On her new album, Slow Me Down, country singer Sara Evans delivers a set of introspective love songs that sounds incredibly out of step with what's popular in country music these days — namely, singing about partying and raising hell like a redneck. It's not that Evans can't connect with that culture. To hear her tell it, she's as redneck as they come.
"Going into making this record, I knew the genre had turned into bro country and every single song is about drinking and partying and girl jeans," she's says during a phone interview. "What's so funny is that I am the real deal. I grew up on a farm in Missouri. I worked my ass off on the farm. You can be a farmer and still think so much more deeply than that. You can be a redneck and think deeper than that. I'm really a redneck at heart, but I want to think about love and heartache. Going into this record, I was determined to write and record sophisticated songs that had good lyrics that really meant something but were still sexy and appealing."
Evans has been writing and recording "sophisticated songs" since she moved from Missouri to Nashville in the early '90s and inked a deal with RCA Records. While her 1997 debut Three Chords and the Truth wasn't a huge hit, her 1998 follow-up album, No Place That Far, went gold. Since then, she has dominated the charts and won countless awards. Given the transitory nature of the music business, her consistency is truly remarkable. So what's the key?
"The key for me is being authentic and being true to my art and what my heart tells me I want to do artistically," she says when asked about how she's been able to assemble such a quality catalog of songs. "There's a certain level of respect you have to maintain within yourself. I've never recorded a song just because I thought it would be a hit. I recorded songs that I thought would be hits and that I truly love and believe in. I always say that I feel like my music is sophisticated. I don't mean that in a snobby way. I have to have songs that have great lyrics. If they don't and if they're stupid and I don't believe in them and they rhyme just to rhyme, I can't do that. I believe that my fans and country radio appreciate that and that they're going to get that from me. Sometimes, people are like, 'You could have had a huge hit with this song.' Yeah, I probably could have. But I wouldn't have respected myself."
One reviewer wrote that Evans explores the "many sides of love" on her new album. It's an apt description. Evans' voice sounds surprisingly soulful on tunes such as as the title track and the despondent, "You Never Know." She even personalizes her cover of the Gavin DeGraw tune, "Not Over You."
"I love that song," she says. "I love when it says, 'When you ask me how I'm doing, I say I'm doing just fine. I would lie and say you're not on my mind.' To me, that is so sexy and sad. You go out and sit down at a table set for two. He's alone and finally forced to face the truth. He's not talking to the girl. He's just talking in general to himself."
On "If I Run," she writes about meeting her current husband, former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker, for the first time.
"It's about my psychology and my lack of relationship with my dad," she says. "I have been insecure in relationships at times and I have chosen badly at times and I find someone like Jay who loves me and treats me great. My tendency is to run from that. I'm not used to it. That's not how I view how a man is supposed to treat me because of what I've been through. That's a song about how I was with Jay in the beginning of our relationship. If I start acting scared, will you chase me? That was never a conversation we had; it was just thoughts in my head."
The album's final tune, "Revival," is a raucous, bluegrass-y number that features an infectious chorus and a meaty guitar riff.
"It's very high energy," she says. "I couldn't relate to it initially. Radney [Foster] wrote it so personal. Everything in it is about someone in his life. At first, I questioned recording it. Then, I thought it was such a great chorus, I had to do it."
Evans has been chosen as one of People's magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" but she's also spoken out against eating disorders. So what's the key to having a healthy perspective on self-image?
"I always tell my children that you need to live a life of moderation when it comes to things like that," she says. "Outer beauty, dieting, exercise, alcohol, food or whatever it is. You have to train yourself to be moderate. Any given meal, you can't stuff yourself. There is another meal coming, praise God. Don't starve yourself. Don't get drunk. Have a few drinks at dinner. I teach my girls to care about their appearance and looks. The way you present yourself speaks volumes about who you are. But it doesn't define you. The most important thing is your heart. If you're beautiful, but you're a bitch, then you erase the beautiful. At least in the long run. You can be beautiful and be a young bitch. A lot of people will fall for that. But in the long run, all that will matter is your character and how you treat people."
Sara Evans 8 p.m. Friday, April 25, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $32.50-$59.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.