A decade into his career, Jason Aldean has scaled the highest level of country superstardom. All five of the albums he’s released to date have been certified at least Platinum. If that weren’t impressive enough, he’s the biggest-selling digital male country artist in history, according to the RIAA (21.5 million single certifications, for anyone who’s counting).
On top of that, Aldean was the first male country act of his generation to start headlining stadiums, staging the first-ever concert at the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium and shattering attendance records during a two-night stand at Fenway Park in 2013, which he’s followed up by routinely selling out Major League Baseball parks this year, no small deal for a one-time ball player and avid fan.
All of this begs the question: What do you do once you’ve reached the top? The Georgia native gives his answer on his sixth album Old Boots, New Dirt (releasing Oct. 7 on Broken Bow Records and recorded with his longtime producer Michael Knox). Written by Lee Thomas Miller, Tom Shapiro and Neil Thrasher, the album’s anthemic title track, in Aldean’s words, “talks about coming out the other side of a breakup, and trying to get as far away as you can.” But it also speaks to where he is in his career: “It’s saying, ‘It’s the same old me, but I’m going in a new direction.’”
To put it another way, Aldean is still focused on delivering the kinds of songs and sounds that drew those tens of thousands of fans to his stadium shows in the first place. But he’s also intent on keeping pace with an evolving musical landscape and changing things up here and there; that too lets his fans know he’s plugged into their world.
From start to finish, the new album packs the bold, hard-rocking, guitar-driven punch that’s been landing Aldean on the country radio charts since their very first single, 2005’s “Hicktown.”
“Before that, you didn’t hear a lot of big, shotgun guitar in country music,” notes Aldean, who cut his teeth playing clubs with set lists placing George Strait and Guns N‘ Roses covers right next to each other. “You hear that stuff in ‘80s rock music. So we did that, because we thought it was cool.”
New songs like “I Took It With Me,” “Laid Back” and “Gonna Know We Were Here” boast the blistering riffs and blustery choruses that Aldean’s become known for, the kind of unabashedly aggressive rock energy that hits the spot for listeners who, like him, have a place in their hearts and record collections for country and rock both. Aldean’s approach—including featuring his band in his music videos—has also made an undeniable mark on other country acts.
“There is definitely a sound and vibe that has been our staple and gotten us to this point,” says Aldean. “It’s that blue-collar, hard-driving, country-rock sort of thing. Obviously, it’s hit a nerve with not only fans but other musicians that are coming up. You’ve got a lot of guys coming out with their own bands and bigger guitar sounds and wearing chains everywhere. There wasn’t a lot of that stuff going on before we came out. Bringing a little edge to country music, I don’t think, is a bad thing.”
The album’s lead single “Burnin’ It Down,” which is picking up airplay faster than any other single of his career and is the handiwork of Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, showcases a very different kind of feel, built around a laidback, hip-hop-influenced loop. Rhythmic beats are also woven into the textures of Aldean’s new tracks “Just Gettin’ Started, “Sweet Little Somethin’” and “Tonight Looks Good On You.”
“Just because I’m a country artist, doesn’t mean I don’t hear things in other forms of music that I think are cool and could work for what we’re doing,” says Aldean. “It’s not in a rulebook anywhere that you have to have steel guitar, fiddle and Telecaster on every single song you do. I have never seen a rulebook that said you can’t use a drum loop, that you can’t Auto-Tune a vocal or any of that stuff.” Just a few years ago, he proved that his stylistic gambles were right in step with the shifting tastes of the contemporary country audience with “Dirt Road Anthem,” his four million-selling, casually rapped no. 1 single.
As usual, Aldean’s stocked his album with plenty of tunes tailor-made for cruising back roads and cutting loose in the backwoods—which are also good to party to at an Aldean show. There’s “Burnin’ It Down,” “Sweet Little Somethin’” and “Laid Back,” and a few others geared toward weekend romance: “Tonight Looks Good On You,” “Just Getting’ Started” and “Show You Off.”
Says Aldean of “Laid Back,” “It talks about having a field party with your friends. A lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings do that—at least, where I’m from you do. You kinda get off the beaten path a little bit, out in the middle of nowhere, and get as loud as you want to. And then you ain’t gotta worry about the 5-0 coming to bust up the party.”
With 15 tracks in all on Old Boots, New Dirt—part of Aldean trying to give fans the most music he can for their money—there are songs that are bound to speak to all sorts of moments in the lives of listeners. Halfway through the strategically sequenced album comes “Too Fast,” a show-stopping, country-soul number written by Chris Stapleton and Lee Thomas Miller that happens to be the vocal performance Aldean is proudest of on here. Thematically, it’s a pivot point. It’s a song about worrying that reckless living will ultimately leave you lonely.
From there, Aldean moves into songs of soul searching, reminiscing and heartache: the power ballads “Don’t Change Gone” and “Miss That Girl,” the bruised, but not broken midtempo title track, the ruminative rocker “If My Truck Could Talk,” which reminds Aldean of the ’94 Ford Ranger that saw him through highs and lows, and even a run-in with a ditch.
Says Aldean, “People are gonna hear ‘Miss That Girl’ and go, ‘Yeah, I remember that girl I dated in high school. We broke up and I haven’t seen her in ten years. I always thought she was the one.’ It brings all the emotion back to them. That’s what you want out of a song.”
The hard-charging number “I Took It With Me” takes pride in not forgetting the value of a blue-collar, small-town way of life, even after you leave the town itself behind. It’s the latest of many songs Aldean has recorded celebrating the resilient people who live and work off the beaten path, “Amarillo Sky,” “Fly Over States” and “This Nothin’ Town” being other examples.
“I’ve always tried to record songs that I could relate to,” he says. “Where I grew up, I’ve got family members that were farmers. I watched them go through hard times when we’d go through a draught in Georgia. People dream about packing their stuff and leaving the town they’re in for a better life. Then you get there, and it’s like that saying: you spend the early part of your life trying to get out of somewhere, then you spend the later part of your life trying to get back to that place you wanted to get away from. I spent the early part of my life chasing the Nashville dream. And then I got here. Now it’s like any chance I get, I wanna go back to where I’m from.”
That’s the exact sort of song variety that Aldean points to in his repertoire whenever anybody brings up the recent journalistic hot topic of “bro country.” “Just because you release a song to radio and that happens to be the single, that doesn’t really define what the whole album’s about,” he says. “We’ve always tried to cut great songs, and we’re gonna cut songs that promote having a good time. Yeah, we’re gonna sing about drivin’ trucks and fishin’ and huntin’. That’s what we do. That’s what I grew up doing. But there’s some stuff that’s a little deeper on the record.”
There’s no doubt that what Aldean’s doing is resonating with stadiums full of fans. And he hasn’t forgotten how far he had to come to reach this point. “When I started, I was a 14 year-old kid playing in the VFW Hall in Macon, Georgia. There were ten people, maybe, in there. None of ‘em really cared that I was on stage. I still remember those times really vividly. To be able to play the shows we’re playing now on the scale we’re doing ‘em now, to me, is unbelievable. I never in a million years thought we would get to this point back then.”
Ever since being crowned as the Top New Artist at the 2010 Academy of Country Music awards, Luke Bryan tour dates have been country music's hottest ticket. While Bryan is now riding the success of back-to-back #1 singles, his dream of moving to Nashville was briefly derailed after he suffered the tragedy of losing his older brother in an accident the weekend he was set to move. Instead, Bryan enrolled at Georgia Southern University and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. It was not until 2001 that Bryan finally got his chance for stardom when he moved to the country music capital.
Luke Bryan got his chance when he was spotted by a Capital Records A&R executive at a local honky-tonk, who signed him to a record deal in 2005. The country newcomer released his first album, I'll Stay, in 2007, which featured the hit singles "All My Friends Say" and "We Rode in Trucks." In addition, Bryan is credited with penning Billy Currington's #1 Country hit "Good Directions," also released in 2007. In support of his debut album, Luke Bryan tour dates had him traveling around the nation playing at county fairs and mid-sized venues. It was with the release of his sophomore set, Doin' My Thing, and its onslaught of chart topping singles that brought Bryan to the big leagues. The first single, "Do I," melted the hearts of southern belles all over the country and peaked at #2 in 2009. The next two singles, "Rain is a Good Thing" and "Someone Else Calling you Baby," proved to be even more successful when they each hit #1 on the same survey. As the ACM's top new artist of 2010, country music fans everywhere are demanding Luke Bryan tour dates at a venue near them.
Lucky for fans, Bryan's concert schedule has him touring with Tim McGraw and the Band Perry at various cities throughout the country this Spring and Summer 2011. Don't miss out on catching one of country music's rising stars: use Eventful as your resource for news and updates on Luke Bryan tour dates.