Today, country music legend Jim Ed Brown releases In Style Again on Plowboy Records. It marks his first solo project since the 1980s, and he's glad to be back.
"I love getting to do new music," Brown tells Billboard. "I'm so excited to be working with Plowboy Records to bring this new album to the fans."
Though billed as a solo project, there are a few notable guest appearances on In Style Again. Brown re-teams with sisters Maxine and Bonnie on the set's first single, "When the Sun Says Hello to the Mountain." As The Browns, the trio carved out a successful career from the mid-1950s through 1967, highlighted by the million-selling classic "The Three Bells." Brown says recording with his sisters is something that feels timeless.
"I loved it. It was so much fun. For so many years, growing up and singing together, then recording together, you love and get used to that harmony – which is still the same. If we came up with a new song, I could send Maxine a copy of it, and she would automatically sing the second part and Bonnie the third without hearing the lead. It was just automatic with them. It's amazing to listen to that harmony again. I think the sound of it blends right in with everything that the Browns ever did. That harmony is there. You can't mistake it."
Brown also pairs with Helen Cornelius on "Don't Let Me Cross Over." The two enjoyed a successful recording partnership from 1976-1981, which included the chart-topping "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You," which led to a CMA Vocal Duo of the Year trophy. The two have also toured together for many years since across the nation, co-hosting the 1970s syndicated series Nashville on the Road. When asked what about his recording partner brought out the best in him, he said her vocal style fit his to a tee.
"I don't know how you answer that question other than to say that I love to do harmony. She actually does most of the lead. Going back to The Browns, I did most of the lead and they did the harmony."
After performing as The Browns, and then a successful solo run with hits such as "Pop a Top" and "Man and Wife Time," was it tough for him to switch from lead to harmony? "Actually, it wasn't a difficult role for me to learn, because I can do all the parts. I did all the harmony parts on 'Morning' until it got a little too harsh and Maxine came to town one day, and she sang on it. I can sing any part that's needed -- sixths, sevenths, thirds, fifths. I enjoyed that change."
The singer is especially proud of the title track, which garnered quite a bit of attention for the singer when he celebrated 50 years as a Grand Ole Oprymember in 2013. "What a song," he exclaims. "I had a secretary working for me, and she was out one night at one of the guitar pulls in town. This young man was on the microphone, and he said 'I've got a song here that my wife don't like -- but I'm going to sing it anyway. He did it, and she told him, 'I want that,' and she brought it to me. It's a good story. I think it tells it like it is."
Brown also received some Hall of Fame help on the track in the producer's chair. "Bobby Bare did a great job of producing it," he says. (Plowboy's Don Cusic produced the remainder of the album, along with executive producer B. Shannon Pollard.) "We also had some great musicians. A lot of the young kids who are coming along will ask me for advice, and the best thing I can say is, 'When you start to sing a song, just tell the story. Don't try to embellish it too much. Basically, all you have to do is tell the story, and if the people like it, they will buy it.'"
At age 80, the singer -- who has been undergoing cancer treatment -- still finds many ways to keep busy, even with his own radio show, which he told us about. "It's called Country Music Greats Radio Hour. I get the opportunity to go into the studio and sit down and tell stories about my past. As I was coming along from the '50s through the '70s, there were so many great songs that still love today -- Don Gibson, Patsy Cline, so many of them. I get to play those songs and tell stories about them. I have a lot of fun with the show. I was up in North Dakota last year, and I had a young lady come up to me, and she said 'Mr. Brown, I want to thank you for being my teacher.' She was only about 11 or 12. I asked her what she meant. She said, 'You're teaching me all about the history of country music.' I thought that was very nice. I just love telling the stories about the artists. I can't tell them all. Some of them, I wish I could. I can't even put them in a book because they're not dead."