Joe Nichols began a new phase in his career with the recent release of his eighth studio album, Crickets. Nearing the one-year anniversary of signing with Red Bow Records, Nichols says it marks a fresh start on his musical journey.
"It's a different mentality, it's a different family," Nichols told CMT Hot 20 Countdown about his new label home. "I can start page one and tell my story all over again and in a completely different way. And so, musically, I think we've hit a home run. I think this is the best album I've ever done, and I'm not shy of saying it."
Nichols sought to maintain his signature traditional sound on the album, but he says there are also hints of a more progressive tone.
"When we started making this record, one of the things we wanted to do is maintain my sound but expand on it," said Nichols. "Like, take a very simple traditional country singer like me and just start being creative and go in the studio and see what I'm capable of, see what sounds good. You never know until you kind of just try it and fail or succeed.
"That's what we did with songs like 'Sunny and 75,'" he continued. "We had moments in those songs you can capture where it's me. You can hear the vocal sound on something like 'Brokenheartsville,' where it's baritone kind of singing, but then there were places that it just kind of revs up."
Perhaps surprisingly, Nichols admits he even took direction from '80s rockers Journey and their mega hit "Don't Stop Believin'" when choosing a tempo for "Sunny and 75."
"It's a very driven, energetic feeling song dynamic," he said. "It builds and builds and builds, and the vocal is not easy. It starts at the very bottom end of my range and ends up way up here, and I've got to hold it up here. ... That was the challenge, and I think coming out of the studio, I couldn't be more proud."
For more, catch CMT Hot 20 Countdown this Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 12-13) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.