CAROLYN DAWN JOHNSON

"Dress Rehearsal"

Arista

Long before her 2001 debut, "Room With a View," Alberta's Carolyn Dawn Johnson established herself in Nashville by composing hit songs for Chely Wright ("Single White Female" ) and others. On "Room With a View," Johnson proved that she can command the spotlight with her youthful voice and sometimes brassy delivery.

"Dress Rehearsal," her sophomore release, isn't as consistently rewarding. Johnson co-wrote nearly all of the songs on the CD, and a few of them have little to offer apart from trite admonitions ("Life doesn't wait for us to get it right . . . this ain't no dress rehearsal") and "dog gone it" affirmations worthy of the Al Franken character Stuart Smalley ("I'm always gonna be a better me than anyone else / And God doesn't make mistakes").

Fortunately, Johnson's vocal and songwriting gifts are amply displayed, too. "Simple Life," a song she didn't compose, has climbed the country charts on the strength of Johnson's spirited vocals, and it's not hard to imagine, say, Dolly Parton wanting to cover a couple of tunes that Johnson did co-write: the last-ditch ultimatum "Squeezin' the Love Out of You" and the simple prayer "Die of a Broken Heart." The torchy "My Little Secret," another tune co-penned by Johnson, also ranks among the highlights here. In fact, it radiates enough energy and personality to leave most of the country pop competition sucking dust.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Saturday at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Carolyn Dawn Johnson, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)