Jason Aldean pushes conventions of country musicWritten by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
Just five albums into his career, Jason Aldean has punched his ticket into one of the most exclusive clubs in country music.
He has joined Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift as one of the only country artists able to headline stadium shows — as evidenced by sold-out shows this summer at Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. He will appear at the Faster Horses Festival coming to the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich from July 19-21. Tickets for the three-day event are $170. Also slated to play are Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley. See the lineup at fasterhorsesfestival.com.
He’s selling lots of music, too. His 2010 album, “My Kinda Party,” cemented Aldean’s status as a premier hit maker. Having sold nearly 3 million copies and spawned five No. 1 singles (including “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” a duet with Kelly Clarkson that crossed over to the pop charts), “My Kinda Party” was some kinda blockbuster.
Such success, though, comes with a price — namely the reality that his follow-up album, the recently released “Night Train,” would be judged by the standard set with “My Kinda Party.”
Aldean confronted the expectations for “Night Train” by taking a business-as-usual approach to the project.
“I remember when we made the ‘My Kinda Party’ album, we had those songs that we felt like were cool,” Aldean recalled in a recent phone interview. “We just went in and cut what we felt like was a great record, which is kind of the attitude we’ve had every time we’ve gone in the studio.”
Obviously, success has become a familiar feeling to the 36-year-old singer from Macon, Ga. But he knows struggles and disappointments as well. He began his career playing gigs around Georgia, Alabama and Florida, before being “discovered” at a show in Atlanta in 1998. Michael Knox, a representative with Warner/Chappell Music, came to that concert and immediately offered Aldean a songwriting deal with the firm.
Soon after going to work with Warner/Chappell, Aldean landed a record deal with Capitol Records Nashville. That deal fell apart before he was able to release an album.
By 2003, his dreams of a music career were fading. Aldean and his wife, Jessica, (who recently announced they are getting a divorce) had just had their first child, and he knew he would soon have to move back to Macon to find a job that would support his family.
Aldean was offered a deal by Broken Bow Records as he planned his return to Georgia. In signing to Broken Bow, Aldean has enjoyed not only success, but more freedom to take musical risks than he might have had on a major label.
“Obviously, as an artist you don’t want to just settle into one thing and just hammer it away and you never really get outside of that box,” Aldean said. “I mean, I want to constantly try new things and push the limits a little bit. But at the same time, I think it’s important not to ever really get away from what got you to that point. So songs like ‘Take A Little Ride,’ you listen to that song and to me it’s obvious. That’s a right-down-the-middle radio hit. But then it’s things like ‘Black Tears,’ and some of those songs are the ones that kind of branch off in another direction, are kind of your risk takers.”
“Black Tears” is especially edgy lyrically. It’s a ballad about a stripper and the damage that her work does to her self-image and her life — not exactly mainstream stuff in a genre that often features themes of faith, family and patriotism. Another mild gamble is Aldean’s recent Top-10-and-rising single, “1994.” It features rap-ish spoken word lyrics and name checks country artist Joe Diffie, who enjoyed a run of hit singles in the ’90s, as part of an ode to that decade. It’s a very catchy — but unconventional — song. Aldean, though, knows from experience that sometimes the smart money rides on not playing things safe.
“‘Dirt Road Anthem’ was the prime example of that,” Aldean said, referencing a rap-inflected chart-topping hit from ‘My Kinda Party.’ “Sometimes when you take those risks, when they pay off, they pay off in a huge way.”
Obviously, Aldean hasn’t experienced many failures in a while. “Night Train” looks poised to at least approach the popularity of “My Kinda Party.” It sold its 1 millionth copy just four weeks after its release this past October and has already extended Aldean’s string of No. 1 singles to seven, after its first two singles, “Take A Little Ride” and “The Only Way I Know,” both claimed the top spot on the Billboard country singles chart.
His shows in support of the album will feature a hit-filled set and the biggest stage production Aldean has ever taken on the road.
“I think each year, you kind of want to make your show bigger and better and give your fans something they haven’t seen yet from you,” Aldean said. “This year, just from the stage setup to the video content, to the streams, to everything we’re able to take out this year, I mean, it’s a completely different experience than what people have seen from us in the past.”