Before December’s Clearwater concert, Trisha Yearwood details her first country album in a long time

She plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

click to enlarge Before December’s Clearwater concert, Trisha Yearwood details her first country album in a long time

Upon the release of Every Girl, her first full-length country record in more than a decade, country singer Trisha Yearwood went down to Georgia to get back in touch with her roots and retrace the steps she took when she first migrated from her tiny hometown to the Music City.

“I’m from a small town in Georgia called Monticello that has about 2500 people in the city limits,” she says in a recent phone interview. She plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on December 6.

Trisha Yearwood w/Kim Richey
Fri. Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m. $. 43.25-$93.25.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater.

“I know most of them. It made sense to start this tour in my hometown, and we retraced the route I drove to Nashville. We did an album signing and met everyone in Monticello for about 12 hours. We ended up in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which brought things full circle. One of my first jobs was as a tour guide there, and now I have stuff in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was a great experience.”

Earlier this summer, Yearwood unveiled her new single “Every Girl in This Town,” an empowerment anthem that set the stage for the release of Every Girl. The song became the highest debut and biggest add day of her career. The resulting album includes guests such as Kelly Clarkson, Garth Brooks and Don Henley.

Yearwood, who previously joined forces with hubby Brooks on his 2014 to 2017 sold out tour, started to put the album together as she was cutting Let’s Be Frank, a Sinatra tribute album.

“The two albums kind of happened around the same time,” she says. “Garth and I had been on tour for almost four years together. That tour ended in December of 2017, so the year 2018 was pretty much wide open. I felt like this was what I needed to do next. I wanted to make an album of standards for years. I couched it as a Sinatra project because all the artists of that era recorded those songs. Sinatra was so cool. I recorded that, and that was really fun. Those songs were already there. The hard part was narrowing down the 100 songs.”

She started to think about making a country album but so much time had elapsed since her last country release, she wasn’t sure if she could put something marketable together.

“It had been a minute — 10 years — since I made an original country record,” she says. “Country music has changed a lot. The way people consume music and buy or don’t buy records and the landscape at radio where they don’t play women over 30 has all changed. Oddly, what happened was that that gave me the freedom to not worry about any of that. I wasn’t expecting to get played on the radio, so I wasn’t thinking that I needed to have three or four songs that could be played on the radio. I wasn’t thinking that way at all, so I just had the best time making this album. I started in May of last year when I found three or four songs I liked and recorded them. In the end of June and first week of July, I did the Sinatra record in about four days. I was jumping back and forth. With the Sinatra record, it was expensive to hire the orchestra, so we wanted to cut the whole album quickly. I then got to focus on this record.”

As she began the process of finding tracks she could cut for the album, she took an old school approach.

“I met with songwriters and publishers face-to-face,” she says. “That’s not how it’s done anymore. Now, it’s just done over email. To really sit in a room and listen to a song in front of a publisher, so they can see your physical reaction was important. It gives them insight. I was so pleasantly surprised that the songs that resonated with an almost-55-year-old woman were there. I didn’t know what to expect, so the songs drove the excitement of this record. I’m more surprised than anyone that I have a song in the Top 30.”

Yearwood says she didn’t intend to make a female empowerment album. But when a female empowerment song came her way, it struck a chord with her.

“When I’m making a record, the songs that I find define how the album will feel,” she says. “I never set out to make a certain kind of record. I wasn’t looking for a female anthem, but when I heard ‘Every Girl in This Town,’ which was one of the first songs that I heard, I just loved it. It is a girl power song without being preachy or on a soapbox. It’s basically saying that whoever you are is okay. My favorite line is ‘you got this baby, and so what if you don’t.’ I wasn’t thinking it would be a single. As the album emerged, there was another song called ‘Find a Way.’ I thought that would be a good album title, but I also liked ‘Every Girl’ because I am every girl in a way. I get to be a farm girl who also gets to have this glamorous life. When I played it for my small team of people, they said, ‘We’re going to radio with that song.’"

The album’s first song, the tender ballad “Workin’ on Whiskey,” features a bit of slide guitar and somber vocals as Yearwood sings, “I’ve tried to give you up, but once you’ve had the strong stuff, nothing else will be enough.” It's a pretty grim opening number.

“I have written a little bit, but I don’t write much,” says Yearwood. “I rely on songs that will express whatever emotion I want to express. My biggest musical hero is Linda Ronstadt. Those songs [of hers] are so gut wrenching. I just love a sad song that tears your heart out, so I’m always looking for those songs you can just pour yourself into. I heard [‘Workin’ on Whiskey’] and just loved it. It sounded like if Linda Ronstadt was making a country record, she would make that song. I don’t like to open an album with a ballad, but it’s such a powerful song and sets up the record.”

She recruited Brooks for the whimsical “What Gave Me Away,” and the chemistry between the two comes across clearly on the playful number.

“He’s his own artist,” Yearwood says when asked about working with Brooks on the track. “I don’t want to ask him to sing on something if it doesn’t make sense. It’s about the person who has your number. I couldn’t imagine singing it with anyone but him. I asked him to do this harmony throughout, and he loved the song too. If he didn’t want to sing on it, he would have just said, ‘This isn’t right for me.’ We have this unspoken language between us when we’re in the studio, and we’re just comfortable. I love how the song turned out. It’s got a groove. It’s Bonnie Raitt-meets-Percy Sledge. It’s a really sexy song, and the guitar solo is probably one of my favorite guitar solos I’ve ever had on an album. I love everything about it, from the lyrics to the melody to the vibe.

Yearwood says that since befriending singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff a few years back, she’s always wanted to cut one of her tunes. She got the opportunity with Every Girl, which includes her rendition of the Bonoff ballad “Home.”

“Because I’m a big Linda Ronstadt fan, that turned me onto Karla Bonoff,” she says. “I went to see Karla play in Nashville a couple of years ago and met her and we became friends. I asked her about pitching me some songs. I didn’t realize that Linda hadn’t recorded ‘Home.' In my head, I thought she had to have recorded it. I try to stay away from things that Ronstadt covered because she is a goddess to me, but I love that song. I wanted to record a Karla song, so it kind of made sense. I didn’t know that Bonnie Raitt had recorded it. I think my version is somewhere in the middle of those two. I tried to make it my own.”

At the time of our interview, Yearwood, a couple days away from the tour’s launch, confesses she can't wait to reconnect with her fans.

“The cool thing about country music is that folks who have been listening to me since 1991 are people who grew up with me,” she says. “They’re so loyal. Country music fans stay with you. It’s a safe environment for me. As nervous as I might be to stat the tour, it’ll be like jumping into warm water. You know there will be love there. I’m really looking forward to it.”

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