By Kurt Wolff
Joe Nichols is a happy guy. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s got a solid marriage, a new baby daughter and an impressive music career that includes ACM awards, GRAMMY nominations and a long string of hit singles including “Brokenheartsville,” “Gimmie That Girl,” “The Shape I’m In” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
Add to that Crickets, the brand-new album that Nichols will release early next month (Oct. 8). It’s Nichols’ eighth studio album, and to hear him explain it, the 16 songs inside represent a fresh new approach to music, and to life, from one of contemporary country’s most well-respected artists.
“I’m at a bright place in my life,” Nichols told Radio.com during a recent interview in Nashville.
As we browsed through the racks at local record store Grimey’s (Nichols was as intrigued by the vinyl reissues of classic Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury albums as by the big display for Daft Punk), he cheerfully talked about working with a brand-new label (Red Bow Records), what initially struck him about his current single “Sunny and 75,” his positive outlook on life and how these and other experiences have worked their way into the songs and sounds on Crickets.
“I’m in love, I’ve got a brand-new baby. All these things are happening in my life that are going really great. So we wanted songs that reflected that.”
Since his debut album in 2002, Nichols has earned a strong reputation as a neo-traditionalist. And while wasn’t looking to walk away from that entirely–it’s too deeply ingrained in his soul–Crickets shows him exploring new sounds, production, and songs with a fresh attitude.
“[Red Bow label head] Benny Brown felt it was important to capture the changes in my life over the past few years,” Nichols explained. “So we started looking for songs that mirrored that. The result is we have a record full energy, full of life, full of goodness.”
A great example is his current hit “Sunny and 75,” which has been all over the radio this summer. Written by Michael Dulaney, Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins, it’s currently in the Top 20 and moving up, thanks in good part to the bright, positive energy that practically bursts from its chorus.
“The energy is the first thing that struck me about ‘Sunny and 75,'” Nichols continued. “The song slowly builds into this screaming, almost like a Journey ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ kind of tempo. So that to me is important, because the music itself brings out emotions, not just the lyrics or how you deliver them. The music builds, and it takes you on a journey. You feel like you’re slowly and steadily moving out to the beach, and all the sudden you’re sprinting.”
As for the album title, Nichols explains that it came about organically. “We had several [songs] that made reference to crickets somewhere in the song. But we felt this tone of being out in the country, in a hayfield, or by a creekside. The setting is in the countryside. So the tone of the record, being happy [and] positive, we wanted that to represent the record.”
“To me it feels country. I fish with crickets all the time, and that’s what I hear at nighttime when I step out on the porch. So to me it’s bigger than an album title, it’s the mood of the record.”
Crickets track listing:
1. Just Let Me Fall In Love With You
2. Hard To Be Cool
3. Baby You’re In Love With Me
5. Billy Graham’s Bible
6. Better Than Beautiful
7. Gotta Love It
8. Sunny and 75
9. Y’ant To
10. Hee Haw
11. Love Has A Way
12. Smile On Mine
13. Open Up A Can
14. Old School Country Song
Crickets is set for release Oct. 8.