, off the road, it's a different story. Terri stretches on a living room couch and hugs her dog Oscar, a wide-eyed black dachshund. She savors these few precious moments when she can recharge her batteries and unwind. And most of her unwinding is definitely done at home.

"I'm pretty much a homebody," she reveals. "I don't get home that much, so when I do, I make the most of it. I'm not a bar hopper; in fact, I really don't like going out that much at all. I have friends over for dinner parties, and I like to go camping once in a while. But usually when I'm home, I just watch old movies and cook a lot."

Terri's typical day at home bounces to an early start with a morning "power walk," often with Oscar tagging along. In the afternoons, she hauls out the guitar and starts writing songs - that is, when she's not glued to the computer.

"All my friends say I'm an e-mail junkie," she laughs. "I'm always e-mailing or spending time on the Internet. For whatever reason, I've never been a big phone person - I'm not one to call friends and talk for three hours. But I love the e-mail."

Almost as if on cue, Terri's "You've got mail" alert flashes on her computer. "See what I mean?" she says. "This goes on all day long and into the night."

When Terri musters up the spirit to step out for the evening, it's generally with friends. She's currently not involved in a relationship, but that's fine with her.

"I'm concentrating on my career right now," she says earnestly. "This is my time to do that, when I don't have any other responsibilities. I'm so grateful to still be doing this after seven years, I want to give it everything I can."

She stops and reflects on a song from her new album, a tune titled "I Wanna Do It All." She recites one particular line that hits especially close to home.

"Beating the odds with my back to the wall - that says it all for me," she smiles. "I feel that I have beaten certain odds, especially in terms of longevity and consistency. Most careers last only from about 3 to 5 years, and I've been lucky to go beyond that. But I want to be a part of country music as long as I possibly can."

She's confident that Pain To Kill will keep her in business. "I'm ready to rock again!" she says with a mock roar. "Especially after my last album, Fearless, which was more of an introspective project. There are a couple on this album that are very personal, but mostly, it's back to what I do best - plain rockin' country! I think fans will see every aspect of my personality with this record."

Terri pauses and lets go a laugh. "Now, if I can just find that credit card, I'll be real happy."