Justin Moore's sophomore album boasts the assertive, self-declarative title, Outlaws Like Me. He makes no apologies for who he is or what he sounds like. Take for example, the song "If You Don't Like My Twang," where he spouts in-your-face lyrics like, "I don't care if you don't like my twang/'Cause I know they love it in Small Town, USA/It's the way I live, it's the way I talk/Hell, yeah, it's the way I sound."
But underneath that tough talk and thick accent, this 27-year-old Arkansas native is quite the benevolent family man, not the description most would associate with the word "outlaw."
"Family is definitely the thing I cherish most," he recently told CMT.com. "In all honesty, I was the kid that never wanted to move away from home. I wanted to stay and have my mom make my bed till I was 30. I wanted to be that guy."
But at 18 and with his sights set on Nashville, Moore left the tiny town of Poyen, Ark., to make his own bed in Music City. And a quite nice one at that. His 2009 self-titled debut album not only produced his first No. 1 single, "Small Town USA," and Top 10 hit, "Backwoods," but it also propelled him to the big stage on tours with Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley.
"At the end of the day, all this stuff is great," he said of the success. "I've had so many great experiences and, honestly, just mind-boggling moments in my past four years of my career," he said. "[But] nothing makes me happier than being back home, though, and sittin' at my grandma's table eatin' dinner. That's just who I am. Family, to me, is the most important thing in the world."
To prove it, start with his current single, "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away," one of the few songs on the album he didn't write. Contributed by songwriters Dallas Davidson, Rob Hatch and Brett Jones, it seems to have been written with Moore in mind:
"If heaven wasn't so far away,
I'd pack up the kids and go for the day.
Introduce them to their grandpa,
Watch 'em laugh at the way he talks."
"He was my hero," Moore said of his grandfather who passed away a few years ago. "He was the guy that I thought couldn't do anything wrong. Also, you have a handful of people in your life, in my opinion, that you can't imagine your life without. He was one of those to me, and he was at the top of the list.
"Two or three days before my Grandpa passed, my wife and I walked in his hospital room, and it was the first time he had seen me since he had gotten to the hospital because I had been on the road. My wife was pregnant with our daughter [Ella]. He couldn't talk, so he was writing on this magic marker board."
His grandfather then reached for the marker and jotted down a message to his unborn granddaughter.
"I love Ella," he wrote.
"That's a mental picture that will never be out of my brain," Moore went on. "The line in the song, 'I'll go pack up the kids and go for the day, introduce them to Grandpa,' just tears me up every time, and I'll never forget that. He was a great guy. I really, really miss him a lot."
With Ella now 16 months old and another child on the way, maintaining that balance of work and family is imperative to Moore.
"You just have to make it a priority and you have to have that balance," he said. "It's not normal to go onstage and have thousands of people scream at you and act like you do nothing wrong. It's just not normal."
Family values and small-town life remain the recurring theme across the new album. Growing up in a blue-collar home, Moore said all that truly mattered was family, church and whatever sport was in season at the time.
"It really taught me to be grounded and appreciate things that come your way," he said. "It taught me a lot about hard work -- which, as you know, this takes."
Even by the looks of the track titles -- "Run Out of Honky Tonks," "Beer Time," "Bait a Hook," "Flyin' Down a Back Road," "Guns," "Bed of My Chevy," "Outlaws Like Me" -- you get the impression that Moore knows a thing or two about his song material. In fact, nearly all of the tunes sing the praises of country upbringing and living.
From drinking Wild Turkey in a honky-tonk to fishing and hunting -- and from the first dates in the back of his Chevy and even falling in love -- Moore's songwriting comes from not only a real place but also out of necessity. When he first moved to Nashville, he was not satisfied with the songs he was hearing. So, he simply took matters into his own hands. He wrote them himself.
"I think anybody who writes a song just pulls naturally from what they know the best," he explained. "People want to know who you are as a person, as well as a singer, before they spend money they don't have on an album or a T-shirt or a concert ticket, so I try to be real upfront and honest about that."
Moore, who spent last year on the road with reigning CMA entertainer of the year Brad Paisley on his H2O World Tour, is grateful for the opportunity to hone his onstage presence as well as learn from the seasoned performer.
"You don't get to where he is by accident," he said of working with Paisley. "He's a total pro."
Now touring with Rascal Flatts for the Flatts Fest 2011, Moore is joining the festival's lineup with Easton Corbin and Sara Evans.
"I don't think our music could be more opposite," he admitted of the contrast between his music and the trio's sound.
But this is what intrigued him the most about the tour. Plus, he's excited to reach country music fans who may have never heard of the likes of Justin Moore.
"I think people see me just as a normal guy, just like them. I just have a cool job," he laughed.
"This is what I am, and I'll be the first one to say I'm not the best lookin' guy out there and I'm not the best singer out there, but we have a good time and we try to be as honest and as genuine as we possibly can. I think the fans can see that and they can see the other side too. They can cut through the bull crap."