“I didn’t want a lay-up. I wanted a slam dunk,” says Jason Aldean, discussing his hard-charging and ferociously confident eighth studio album, Rearview Town, out April 13.
His most recent collection, 2016’s They Don’t Know, bowed at No.1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums charts, and Aldean has his sights set for Rearview Town: “We’ve always been a little bit different than everybody else,” he says. “In the early days, with songs like ‘She’s Country’ or ‘Dirt Road Anthem,’ we were really rolling the dice — that’s how I made my mark, by not being scared to go out and shake things up.”
The risks and their rewards electrify the 15 new cuts, snaking between stadium-sized guitar anthems (“Dirt to Dust,” “Up in Smoke”), heartfelt country minimalism (“Drown the Whiskey,” “Better At Being Who I Am”) and hip-hop swagger (“Like You Were Mine”).
Occasionally, like on the enthusiastically-received lead single, “You Make It Easy,” currently at No.10 and still climbing on the radio charts, Aldean even finds himself channeling the blues. “It’s rare for me to hear a song and get really excited about it,” he says of the tune. “But this one was immediate.”
A native of Macon, Georgia, such grooves are familiar to the star. “I was playing all types of music, naturally,” he recalls of formative bar gigs. “I played Otis Redding. I played the Allman Brothers. I played Stevie Ray Vaughn — and then I turned around and played Alabama. What’s cool about [“You Make It Easy”] is that it allowed me to show that side of my music and that part of the influence for me.”
Long a maestro of up-tempo stompers, Aldean kicks Rearview Town off with “Dirt to Dust” and “Set It Off,” an epic one-two punch of dirty guitars and undeniable hooks. With razor-sharp production, both songs flat out cook. Speaking about “Set It Off,” specifically, Aldean says that the quirky bassline has him chomping at the bit to bring the cut out live. “It’s got this really weird beat. You don’t know what’s about to happen,” he admits. “That takes it through the roof.”
He heads for traditional country on the standout lost love lament “Drowns the Whiskey.” Featuring Miranda Lambert, the track is remarkably understated in its arrangement, but it’s saturated in well-worn emotions. “Miranda is a great singer,” Aldean says of the welcome team-up. “She does a couple takes and she knocks it out … I was blown away.”
On “Better At Being Who I Am” Aldean lends a nuanced, knowing delivery to the breakup tale. “I think [this] might be the most well-written song that I’ve ever recorded,” says the singer.
He adds that he found himself attracted to the emotional maturity. “At this point, I want to record songs that have some substance to them,” he says. “There are songs that I cut when I was 27 or 28 that I wouldn’t cut now. [And] there are songs that I cut now that wouldn’t make sense for me to cut when I was 27 or 28. I’m more conscious of those things these days.”
The driving title track strikes a note that’s both hopeful and forlorn, a combination that felt particularly familiar to Aldean. “It’s about putting things behind you, things that have held you down, and looking ahead,” he says. “When you look at me and my career and a lot of the personal stuff I’ve [gone through], it really seemed like a fitting title.”
But for all its sonic meanderings, Rearview Town feels indelibly cohesive. Aldean says it’s his lifelong love of country — country music and country life – that ties it all together. “Country is the core of where we’re at.” That surefootedness has helped define the genre’s 21st century. He says: “I’m rock-infused country. It’s not George Strait’s country and it’s not Merle Haggard’s country, but it is country.”
While the album was largely completed prior to Aldean’s headlining set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival last fall in Las Vegas, the two-time Entertainer of the Year knows that the tragedy precedes this release as well as the launch of his upcoming tour, the High Noon Neon Tour, kicking off May 10 in Kansas City, Missouri. But after a break that saw the birth of his son, Aldean is more attached to the road than ever.
He says, “We all realized that this is what we do. The time off was something we all needed, from me to the band and crew and all of our families; our wives. [But] I love what I do. I’ve been doing this since I was 14.”
So when the stage lights go up, they do so on a band with a new perspective. “You appreciate every day that you get to play and the guys you get to play it with. You look around and see all of your bandmates and everybody up there with you — that could have very well not have been the case.”
Which may play into why at 22 No.1 country songs, three Entertainer of the Year awards, and more than just a few sold-out stadium shows under his belt, Aldean still has a fire. “I never wanted to be a flash in the pan,” he explains. “I never wanted to be somebody people forget about five years after I quit playing music. I want people to be jamming to my stuff 20, 30, 40 years from now.”