Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
"I feel like I've gone full-circle in my life," Billy Ray Cyrus says of "The Other Side." Due Oct. 28 via Word Records/Warner Bros., is a return to his gospel heritage. It's a far cry from the days of "Achy Breaky Heart," the smash hit single that catapulted him to international stardom in the early 1990s.
"This record really is going back to that Pentecostal church where I grew up," he says. "It's a record of a lifetime for me."
After a nine-album country music career in which he scored six top-10 singles and sold 9.8 million units in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, Cyrus still holds the record for the longest time spent by a debut artist at No. 1 on The Billboard 200: 17 weeks with the 1992 album "Some Gave All."
Perhaps more intriguing than the fact that Cyrus is releasing a gospel album is his remarkable story of how it all began.
Late last year, while filming his PAX TV show "Doc" in Toronto, Cyrus was struggling to find direction in his life.
"We were in the midst of shooting the show, and it was miserably cold," Cyrus says. "One day I literally got down on my knees and said, 'God, I'm freezing up here. Are you sure this is what you want me to be doing?' It was a desperate prayer, and it was answered by a voice that said, 'Go make the inspirational album that you've waited your whole life to make.'"
Cyrus remembers that moments later, he got a call from Nashville producer Billy Joe Walker Jr., who asked if he would be interested in recording a gospel record.
"I heard him choke up on the phone," Walker recalls. "He said, 'I can't believe you called me about this.'"
"The Other Side" contains 11 songs that reflect Cyrus' deep-rooted Christian faith. Cyrus penned the album's title cut, and he and Walker gathered 10 other songs from a pool of writers based in country (Bob DiPiero, Tom Shapiro, Rivers Rutherford, Kelly Shiver, Victoria Shaw), gospel (Bebo Norman) and pop (Richard Marx). The project features guest vocals by Marx, Kim Carnes, Bekka Bramlett, former Anointed vocalist Denise Walls and the Jordanaires.
"I've never worked on a record where the songs came together as quickly and easily as they did on this album," Walker says. "It was like God walked in and put them on our desk. It really was meant to be."
Still, Cyrus says, "maybe I should have made this album years ago. I should have started singing about God's love years ago. Who knows where my life would be?"
Cyrus says making music is "what I really love; it's my passion. Long after 'Doc' is done, I'll still be making records somewhere."
But his acting career is working well for him. Returning for its fourth season this fall, "Doc" remains PAX's highest-rated program. Cyrus also just finished filming "Elvis Has Left the Building," starring Kim Basinger.
Word will package a bonus DVD with the first 100,000 units of "The Other Side." The DVD includes an interview, behind-the-scenes footage and three new music videos.
Excerpted from the Oct. 18, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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