Sara Evans has been making hit music for fifteen years now, since "No Place That Far" became her initial chart-topper in 1999. Talk to her these days, and she sounds like an artist reborn. The singer announced today that she'll release her seventh RCA studio album, "Slow Me Down," on March 4.
"It's one of the best projects that I've ever done," Evans told Billboard. "I'm not saying that to brag, but everything came together perfectly. The songs that we found and that we wrote – there's not one song that I questioned in any way."
The first single and title track, currently sits at No. 42 on the Hot Country Songs chart, and has been eliciting strong response from fans, critics, and radio alike. Evans co-produced the album with Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts), with whom she worked with before on the 2005 disc "Real Fine Place." The project contains guest appearances from three very talented -- and diverse artists. Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill on "Better Off," The Fray's Issac Slade on "Can't Stop Loving You," and Gavin DeGraw adds vocals on a cover of his "Not Over You."
Evans said that working with Gill -- who lent his soaring harmonies to "No Place That Far" -- is always a treat. "He's one of the nicest guys in the world, and always so willing to come in. He never wants any compensation, or anything like that. He just loves music. I would like to think he loves to sing with me. He's had me come in and sing harmony on his records. Our voices just blend so perfectly. I grew up singing bluegrass. The song is one of the countriest songs I have recorded in years. It's stone country, so who else than Vince to come in and put that high harmony on it."
The duet with Slade was one that came about completely by chance, says Evans. "That's the one that wasn't planned. It was originally pitched to me as a duet, and I loved it. So, we started brainstorming about who would be great on the song. I wanted to go outside of the country genre, so I had always been a big fan of The Fray. I brought it up to all my people, and they loved the idea. So, we reached out to Issac. He is actually managed by a company in Nashville, which we didn't know. He came in and did an amazing job. He poured everything he had into it, and really took ownership of it, so we decided it was going to be a full-blown duet."
She says that keeping her cool in the studio with Slade was not an easy task. "He was amazing. We were screaming the whole time he was in the booth singing, then we tried to act cool when he came out and would say 'That sounds really nice."
On the DeGraw cut, Evans said she was amazed by his professional approach to making the recording special. "He went in and sang all over the song – every lines, he put oohs and ahhs on it. A lot of times, people will come in, throw in their part, and not really care. The fact that he wrote the song, I'm sure made him a lot more passionate about it than he would have been. It's actually another duet -- more than just another harmony part."
More than the special guests , or concentrating on one musical style, Evans says she hopes what will appeal to her fans the most about "Slow Me Down" are the songs themselves. She said that's what inspires her the most.
"It's always finding the songs for me," she says. "I always start a project having no idea how it's going to end up. I think that's such a magical process, and I think that's what is so amazing about music in general is that it can go anywhere and be anything. This album ended up being more pop-flavored, which was not intentional. The songs that I was loving at all of the pitch meetings all tended to sound more pop. I'm not sure why, or if the writers in Nashville are writing more pop these days. I wrote with some pop guys too, which added to that. There was no direction other than just finding the songs that moved me the most. If you have a lyric that is compelling, it becomes believable, and it's easier to perform it night after night after night. You never know what you're going to end up with."
Billboard has followed Evans since the release of the title track, and will continue to keep you updated as March 4 nears.