Even now on her seventh studio album, Slow Me Down, Sara Evans feels like she needs to prove herself.
“I grew up on a farm listening to country music and dating truck-driving country boys wearing cowboy hats,” she says. “I know that lifestyle and I know that way of living, so when I put a song out like ’Slow Me Down,’ I’m hoping that women country fans, as well as men, will be like, ’That’s exactly what I feel.'”
The truth is, Evans has repeatedly accomplished that feat, scoring connections from her first No. 1 hit (“No Place That Far” in 1998) to her latest one (“A Little Bit Stronger” in 2011). But in an industry where you’re only as relevant as your last single, artists need to keep reinventing themselves.
Evans’ career will take another step with Tuesday’s (March 11) release of Slow Me Down, a polished collection of songs reflecting her mature, womanly point of view. Guests on the album include Vince Gill, pop singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw and the Fray’s Isaac Slade.
Closing in on the album’s release date, Evans stopped by CMT and admitted it’s not easy to persevere in country music, especially for women.
CMT: You’ve said you knew what you wanted for Slow Me Down, but does that mean you’ve felt uneasy in the past?
Evans: No, I think what I meant by that is today [country radio] is such a male-dominated format, and I had been hearing about that and dealing with that. So I knew this time, there was no question. I had to bring my A-game even more so than I ever had in the past. I have never not tried my best, but there is just some kind of a do-or-die attitude with this. I have got to compel country radio to give me one of the few female country slots … and that sounds crazy.
Do you have any idea why it’s harder for women to succeed on radio right now?
I really don’t. I think it’s just a trend and that country music has kind of done this before. But growing up as a country music listener and performer, it has been the females who have shaped what this music is. I mean, all the way back to Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, the Dixie Chicks, the Carter Family. I mean, it’s so important that we not forget that. So much of this genre was shaped by female singer-songwriters.
Do you think of your new album as modern rather than traditional country?
Yeah, I do. But for some reason, that was not a concern on my part. It was just the songs I was really digging. Some people are like, “Does your life influence your music?” And, yes, it does. From the day we are born, our life experiences are influencing us, and we are drawn to certain televisions shows, movies, songs or books because of who we are and how we have been shaped psychologically. For whatever reason, I was a little more drawn to that sound right now, except for a song called “Better Off,” which is one of the more country songs I have ever recorded.
Vince Gill sings on “Better Off,” and then you also have Gavin DeGraw and Isaac Slade on the album. That’s an interesting combination.
Well, Vince because “Better Off” sounds like a Patty Loveless song — very bluegrass-influenced. Vince Gill is so amazing at putting those high, lonesome harmonies in, so he was my first choice.
The Gavin song [“Not Over You”] was just a song I loved and wanted to cover. … When I heard that song, I bought it and just listened to it over and over, and I kept thinking “This is such a Sara Evans song.” … He was like, “Heck, yeah,” and he was so into it. It felt like he almost put more into my version than his own.
And then Issac Slade. I am a huge fan of the Fray, and that was kind of a dream duet. He exceeded my expectation. Super nice guy, great live singer, worked his ass off on the song, and he kept going, “Are you OK? Do you like what I did with it?” And I was just like, “Yes! I love everything about you!”
You have said that your professional life is a reflection of your personal life. What does the album say about how things are with you right now?
There’s a song on the album called “Sweet Spot” that I wrote, and it’s the main song I wrote about my life and where I am. … We [Jay Barker and I] have been married for five and a-half years, and when we got married, we started a completely new life. I moved from Nashville to Birmingham, Ala., we set up a new home and we are in that sweet spot where we are very settled and good and happy. We have been through a lot of trauma and now everything is, “Baby just look at you and me/We fell so perfectly, in the sweet spot.”
Where did the whistling come from on that song?
Shane Stevens, my co-writer, on his way driving down to Birmingham, he started doing that. It is so catchy, and he said, “I want to write this song.” It came from that whistle.
I saw you snuck Radney Foster’s “A Little Revival” in at the end. How did you discover that one?
I don’t know who pitched me that, and I didn’t know it was an album cut for him. I just loved it and thought, “This could just be the biggest chorus.” We are putting it in the [touring] show actually, and I wanted to put it last on the album because the very last thing you hear is “amen to love.” It’s a great way to end the album.