In 2005, Missouri-born singer/songwriter Sara Evans  was on a roll. Her album "Real Fine Place" hit No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart and the single "A Real Fine Place to Start" became her fourth No. 1. In the spring of 2006, she won the Academy of Country Music's top female vocalist award.
But that October, while Evans was competing on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," her 13-year marriage to politician Craig Schelske imploded. She left the show and pulled back from her career to focus on her three children.
"It's like we hit a pause button," RCA Records Nashville VP of promotions Keith Gale says.
But after the self-imposed hiatus, Evans re-emerges March 8 with her first studio album in six years, aptly titled "Stronger."
Video: Sara Evans, "A Little Bit Stronger"
"I can't believe that it's been that long since I've had a regular studio album. Everything has changed since I put out 'Real Fine Place,' " she says of her previous studio set. "It's a completely new world. The iPhone wasn't even out then. Now I love to use Twitter."
"We let her get her family life on track," Gale says. "And now we're picking up where we left off with a great artist, a great singer and great songs." He admits it was a "bit of a gamble because out of sight, out of mind in our business [is an issue], but the fact that she decided to focus her energy on her family as the main priority is admirable."
Evans is now remarried to former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker, who hosts his own sports radio show. Evans and her three children relocated from Nashville to Birmingham, Ala., where she and Barker's blended family includes his four kids from his first marriage.
During her hiatus, RCA issued a greatest-hits collection and Evans performed select concert dates. She remained a presence at country radio with such previous hits as "Suds in the Bucket," "Perfect" and "Born to Fly." "As If," a new song from her hits set, peaked at No. 11 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Now, "A Little Bit Stronger," a song Evans personally introduced at radio stations, is No. 15 on Hot Country Songs. "The reintroduction of Sara has been extremely gratifying," Gale says. "Country radio has really welcomed her with open arms, very much like a friend that you haven't seen in a while."
Evans says she was a little nervous about taking so long between studio albums. During her hiatus, she signed with a new manager, Spalding Entertainment's Clarence Spalding, who has worked with Brooks & Dunn  and handles Jason Aldean . She credits Spalding with helping her keep things in perspective. "He kept saying, 'Don't make any decisions based on fear,' " she recalls. "He said, 'You don't need to think about how long it's been. You just need to wait for the right songs, and if you wait for the right songs, it will fall into place. If you don't wait for the right songs, and you put out songs that you don't truly believe in, it's not going to happen.' "
Evans co-wrote six of the album's 10 tracks, including the uptempo "Desperately," penned with longtime friend Marcus Hummon, and "Ticket to Ride," written with Leslie Satcher. Evans also co-wrote "What That Drink Cost Me," a haunting ballad about a woman's husband dying after a night drinking with friends, with her brother Matt and producer Nathan Chapman.
The album also includes two covers -- a bluegrass update of her No. 1 "Born to Fly" and a rendition of Rod Stewart's  hit "My Heart Can't Tell You No," which Nashville songwriter Dennis Morgan originally intended as a country song when he wrote it with Simon Climie.
Chapman, who also produces Taylor Swift , steered half the album and veteran Tony Brown produced the balance; Los Angeles-based Marti Frederiksen produced "Wildfire," a track he and Evans wrote with Kara DioGuardi.
Evans will promote the release with a performance on "Good Morning America" on March 9 and is slated to tour this summer with Rascal Flatts .
"We were away a little while, and we had some work to do," Gale says of how things are coming together for Evans. "She was committed to it and she did the work. You can't replace a great song and hard work. It's a formula that works."
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