by Chuck Taylor

What comes naturally: If there were any doubt that Sheena Easton maintains a healthy perspective on her 20 year career in the entertainment business, it only takes a glance at her dressing room name plate, playfully printed in majestic script and reading "Sheila Eastman." "I even thought of doing a remake of "The Glamourous Life," just to mix people up more," she jokes of the ongoing confusion between her pop career and that of fellow '80's artist Sheila E.

While it's been nine years since her last Hot 100 hit, Scotland-born Easton has never strayed far from the public's eye, thanks to a long list of mulitmedia projects that have kept her star shining even after radio chilled.

Following a string of 14 top 40 hits from 1981 to 1991, she starred in Broadway revivals of "Grease" and "Man of La Mancha" (with the late Raul Julia) and is currently committed to a yearlong run of the new musical extravaganza "At the Copa," co-headlining as Ruby Bombay to David Cassidy's Johnny Flamingo at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas.

She toured persistently, performed numerous animated feature voice-overs, recently sold out phase one of a highly successful collection of self-designed ceramic angels on QVC, and has continued to record new material for MCA Japan, most recently the 1999 album "Home"-all while refocusing her primary role as the mother of two adopted children, 5 1/2 year old Jake, and 3 1/2 year old Skylar (who are living with her in Las Vegas for the year.)

Meanwhile, her fan base remains rabidly devoted. Since she launched her official web site in June 1997, has averaged 146,000 worldwide hits a month (while dozens of fan sites co-exist on the Web).

As well, Albany, NY-based One Way Records is in the process of releasing each of her first seven domestic albums with additional tracks, while the soundtrack to the 1981 James Bond flick "For Your Eyes Only"- whose title track remains Easton's signature hit- was issued for the first time on CD April 25 on Rykodisc.

And foremost, she's just contracted to record a dance album- including some disco remakes-for worldwide release, due by the end of the year on the U.K. arm of Universal Records.

Throughout, Easton's world has been about survival, but with sanity. "When I turned 30 and had been going full tilt for 10 years, I turned around and examined my life," she said on the eve of her 41st birthday, April 27. "I realized that another No. 1, a magazine cover with me looking pretty on it, or a shiny album on the wall weren't going to make me happy. I had the choice to create a life that is more soulful, one that takes care of my heart and not just my ego. "For me, semi-retirement from the pop world was the best thing I ever did," Easton said. "I found out that whether a record topped the charts or bombed, neither one affected my happiness. It gave me the sense that I was in control of my life and career instead of the other way around, though I could still do things artistically that paid me a shitload of money, quite frankly."

In fact, when she was approached last November by Universal to record the new album- her 15th with fresh material- Easton hesitated, refusing to take on the full-time promotional commitment she assumed came with the deal. "I wasn't jumping up and down about it, because I figured it would have so many strings attached."

But longtime London-based producer and international A&R consultant for Universal Tony Swain came to Los Angeles, "and we played a bunch of songs, talked about our tastes and what we both expected. We were in sync," she said. "It met all my criteria for having a life and still putting my kids first."

Because of her eight-shows-a-week Vegas commitment, Easton is relying primarily on her producers- London-based duo Ian Masterson and Terry Ronald (Kylie Minogue, Gloria Estefan, Pet Shop Boys, Lulu)- to lay down the instrumental tracks and send them to her. She then sings vocals at studios in Vegas and Los Angeles, her hometown.

"This whole process is reminiscent of my beginning days," Easton noted, "When I did my first albums, I was a complete moron when it came to recording. I had no expectations of myself other than to deliver the best vocal I could. But then you get to know the process, and you can't help but to have opinions and say things like, 'Do you have the right pre-amps for the mikes?'

"This time, because of the constraints of my other projects, my mental attitude was, 'OK, it's allright to make another album if I can have a good time again,'" she said. "Like those first ones, my job is to stand and sing the finest vocal I can. I'm putting trust in my producers and everyone at my record label to do their jobs, which is unusual for me. I'm really enjoying it; it's freed me again."

Universal's Swain said, "We thought Sheena was the type of personality and pop icon that would fit this special contemporary dance project. She's a fantastic live singer, a professional, and she's still asstunning as ever. We think this is the right vehicle for an artist of her stature."

Of course, for Easton there remains one lingering question, and it's one that made her pause for a moment before responding: What if her new album does revive stardom? According to radio, never say never. "Sheena was certainly an icon in the early- to mid- 80's, and she's already reinvented herself a few times," said Kid Kelly, host of the syndicated '80s radio show "Backtrax USA" and music director of top 40 WHTZ (Z100) New York. "She went from being the artist that your mom liked to one that you fantasized about. I think she certainly has a large enough fan base that she could be embraced again, like Cher has done."

"It sounds to me like this is a fresh start for her," said Harry Legg, assistent PD/music director for top 40 WKIE (Kiss FM) Chicago. "In the U.K., dance music is much easier to get on the air, so I expect it would do well there; it's definitely more of a fight here. It's really going to come down to how contemporary the music is, whether the production is good, and how she images herself."

With a laugh, Easton admits that she'd like to have her cake and eat it. "No one puts a record out there and hopes that it's a failure," she said. "If this record explodes, I know I will enjoy it and take time to smell the roses and not overload my schedule. If commercially it dies a horrible death, I'll survive that, too." "I'd love to have a hit record, but I'm not going to sell my soul for it," she added. "I can't give up what I've achieved in my life, not at the risk of tipping the scales to where life becomes so unbalanced again. When I was 20, like Britney and Christina, there was nothing else in my mind or day- to- day life but work. Now, I'm going to make sure the kids go to the dentist and Chuck E. Cheese and see the new Disney movie. I schedule that in."

In all, it adds up to cherished freedom (not so ironically the title of her 1997 MCA-Japan album) for Easton. She endures in a self-molded world where her children are clearly the first priority but continues to embrace projects that nourish her ever- fervent creative appetite. "You know, there was a time when I was so determined to prove that I was a spirited, independent woman, not some puppet behind a Svengali figure," she said. "I feel so released from all of that self-consciousness. I have survived so much, professionally and personally, and pushed my own limits. What's fun in knowing that there's growth in all of it. Now, I'm having a good time."