Spring is in the air and things are starting to feel a bit fresher -- even in country music. After a slow winter without much in the way of album releases, the next few months will see a bloom of new material from some of country's biggest stars.
Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and others will return as perennial favorites, while upstarts like Kip Moore hope to thrive for the first time. Along the way, we'll see if Lionel Richie's transplanted style can take root and savor the sweetness of heirlooms like Johnny Cash once more.
But our country garden will need some attention to reach its full potential, so in alphabetical order, here are 10 new albums due in the spring of 2012 to be on the lookout for.
Lee Brice, Hard 2 Love
After scoring 2010's most played song, "Love Like Crazy," and notching a No. 1 in 2011 as a songwriter with the Eli Young Band's "Crazy Girl," Lee Brice looks to cement his status in country with this year's Hard 2 Love. He wisely packed the project with weekend jams like "Parking Lot Party" and "Beer" but also added a few that tug at the heartstrings like "Ring in My Pocket" and his current single, "A Woman Like You." Here's hoping his "crazy" string of good fortune continues April 24.
Johnny Cash, Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth
2012 would have marked Johnny Cash's 80th birthday, and his estate is celebrating by releasing the latest in the Bootleg series. This one is a two-CD set focusing on the Man in Black's recordings from the '70s and '80s, a period when Cash finally found stability in his personal life. As such, these songs explore his spirituality. With 51 tracks, fans will hear an entire unreleased 1975 album, the out-of-print Gospel Singer project, outtakes from the studio and collaborations with June Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Jessi Colter and more. Bootleg Vol. IV hits store shelves April 3.
Kenny Chesney (title TBA)
Kenny Chesney is still riding a wave of success stemming from his last album, the platinum-selling Hemingway's Whiskey, but he's looking to follow it with another on June 19. The project has not been named yet but comes out just a few days before Chesney and Tim McGraw kick off the summer concert season with their Brothers of the Sun tour, which is sure to draw massive crowds to sun-drenched stadium parking lots across the country. The self-diagnosed workaholic has a big job ahead of him if he wants to top Hemingway's Whiskey, though. It spawned four No. 1 singles and a CMA award for "You and Tequila" with rock singer Grace Potter.
Faith Hill (title TBA)
Faith Hill is not giving up too many details, but she has also promised a new album this spring. We do know it will be her first since 2005's Fireflies, and she's debuted three of the new tracks already. The pleading "Come Home" first appeared on the 2011 CMA Awards and has since risen to No. 26 on Billboard's country songs chart. And in February, she previewed two more for radio programmers at the annual Country Radio Seminar -- "Six Hundred Years," which has been described as a gospel-influenced wedding anthem, and "American Heart," an uplifting tune about strength and resilience.
Alan Jackson (title TBA)
Alan Jackson has seen his share of change in the two years since 2010's Freight Train was released. Most notably, he left his longtime record label, Arista Nashville, to start his own imprint, ACR (Alan's Country Records). We've yet to hear if that will lead to any big changes in his sound, but I wouldn't bet on it. If his first single from a new spring album, "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore," is any indication, the affable Georgian is still writing and recording the simple-yet-elegant country music he always has. As for when it comes out, Jackson's playing coy. "They say it's gonna come out in May," he joked during this year's Country Radio Seminar. "Maybe they're saying it may come out."
Kip Moore, Up All Night
Kip Moore, a newcomer from small-town Georgia, is already lighting up the songs chart with his good-timin' "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck," but he says there's a lot more to discover on his debut album, Up All Night. "I am so excited ... because I feel like it is an emotional record, and I want to be able to move people like the records moved me growing up," says Moore. With themes ranging from love and loss to the struggles and triumphs of growing up, Moore says Up All Night takes inspiration from grabbing hold of life and living in the moment (and partying until 4 a.m.). He's sure to gain a wealth of new experiences when the album comes out April 24.
Rascal Flatts, Changed
After six studio albums, super-trio Rascal Flatts are no strangers to the changing seasons. In fact, they're feeling a bit rejuvenated themselves, even going so far as to call their new project Changed. Working with hit producer Dann Huff will ensure their silky-smooth sound will stay the same, though, so don't worry. The album's first single, "Banjo," has already plucked its way into the Top 20, and you'll be able to check out the rest of the Flatts boys' new songs when the project is released April 3. A deluxe edition of the album with four bonus tracks will be available the same day.
Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
A bona fide pop star, Lionel Richie traveled the world as part of the Commodores and later as a solo artist after leaving his hometown of Tuskegee, Ala. Now a spritely 62, Richie wanted to honor the place that made him a man. "By the time I got back to Nashville," he says, "I clearly knew that the roots of my songwriting, my storytelling, were from the South." Tuskegee is a reimagining of 13 of his biggest hits as duets with some of country's biggest names. Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Jennifer Nettles are just a few who took part. You can see if your "Endless Love" for this legend endures on March 27.
Josh Turner (title TBA)
Josh Turner went Haywire in 2010, sending "All Over Me" all the way to No. 1. Then in 2011, it was picked as performing rights organization BMI's song of the year, while their counterparts at ASCAP said it was one of the Top 5 most-played songs. He hopes to recreate that success with a new album this spring, although its title and release date haven't been decided yet. What has been determined is that "Time Is Love" will be the first single, and Turner is loving every minute so far. "It really tells a message that I have been wanting to say for a long time," he says. "It's not about quality time -- but quantity time -- and taking the time to get to know the person."
Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
Possibly the most anticipated album of the season, Carrie Underwood's Blown Away is her first release since 2009's Play On. That's more than enough time to get fans worked up about the thought of new music, and she already released her first single from the project, "Good Girl," to a rousing reception. Notoriously secretive with her work, not much is known about the new album -- except that the cover art is stunning. We'll have to wait until May 1 to find out for sure if Blown Away lives up to its bold title.