Rita Wilson: “Crash Course and a Master Class”

What She Learned From Nashville's Finest

You wouldn’t think Rita Wilson would scare this easily.

I mean, she’s been making movies and starring in TV shows since the early ’80s.

But sitting down to write songs with Nashville’s best songwriters?

“It was completely terrifying,” Wilson told me. “Because everybody I wrote with is so accomplished, and here I am, this actor coming in from L.A. trying to do something different.”

Her fears didn’t last long, she said, because everyone she wrote with and worked with for her album Rita Wilson, due out March 11, was so welcoming and so open.

“It’s been completely humbling to be in the presence of such extraordinary talent. It was kind of like a crash course and a master class at the same time,” she said of the sessions she spent with writers like Jessi Alexander (“I Drive Your Truck”), Brett and Brad Warren (“Blank Sheet of Paper”), Matraca Berg (“You and Tequila”), Brett James (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”), Darrell Brown (“You’ll Think of Me”), Jon Randall (“Whiskey Lullaby”) and many more, both from inside and outside of the country world.

And even though Wilson is not proclaiming this to be a country album, that list of Music Row A-listers was bound to pull a few good stories out of her about her life with her husband Tom Hanks and their two sons.

One song, Wilson told me, came from a story she told Alexander and Randall about her father. It’s called “Still Gone.”

“I’d had a dream about my dad passing away, and he was walking towards me, and he was trying to say something, but I couldn’t understand him. And Jessi had lost her mom when she was younger. So ‘Still Gone’ is about that feeling when you’re left here,” Wilson explained, “and they’re gone.

“Even when somebody is gone and has passed away, you still think about them, you keep their voicemails so you can hear their voice once in a while, and things like that.”

After hearing her describe that tune, I told Wilson she might find some comfort in old, unreleased Tim McGraw song called “Book of John.” Before I’d even finished my sentence, she reacted immediately.

“Love it. Love It Love It. Stop right there. That song! Oh my god, that song. I can’t believe you love it. I love that song,” she raved.

It proves to me that Wilson is not just a singer and a songwriter, but genuine country music fan. And as any good country fan should, Wilson has her own list of artists that she told me she’s listening to right now, including Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Sam Hunt, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

“I love her so much,” she said of Hill, “I’m still waiting for her new album.”

Other standout tracks from Rita Wilson are “Strong Tonight, “Say Yes,” “Girls Night In,” “Every Day,” “Forgiving Me Forgiving You,” and “Joni.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.