The summer heat wave took its toll all across America in 2012, but there's still much to be thankful for as the harvesters begin to roll. New albums are on the way from some of country's brightest stars.
Jason Aldean's rolling into town like a train in the night, Taylor Swift is left seeing Red and Big & Rich take country music to new, intergalactic levels.
Meanwhile, here on Earth, Kix Brooks is wishing he could go back 20 years, Toby Keith sets up another round and Jake Owen is putting the finishing touches on the most memorable year of his life.
Plus, country icon Dwight Yoakam returns to the spotlight with his most recent musical vision.
Here's a look at 12 fall albums from the land of plenty.
Jason Aldean, Night Train
Aldean says his touring convoy of buses and tractor trailers feels like a train rolling down the interstate every night, inspiring the name Night Train for his fifth studio album. Coming out Oct. 16, it follows a year of career-highlighting success, but Aldean isn't ready to settle down yet. "There's no formula to music," he says. "It's meant to be experimented with. You're supposed to try things. So I love getting in there with my guys and coming up with sounds that nobody else really uses." Aldean brings back his longtime producer Michael Knox for the project and started things off with "Take a Little Ride," but the most exciting news about Night Train might be the collaboration between Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church called "The Only Way I Know." "I love collaborations like that," says Aldean. "And I think the fans dig it when artists get together. It keeps it interesting."
Big & Rich, Hillbilly Jedi
After four years apart, country music's favorite odd couple are back together and aiming for the stars on Sept 18. On that day, Big & Rich will launch their fourth studio album and have named it Hillbilly Jedi. The project includes their current single, "That's Why I Pray," and the duo believe it has an element of universality to it. "This song feels so good to sing," says Big Kenny. "It's just powerful. I think it's the biggest reaction we've had yet to a song." Rich agrees, noting, "It's a big, positive message. With so many negative things in the world, this is a positive spin on that." Bon Jovi make a guest appearance on one of the tracks, "Born Again."
Kix Brooks, New to This Town
New to This Town will be Brooks' first solo album since 1989, but more importantly, it's his first since the retirement of Brooks & Dunn. With that in mind, the veteran entertainer wanted to show people who he really is. "I made an album that's really is close to my heart, and it's a whole lot of fun," he says. Brooks co-wrote nine out of the 12 songs on the project, including the title track featuring Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh. Coming out Sept. 11, Brooks promises the album will be energetic, just like he always has been onstage. "It's kind of fun and games and hangin' it out there. ... People come to enjoy themselves, and I think this album in a lot of ways is about that."
Easton Corbin, All Over the Road
After his debut album unleashed the back-to-back No. 1 singles "A Little More Country Than That" and "Roll With It," you might forgive Corbin for letting all that success go to his head. His next album, All Over the Road, tells a different story, though. "All Over the Road is a fun title," Corbin explains, "but it's also actually what we're doing out there. We're all over the road trying to get music out to everybody." He's still working hard to be heard and still has that classic country voice. Scheduled for a Sept. 18 release, the new project already boasts its own success story, "Lovin' You Is Fun," which is in the Top 20 on Billboard's country songs chart.
Bucky Covington, Good Guys
Sept. 11 is a time for Americans to remember our heroes, especially first responders like fire fighters. Covington is keenly aware of that, and it's why he chose that day to release his long-awaited sophomore album. It's titled Good Guys in honor of his work with the Help the Good Guys organization, a group that supports fire fighters injured in the line of duty. A portion of the album's first-week sales will be donated to the International Association of Fire Fighters. Covington's latest single "Drinking Side of Country" is a duet with Shooter Jennings, and its Dukes of Hazzard-themed video logged more than 2 million plays in less than one week after being released. A previous single, "I Want to Be That Feeling," will also appear on the album.
Toby Keith, Hope on the Rocks
After reconnecting with the spirit of his grandmother's bar on 2011's Clancy's Tavern, Keith is sticking with the booze theme for his next album. Due Nov. 13, Hope on the Rocks is a concoction mixed in the traditional T.K. fashion. He produced the tracks himself and also serves as the project's primary songwriter. His first single is the perfect chaser for "Red Solo Cup," telling the story of a guy who prefers a simple country lifestyle over the posh flamboyance of his girlfriend. "I Like Girls That Drink Beer" is its name, and it would probably do well as a slogan for his actual line of restaurants. Ordering up Hope on the Rocks will get you 10 tracks, while springing for the deluxe version includes 14, plus tip of course.
Little Big Town, Tornado
Little Big Town made waves this summer with their infectious Top 10 hit "Pontoon," but come Sept. 11, they'll look to leave a mark of a different kind with the release of Tornado. The longtime fan favorites will plant their patented four-part harmonies in an updated sound, courtesy of a new producer. Jay Joyce has helped artists like Eric Church find a bit of attitude in the recording studio, and now he's giving LBT a hint of intensity, as well. "I am so excited for people to hear this new record," says the band's Jimi Westbrook. "Jay Joyce really pushed us to be in the moment. There was such an amazing energy between all of us in the studio, and I think you can feel it."
Scotty McCreery, Christmas With Scotty McCreery
McCreery says Christmas music was always a big deal in his family's North Carolina home, so the American Idol champ was delighted to record his first album of Christmas tunes. "As a family, we were all really excited about making a Christmas album," he says. "Now we can add my CD to the collection we listen to." The 11 songs he chose range from holiday standards to brand new tracks like "Christmas in Heaven" and "Christmas Is Coming Around." And being a big fan of Elvis Presley, McCreery even sneaks "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" on the project, due Oct. 16. "I just wanted it to be holly and jolly and really lift people's spirits in the Christmas season because it's supposed to be a really happy time," says McCreery. It'll be hard to say humbug to that.
Jake Owen, Endless Summer EP
It makes sense that Owen would want this summer to last forever. He got married, found out he's going to be a dad and opened stadium shows on Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw's Brothers of the Sun tour. "I started thinking that I really wanted to put out a few new tunes that had a summer vibe," says Owen. Endless Summer will feature four new songs and comes out Sept. 25. "No one ever really wants the summer to end, right? Hopefully, these songs will be ones that keep the party going into the fall," he says. And for him, it certainly will. Owen will headline the 11th annual CMT on Tour starting Oct. 10 in New York City, bringing along up-and-comers Love and Theft and Florida Georgia Line. Titled Jake Owen: The Summer Never Ends 2012, it's another career milestone for Owen. "Being the headliner of a tour is something I've been dreaming about since I was in college," he says.
Blake Shelton, Cheers, It's Christmas
For Shelton's first holiday album, the singer and The Voice judge went all out. "This is honestly the only Christmas album that I plan on ever making," says Shelton. "And I wanted to do one that counted and is timeless and, hopefully, classic." To that end, he chose a few well-known songs as well as some fresher ones that won't seem like obvious choices and even used a full orchestra to back him on some tracks. Then he assembled an all-star cast to help him with the singing duties, led by his mother, Dorothy Shackleford, on the self-penned "Time for Me to Come Home." "My mother, my family, home -- that is Christmas to me," he says. Also appearing on the album are Michael Bublé, Kelly Clarkson, Reba McEntire, wife Miranda Lambert and her group the Pistol Annies. You can start spreading the holiday cheer on Oct. 2.
Taylor Swift, Red
One of the most anticipated albums of the year is surely Swift's Red. Arriving Oct. 22, her fourth studio album features 16 tracks, including "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," a single that's already breaking records. Racking up 623,000 downloads during its first week online, it set the new high-water-mark for digital song sales by a female in one week. After writing every song by herself on 2010's Speak Now, Swift enlisted the help of an A-team group of producers and songwriters to help her flesh out Red. As for the album's colorful title, Swift says "In my mind, when you experience love that's fast paced and out of control and mixes infatuation, jealousy, frustration, miscommunication and all of those lovely emotions ... in retrospect, it all looks red."
Dwight Yoakam, 3 Pears
Yoakam is releasing an album of all new songs for the first time in seven years on Sept. 18. Titled 3 Pears, Yoakam gets back to the glory days of his "cowpony" sound of the late '80s. "I knew I wanted to do something rediscovering the joy of reckless abandonment you have at 17 years old," said the singer-songwriter. Yoakam attributes the drive to make a new album to another genre-defying musician, Beck, after the two met for the first time. "The album really started with Beck and his studio," says Yoakam. Two songs ended up being produced by Beck and recorded in his home studio. "I just tried to encourage [Yoakam] to let it have his personality in it," says the alternative rock mainstay.
And in case you missed them, here are two standouts that were released in August:
Dierks Bentley, Country and Cold Cans EP
Few things go together better in the heat of summer than country music and cold beer, and that simple truth is what inspired Bentley's most recent tour. As it turns out, he had so much fun, he wanted to capture the mindset forever with a special release of all new music. Country and Cold Cans will be a four-song EP all about cutting loose, and Bentley says his fans have themselves to thank for this one. "It was really inspired by how young and crazy the fans on the Country and Cold Cans tour were earlier this year," he says. He picked the new tracks "Country and Cold Cans," "Grab a Beer," "Back Porch" and "Summer on Fire," which all got big reactions from those crazy kids.
Dustin Lynch, Dustin Lynch
Lynch is a newcomer to country radio, but with a sound influenced by Class of '89 artists like Garth Brooks, Randy Travis and Alan Jackson, he's a welcome blast from the past. Growing up about an hour outside Nashville, he packed up and headed to town as soon as he could, rented an apartment behind famed songwriter's haven, the Bluebird Café, and convinced the staff to let him perform. Now his first single, "Cowboys and Angels," is parked in the Top 10, and his self-titled debut album hit No. 1 in its first week out. The humble country boy with the smooth voice co-wrote 10 tracks for the project with some of Nashville's most successful songwriters like Brett Beavers, Tim Nichols and Ben Hayslip.