Jimmie Allen certainly isn't the only country artist to collaborate with another country artist. But he may very well be the first one to build an entire EP around the idea that two is better than one.
So when Allen and I had the chance to talk -- virtually, obviously -- about his brand new Bettie James EP, my first question was why. As in, why not keep all the songs all to yourself?
"Because I feel like 90 percent of every song that's in the world -- no matter the genre -- is a collaboration between writers and producers and artists. So I wanted to take that approach on a whole album. There's something so magical about collaborating with other people," Allen told me, "and I was like, 'I want to collaborate on not just the writing but the delivery as well.'
"Different voices can really amplify certain songs, and help them reach their full potential."
Once Allen told me that, I wanted to know everything that went into the making of Bettie James.
CMT.com: Knowing how much you treasure country music and all the people who make it, how did you decide which artist to invite to sing with you on each song?
Allen: The crazy thing is, I could hear their voices on it. Like when I wrote “Days Made For These," it was like I could hear Tim McGraw's voice on it. When I wrote “Freedom Was A Highway," it just screamed Brad Paisley to me. And then “Drunk and I Miss You” sounded like Mickey Guyton. And “Why Things Happen” was the Darius Rucker and Charley Pride song I'd been waiting on. Then when I listened to “When This Is Over," I heard all these voices in my heard. I could hear all of them on that one: The Oak Ridge Boys, Rita Wilson, and Tauren Wells.
So it was like a voice in your head guiding each collaboration?
It kind of was. It was like an internal speaker box talking to me and pointing me in right direction with which artist. It kind of worked itself out.
I know you're a fan of everyone you worked with on this album, right? So can you tell me your favorite song from each of these country artists?
Tim McGraw: It's so hard to pick. It would either be "Just to See You Smile" or "Humble and Kind."
Brad Paisley: I think his best song is "Letter to Me."
Charley Pride: See, with Charley, I listened to a lot of songs that weren't singles. His deep cuts. But I also loved all the hits like "Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger," "Just Between You and Me," "I'm Just Me," "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" and then I loved his "Crystal Chandelier."
Rita Wilson: "Where's My Country Song," because she nailed that one. But I also love "Broken Man" and "Let Me Be."
Darius Rucker: My favorite was his "Alright," but I also really loved his first country single "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."
Mickey Guyton: "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" That song. Holy. Crap. That song right there is just the best. But I also love her "Heartbreak Song" and "Better Than You Left Me."
The Oak Ridge Boys: Well, "Elvira" of course. But my all-time favorite was their "Y'all Come Back Saloon."
It sounds like your love for country music goes deep. But you probably never pictured yourself having to record these seven songs in such a socially distanced way, right?
I did not. But it was okay. The songs were mostly written pre-quarantine, but then we all had to record our parts separately. Brad did his at his home studio, Rita did hers in in LA, Mickey recorded in Nashville, and the Oak Ridge Boys did it at the same studio where I recorded all of mine, at Eric Torres' studio The Couch Room right on Music Row.
And not only did you make this music during the pandemic, now you're releasing it during the pandemic. What does that feel like for you as the artist and as a producer?
I actually feel like, in a way, this is an advantage. It's a a time when people are needing some sort of entertainment to take them away from everything going on, just for a while. And also it helps to have songs that will remind everyone to use this time and make the best of it. And I also feel like there's not a lot of commotion going on that would take people's attention away from the music. People are just looking for something to listen to.
That's certainly a silver lining to this cloud we're living through right now. You must be an optimist. So how are you personally staying sane throughout the lockdown?
I've been quarantining in Nashville, which is fine, but I try to take the tour bus down to Florida or to Delaware every three weeks to go fishing. That's helped me a lot.
Bettie James is out now. Here is the full track list:
1. “Good Times Roll," Jimmie Allen, Nelly
2. “Drunk and I Miss You," Allen, Mickey Guyton
3. “Days Made For These," Allen, Tim McGraw
4. “Freedom Was A Highway," Allen, Brad Paisley
5. “Why Things Happen," Allen, Charley Pride, Darius Rucker
6. “When This Is Over," Allen, the Oak Ridge Boys, Tauren Wells, Rita Wilson
7. “This Is Us," Allen, Noah Cyrus
Hear Allen and McGraw on "Days Made for These":