Olivia Newton-John sits at a table at MCA Records, scanning the sales chart of a music industry trade magazine.
"I'm looking for hopeful signs," she says with a smile.Newton-John, now 49, is riding a wave of publicity from the re-release of the movie "Grease," and she is promoting her first new album in five years. She's hoping the Nashville-recorded songs on "Back With a Heart" will reconnect her with the country audience that embraced her earliest hits.
Newton-John continues her search of the charts, and she is up front about being a little out of the loop when it comes to the current music scene. Things have changed since the days of "Have You Never Been Mellow?" or "Please Mr. Please." Her last run of hits, including "Physical," came in the 1980s.
Looking at the top-selling 200 albums in the country, she admits she doesn't recognize some of the artists.
"The Dave Matthews Band? Don't know them," she says. K-Ci & Jojo and Savage Garden draw blank stares, but she highly recommends Italian singer Andrea Bocelli.
Then she smiles. "It's nice to see all these girls doing well, and country singers, too." She names them - Shania Twain, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride. All are selling briskly.
"Back With a Heart" straddles the fence between modern country and diva ballads that wouldn't be out of place on a Celine Dion or Whitney Houston album. It showcases Newton-John's own songwriting, which she has been cultivating the past few years.
She wrote all the songs on her last album, "Gaia: One Women's Journey," about her 1992 bout with breast cancer.
Most of the songs on "Back With a Heart" were co-written with Nashville songwriters, including Victoria Shaw, Chris Farren and Gary Burr. There's one ringer on the record - a remake of her 1974 hit, "I Honestly Love You," with backup vocals by Babyface. It's the first single from the album.
"With all these remakes going around, I was scared to death someone would get to it before me," Newton-John said. "It's just a great song."
The highlight on the new album is "Fight for Our Love," a dramatic ballad that is a worthy successor to "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from "Grease."
Though better known for her movie career and pop hits, Newton-John does have a track record in country music. Many of her soft-rock hits in the 1970s crossed over to country, and she was voted female vocalist of the year by the Country Music Association in 1974.
At the time, some in Nashville resented that an outsider from the pop world could invade the country charts. Newton-John says she was barely aware of the criticism at the time.
"I've since heard about it like it was all that was going on at the time, but what I remember is Dolly (Parton) and Loretta (Lynn) and others being so open and welcoming," Newton-John said.
In fact, Newton-John and John Denver foreshadowed country music's rise to prominence in the 1990s. Their country-tinged hits of the 1970s are suspiciously close to the suburban country sound that Nashville used to quadruple its sales two decades later.
"When I wanted to make an album, I wondered where I might fit in," Newton-John said. "Country seemed the obvious choice."