On Sunday night (April 15), Jason Aldean was crowned the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Entertainer of the Year for the third consecutive year.
The moment onstage was a win for Aldean and his team, but for the country community, the win also symbolized a triumph in the face of adversity six months after Aldean’s set at Route 91 Harvest Festival became the site of a massacre. The win signaled that country music’s fans and artists would carry on, keep moving forward and keep creating new moments.
In some ways, the moment also mirrored Aldean’s efforts to keep pushing forward, to shift the boundaries, with those efforts on display in Rearview Town, Aldean’s eighth Broken Bow Records album, which released just days before his ACM win.
Aldean’s first single from the album, “You Make It Easy,” an affectionate slow-burn penned by Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, alongside Jordan Schmidt and Morgan Wallen, introduced a blusier vibe than Aldean has been known for.
“We’ve cut songs that sort of had a bit of that blues vibe, but never released it as a single,” Aldean tells MusicRow. “That was a key thing for me on this whole record, just finding songs that were different. The last couple of records we cut a lot of songs that I felt like were good songs but I felt like they were safe songs. There was nothing that really stood out about a lot of those songs—not all of them. They were solid, but didn’t have that something different that made them go from a hit to a major hit.”
The song came courtesy of FGL’s Tyler Hubbard. “Tyler came to my house early on in the process of making this album. We just got in my truck and started riding around. They always throw us a couple of songs they think would work for us. When I heard this song, I said, ‘You guys aren’t cutting this, are you?’ He said, ‘We aren’t going into the studio for a few months, so I don’t know, but if you want it, it’s yours.’ I said, ‘I want to cut it and I’m going into the studio in two weeks.’
“I think that speaks volumes about how talented and creative those guys are. They are always like, ‘Hey, if you like that one, cut it. We’ll write another one.’ They’ve always been really cool about that and good to me.”
With his 2011 hit “Dirt Road Anthem,” Aldean struck upon a blend of lyrics that encapsulated his rural sensibilities, while incorporating a signature rock swagger and rapped verses that became a gateway for fans with an affinity for both country and rap.
On Rearview Town, he’ll give fans a new rap segment to memorize and own at every concert, with “Getting Warmed Up,” a track Aldean found late in the recording process.
“It had a rap sample put at the end of it,” Aldean recalls of the demo. “I didn’t think it worked, but thought it might be cool to have something like that in the song, so we had them go back and write a rap part to see if it would even work. Then we cut the song with and without the rap section, to see which we liked better.”
One of Rearview Town’s standout tracks, “Drowns The Whiskey,” marks Aldean’s second time recording with Miranda Lambert (Lambert previously collaborated with Aldean on a song titled “Grown Woman,” from Aldean’s 2007 album Relentless). Miranda went into the studio with Aldean’s producer Michael Knox to record her vocals while Aldean was on tour.
“She’s a great singer, probably my favorite singer out there,” Aldean says. “I had another song in mind for her to record on this album. I sent that other song to her and she didn’t love it. I was kind of going back and forth between the two so I sent her [“Drowns The Whiskey”] and she loved it.”
They say every song eventually finds its appropriate home, and “Drowns The Whiskey” is no exception. Aldean originally thought the song would be a great fit for Tyler Farr.
“The best I remember, that song has been around for a while. I was producing some songs for Tyler Farr’s album. I had this song and I can’t remember if it got sent to me or to Tyler but I wanted to cut it on him and he didn’t really want to cut it. So I said, ‘I think it’s a hit and if you’re not going to cut it, I’m going to cut it.’ I want to say we could have recorded it on our last album but at the time we still didn’t know if he was going to cut it, so we saved it and included it on this record.”
It’s natural that songs with a slightly softer touch, such as “You Make It Easy,” and “Girl Like You,” have slipped into the track listing for Rearview Town, given that Aldean married wife Brittany Kerr in 2015, and the couple welcomed son Memphis in December 2017.
“I definitely think that probably plays a factor,” he says. “For me, most of the time when I cut a ballad type thing it’s usually in the vein of ‘Any ‘Ol Barstool’ or the truth. I’ve never been drawn to sing warm and fuzzy kind of lyrics, but when the right song comes across that is believable and isn’t too mushy, I can relate to it. ‘Girl Like You’ was on the softer side, but sonically, that’s rock ‘n’ roll. “
As his achievements have mounted and his hard-earned career has become more complex, Aldean has strived to stay in touch with the drive and work ethic that took him from a newcomer on a then-fledgling indie label, to a country star, earning his chart-topping hits, awards, and the respect of his fans.
“I definitely had to fight for it a bit more,” Aldean says. “My label didn’t have the money that a lot of these other labels have and there were times that stuff kind of showed. But for me, I was building my career as an artist as they were building the label. It was a team, so for us to grow it all together was really cool. I’ve always played like I have a chip on my shoulder, not in a bad way, but like I had something to prove to people. I can rest easier now. but I think to do this business, you have to have a little bit of that chip on your shoulder to keep your drive a little bit, so I hope I never lose that.”
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