By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2004
ewcomer Julie Roberts is a bit of a tease. When asked what her goals were in making her debut album, which came out in late May, Roberts was asked to go beyond "I tried making the best album I could."
After all, any singer who doesn't try for his or her best is probably in the wrong field.
So what does Roberts, who looks an awful lot like Faith Hill, say? "I was trying to make the best album I could...I'm just teasing."
In reality, Roberts hit the mark quite well with her mix of soulful country and bluesy melodies and a full, confident sounding voice to match.
"Honestly, I picked songs that I love, songs that I could relate to," says Roberts in a telephone interview from Nashville in mid-June. "I wanted the emotion that I feel to come across on the album. That was my goal - to make an album that was believable whether I wrote them or not. I picked them because I could relate to them. I wanted to share that emotion with listeners and hopefully that will reach them."
Roberts, a Lancaster, S.C. native, says she views music as a means towards "healing and escape from life some times. I just wanted to make an album that could help them (listeners) in their lives some way - whether an escape from reality for 45 minutes or however long the album is or to sit down and relax."
"My goal was to make a record that I'd buy myself and listen over and over and over again," says Roberts, a perky, lively sort on the phone.
Roberts ended up with 11 songs on the Brent Rowan-produced album on Mercury, none of which she wrote.
Like her concerts, Roberts starts the album with "You Ain't Down Home," which she says tells exactly who she is from the get go - a person who appreciates the small things in life and not necessarily the luxuries.
Similar to many singers preparing to record albums, Roberts went to a listening session at a song publisher to hear potential songs. When she heard a recording of "You Ain't Down Home," a male vocalist handled the vocals.
"I said, 'I know this song'," to the surprise of the company, which was looking to get it re-recorded. Jamie O'Hara, who was one-half of The O'Kanes, penned the song.
"It was recorded by Jann Browne. I don't think it went that far up the charts, and I remembered it."
The song hit number 19 in 1989, at a point where Roberts had just about hit double digits age-wise.
Roberts says she feels the song spoke to her lyrically. "If I saw someone acting better than me, (I'd think) you have this. You have that, but you ain't got home. Then the bluesiness and soulfulness also drew me to it as well."
Roberts indicates she has quite a memory for songs.
"If I heard it one time, I'd be singing it," says Roberts.
Her mother put her in voice lessons when she was about five years old. She sang "Rocky Top" in a talent contest along with singing at church and the radio.
"I've always loved country music. My mom always listened to it when I was growing up. She drove us around to school, church, nursery wherever we were going, the grocery store. She would always turn it up really loud and sing along to the radio. I would do that (too)."
Among her favorites were Mel McDaniel, Tanya Tucker, Patsy Cline, Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton and especially Barbara Mandrell.
"I wanted to be Barbara Mandrell," says Roberts. "I loved watching her on stage too with her sisters in her stand-up show. I wanted to be a performer like Barbara Mandrell."
Come junior high and high school, she was into Trisha Yearwood, an artist who would eventually play a pivotal role in her career.
"Every weekend, I was singing somewhere, some fair or festival," says Roberts. "My momma and aunt would send out my little press kit. They sent it out to all these festivals or fairs around the state so I could sing some."
A stint in a Charlotte, N.C. theme park and Dollywood for a summer helped Roberts hone her stagecraft.
When did Roberts know she wanted a music career? "When I was five or six years old," she says. "That's all I ever loved. I would be in pageants, and they asked my ambition in life was. We still have the little paper that we wrote it on. It was always to be a country singer like Barbara Mandrell. That's something I've known and wanted my whole life. It's not something I woke up one day. It's like I was born with it."
After high school, Roberts attended the University of South Carolina at Lancaster until leaving for Belmont College in Nashville, a college very much connected with the country music business.
"I transferred to Belmont because I wanted to get to Nashville," says Roberts. "My momma told me (college) is something no one could ever take away from you."
"Trisha Yearwood did it," says Roberts of attending Belmont. "It had a music business program, and I wanted to learn the business."
As part of the program, Roberts interned at Mercury Records, and after graduating Belmont in 2001, she landed a full-time job there working as a receptionist, in artists and repertoire (the division that signs artists) and finally with label head Luke Lewis.