For the first time in a long time, Meghan Linsey is writing with regularity. The female half of once-engaged country duo Steel Magnolia has disconnected from the obligations that came with bringing that collaboration to an end. After some rest -- lots of rest -- and with a new creative (romantic) partner she's stepped forward with a sound that's familiar and distinct.

Like gin needs tonic, Lindsey and Joshua Scott Jones seemed to need each other in life and music. She the strong beautiful stem that held his unpredictable nature upright -- he the charismatic flower, the chance-taker that fans gravitated toward.

I’m definitely riding that line and thinking I may get out of the country thing a little bit.

“I feel like with Josh, there was definitely some magic there," Lindsey matter-of-factly tells Taste of Country. "We wrote some great songs."

"There was also a lot of compromise going on.”

So what happens when you separate two voices so unique they could seemingly only work together? Can you pluck a flower from its stem and watch both blossom?

Seriously, does anyone sip gin without tonic?

"Hope is a four-letter word / Make that money watch it burn"

Chart success shouldn't define Steel Magnolia, because radio airplay has historically rewarded vanilla. Balance along the yellow line on Country Main St. and you'll build a house of Gold or Platinum.

Meghan Linsey
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Stray to the sidewalks or the winding dirt paths, flirt with the gutter ... honestly, no one knows what to do with you and indecision becomes a silent, damning condemnation. Steel Magnolia released four singles: one Top 5, two inside the Top 30 and one that didn't crack the Top 40. They weren't superstars, but they developed a loyal following by performing songs like 'Ooh La La' and 'Eggs Over Easy' live. In a word, they were ... different.

"I think it’s hard to be country when you’re an artist who has substance," Linsey says, laughing. "I know that’s terrible. It sounds terrible.” She's talking about herself, but also good friend and co-writer Emily West, a former country newcomer that years later took a leap from the format and became a finalist on 'America's Got Talent.' Will Linsey follow?

She's seated on a light blue exercise ball, wobbling somewhat nervously on the carpet in her producer/boyfriend Tyler Cain's cozy Music Row studio. The impenetrable confidence that wraps her on stage hangs from the coat rack. But Linsey is now strong enough to speak her mind without it.

The bawdy details of why and how Steel Magnolia broke up may best be left hidden. One day she and Jones may tell all, but what's the point? Aren't both far more interesting when you're left wondering why their white-hot romance cooled so quickly? His addiction certainly played a role ... probably. But both have moved on. Both have lived on.

"I feel something so right / Doing the wrong thing ..."

Linsey offers one nugget toward the end of her conversation with ToC, saying the advice she'd tell her 18-year-old self would be to find someone that treats her well. She smiles at Cain -- seated behind her -- as she says that. A few details will inevitably come out in her songwriting, but aside from one ballad ('Cocaine and Jesus') the recently released EP is surprisingly peppy. Her sassy side steps forward on songs like 'Mess' and 'Good Boy Bad.' That's what defines the project, but there's something else: freedom.

“It was very freeing, I felt like," she says of creating the EP. "Because I didn’t feel like I had to cater to anybody else.”

That may mean a duet partner, but it also means a record label. As an independent artist she's forced to finance and promote her own music (a PledgeMusic campaign accomplished both), but she's also able to pick which road she'll travel along. There's nothing obligating her to put out another country album.

“I’m definitely riding that line and thinking I may get out of the country thing a little bit," she admits.

I think it’s hard to be country when you’re an artist who has substance," Linsey says, laughing. "I know that’s terrible. It sounds terrible.

OK, before any of her country fans freak out, they should know that Linsey isn't turning her back on Nashville necessarily. At least not now -- she just wants to experiment. She's enjoying playing with sounds and styles and arrangements, and it's working. Her cover of 'Counting Stars' and the video that accompanied it were captivating. 'Try Harder Than That' with rapper Bubba Sparxxx stretches her even further, but the fabric holds.

There's also a very practical reason she's toying with other formats. Like West and countless other females who've looked at what's happening to women in country music and shuddered, Linsey's got bills to pay. Only a fool would keep bringing their product to the same store again and again only to be turned away knowing the answer may never change.

" ... I feel something so wrong / Doing the right thing"

It's been five years since Linsey and Jones won CMT's 'Can You Duet.' The Ponchatoula, La. native lived and performed as a solo artist in Nashville for six years before that, so handling a crowd on her own is no issue.

“I’ve been here for almost 11 years and I still get lost in Nashville," she says. "I have to use my GPS."

Where will it lead her in 2015? It's not clear right now, but the roads that lead out of town are open if she wants to close her eyes and follow.

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