Faith, family and patriotism have long been cornerstones of country music and Jimmy Fortune’s new album God & Country celebrates those hallowed tenets. Dropping May 24 via Gaither Music Group, the new album/DVD includes a mix of classics such as “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “It is Well with My Soul” alongside originals including “Meet Me at Arlington,” “In God We Trust,” and “I Love You More.”
The project, which was also filmed for a DVD, includes a medley of patriotic anthems “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
“These are songs that are mainstays in our country and to sing them, you get the feeling of thankfulness and celebrating our freedom, celebrating what our country is built on,” Fortune tells Billboard.
A member of both the Country and Gospel Music Halls of Fame, Fortune spent 21 years as a member of the legendary Statler Brothers and penned some of their biggest hits including “Elizabeth,” “My Only Love” and “More Than a Name on a Wall,” which he re-recorded for this new project. “That song has meant so much. It’s been a healing song for a lot of years,” he says of the song which speaks of a mother viewing her son’s name on the Vietnam Memorial and praying for God to tell her son, he’s more than a name on a wall. “It would have been a No. 1 song, but there were two stations that would not play that song. They thought it was controversial at the time. But it did a lot of healing and I’ve had a lot of soldiers, men and women, come up to me and say thank you.”
“Meet Me at Arlington,” which Billboard premieres below, is a new song Fortune feels will also strongly resonate with veterans and their families. Fortune and his neighbor, hit songwriter Dave Clark, wrote the song after seeing a news story about a teacher who had gone on a rant against the military. A student had filmed the episode and it made national news. When a mother who had lost her son was interviewed about the teacher’s comments, her response impressed Fortune and Clark. “She wasn’t mad,” Fortune recalls. “She just said, ‘I wish he’d meet me at Arlington [National Cemetery] and I could introduce him to my son, and he’d know how I feel, how many mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters feel.’”
Fortune says they are trying to track down the mother who inspired the song and play it for her. “There are over 400,000 graves at Arlington and stones that represent people who have died for our freedom and who’ve given so much for us,” he says. “That’s why that song was written. It’s a powerful song, a moving song and a true song about her.”
Another highlight on the album is “I Love You More.” “I wrote that with a good friend of mine Molly Stevens,” he says. “When I say I love you to my granddaughter, she says, ‘I love you more papaw.’ And I said, ‘Isn’t that like God with us? He says, ‘I love you more, than you can ever imagine.’ When people are out there thinking their prayers are never heard, they need to know that the most powerful force in the universe loves you. That’s all we need is His love. It takes faith to believe it, but if you’ve got the faith and you say you believe it and you reach out; you’ll feel that love,” he adds.
Among the hymns Fortune chose to cover is the classic “It is No Secret,” and the album includes a spoken prelude where Fortune shares the story of a conversation he had with his mother. “I was at a bad state in my life mentally, physically and spiritually and I came home one Thanksgiving,” he recalls. “I got there early to talk to my mom. She was worried about me and I don’t even know why I said it — I guess because I didn’t want her to worry about me — but I said, ‘Mom don’t worry about me. Something good is going to happen to me. I don’t know what, but something good is going to happen.’ She came over and put her hands on my shoulders and said ‘It’s No Secret What God Can Do’ and I just lost it.”
Fortune says he got very emotional in the studio recording that song because it took him back to that memory. He did survive that rough patch and something good did happen. “A few weeks later I got a call from the Statler Brothers to come over and audition,” he recalls. “Mama was telling me, ‘I know where you are in your life. You’ve done a lot of things and a lot of things you’ve brought on yourself that are bad, but with God, it’s no secret what he can do. He can do so much for you.’”
God & Country was produced by Ben Isaacs of the acclaimed gospel group The Isaacs. This marks the third time he’s produced a Fortune album. “He’s a big ole teddy bear. I just love him and respect his musical and producing ability and I love his family. The Isaacs are all over this project singing backup,” says Fortune. “We’re a team and he’s brought things out of me that I never thought I had. That’s the sign of a good producer that can make you step out of your comfort zone and make you do something a little bit different, but yet he’s not tried to interfere or change me in any way. He’s let me be me.”
Fortune is excited about the new release and hopes the collection will be soothing balm during these divisive times in our country. “I don’t beat people over the head with things,” he says in his kind Virginia drawl. “I just say, ‘Look around you. See what’s happening to the world. You can see the good and the evil and then make your choice. Which side do you want to be on?”