Holly Williams thought she was finished with her latest album. "We were actually done with the record in August, had it mastered, and all the art work was done, she told Billboard. "It was called Railroads, and we had nine songs. I kept telling my husband and Charlie Peacock (who co-produced the album) 'There's something that I still haven't said. I know I've got to make another statement.' I didn't know what that was."
Then, inspiration struck her. I sat down one night, and wrote 'The Highway' and 'Let You Go.' We recorded those, and it was done how it is now," she says. With those final pieces of the puzzle firmly in place, she released "The Highway" on her own Georgiana label to great critical response. It's her first album since 2009's Here With Me.
Released Feb. 5, the album currently sits at No. 44 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart.
She said she didn't plan to be away from recording as long as she was – nor did she plan "The Highway" as her return. It just all kind of happened. "I didn't take off an entire period to write," she says. "I didn't say 'I'm going to do another album, I'm going to do it on my own label, and. I was take two months to write it. It just naturally started happening. I was writing and writing more, and it was kind of unexpected – doing it like this. I met Charlie Peacock when we started last January, and I still didn't know what I was going to do with it. I thought 'I'll just do six songs, go to a label, and see if I can find a good home.' I got more into it, met more people, and it all happened very organically over time."
A key part of the process behind The Highway was Williams' husband, Chris Coleman. "I knew him for years before we got together," she says. "He was a drummer in town, and played in a few rock bands. We started dating, and I said 'I adore you. You're going to learn guitar, and go on tour with me.' He started playing, and he just has such a talent and ear for producing. He's one of those guys who can sit down at the piano or the lap steel and come up with something. He comes from a very rhythmic place, because he grew up playing drums, which is what he loves. He's a great storyteller and lyricist. We discovered something in each other musically that I haven't found with anyone else. He's one of the reasons I made this record. For me, when I got married, my focus got really clear suddenly. When you get married, you start to think 'I don't have to go out tonight. I want to be at home doing music."
Working with Peacock (The Civil Wars) on The Highway was a thrill as well, says Williams. "Charlie is absolutely brilliant. It's so nice to work with someone who is an artist and songwriter themselves. Most people say 'Isn't that hard to work with someone who is an artist? But, it's great. He understands. He really kept me on my toes the whole recording process. He was great about letting me do what I wanted on it. I probably wore him out. We had our moments every now and then. He had his guys, and I had my guys that I had worked with on the last two records, and it was the perfect blend of two people coming together who had very different musical backgrounds. It was challenging, but the most important work I have ever done as an artist.
"The Highway" features guest appearances from artists such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Dierks Bentley, and Jackson Browne, who adds his vocals to
"Gone Away From Me."
"Charlie asked me who my dream artist was, and I said Jackson Browne or Tom Waits. He went to Jackson first, and he doesn't know me from Adam. His people wrote back, 'He thinks she's a great songwriter. Come to L.A on Tuesday. That was such a big thing for me, him saying that. He was so great to work with. I'm so honored to have him on the record."