When writer-producer Shooter Jennings, known for his work on such albums as Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You and Tanya Tucker’s While I’m Livin’, first reached out to Julie Roberts about collaborating in 2014, Roberts (who broke through with 2004’s “Break Down Here”) was at a musical crossroads. Her 2013 album Good Wine and Bad Decisions had yielded no hits, and she was struggling to find where she fit in.
“I was at a place musically where I didn’t know where I belonged anymore,” Roberts tells Billboard. “I didn’t feel like I belonged here in Nashville at that moment. I didn’t know if anyone got me anymore. But [Jennings] sent me an email out of the blue and said, ‘I don’t think you’ve made your career record yet.’ I feel like he reached out at the right time.”
Though it took nearly a decade to come to fruition, that email led to Roberts’ first album of new music since Good Wine — the aptly titled Ain’t in No Hurry, out Friday (Oct. 28) through ONErpm Nashville.
Roberts first met Jennings at a music festival in the mid-2000s, when they were both signed to Universal Music Group Nashville imprints (Roberts on Mercury Nashville and Jennings on Universal South), and her 2004 self-titled debut album was on its way to earning Gold status from the RIAA. Jennings was impressed by her bluesy, soulful voice and transparent songs.
By the time Jennings reached out in 2014, Roberts had long exited her Mercury Nashville label and released three albums independently or via Sun Records. She was cash-strapped to make a new record. “He said, ‘Just get out here to Los Angeles and we’ll figure out the rest,’” she recalls.
Roberts, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2006, already had MS-related speaking engagements lined up on the West Coast, so she used the time to begin working with Jennings at Los Angeles’ Station House studio. Over the course of six years, they worked together anytime Roberts made it out to California, eventually tracking nine of the album’s songs.
Unlike the pre-planned sessions typical in Nashville, she and Jennings entered the studio in a more freewheeling manner, no prior directives, writing and creating as they went along.
Roberts co-wrote four tracks on the new album, and earlier this year, she finished the set over a three-month timespan in Nashville with writer-producer Erin Enderlin (known for penning Alan Jackson’s “Monday Morning Church” and Reba McEntire’s “The Bar’s Getting Lower”). Enderlin also contributed three tracks to the album.
While piecing together the album, Roberts, 43, was also undergoing what would become a three-year journey with IVF, resulting in the birth of her son, Jackson, in August 2021. “I truly feel like everything has happened at the right time — and it did take that time because I had this other dream that needed to be fulfilled,” Roberts says of becoming a mother.
The album’s title track, written by Enderlin, Brent Cobb and Ben Chapman, encapsulates the less-hurried, but no less creative, approach she takes, particularly on lines such as “All the times that I took fast, I wish I’d taken slow/ Oh, I ain’t in no hurry ’cause once it goes, it really goes.”
She teams with Randy Houser on “A Little Crazy’s Kind of Nice,” and with burly-voiced Jamey Johnson on “Music City Is Killing Me” — a slightly-tweaked version of Ray LaMontagne’s “New York City Is Killing Me,” a song Roberts told Jennings she had been listening to repeatedly. When Jennings suggested she record it, Roberts countered with the idea to reflect Nashville instead of the Big Apple. LaMontagne gave his blessing to use the song, and the Roberts-Johnson pairing made for commanding listening.
“It was true blessing for Jamey to add his voice on this, it’s just perfect when his vocal comes in. It just gives me chills,” Roberts says.
Meanwhile, “All By My Damn Self” is a stout tribute to strong-willed women who “wear a lot of hats and…fill a lot of shoes.” The opening lyrics, “I owe, I owe/ It’s off to work I go,” are a nod to an often-used phrase from Roberts’ mother.
On “Devil’s Pool,” Roberts and Jennings took a song idea that originated with Jennings’ father, Country Music Hall of Famer Waylon Jennings.
“Shooter said he had found this chorus on a recorder that his dad had written: ‘Don’t be a fool/ Don’t go swimmin’ in the devil’s pool/ She’ll pull you down.’ He played it for me and asked me to write the verses. Okay, no pressure,” Roberts recalls, with a laugh. “What I love about country music from Waylon’s day, and just traditional country music, is there are so many story songs. To me, it just sounds like a Waylon song. The fact that Shooter trusted me and that he liked it. I was nervous, but I’m happy with what it became. I hope Waylon would be, too.”
The album turned into a family affair, with Jennings bringing in the album’s closer, “I Think You Know,” written by his mother, Jessi Colter.
“Shooter kept saying, ‘You and my mama are so much alike,’” Roberts says. “Funny thing, sometimes if I get nervous, I start sweating, so I have these peppermint oils. I put some on the back of my neck while I was in the studio and he just started laughing so much. I was like, ‘Why are you laughing?’ and he said, ‘Because my mom has those oils, too.’”
She also covers K.T. Oslin’s 1987 Billboard Country Songs chart-topper “Do Ya’,” which Roberts has included in her live shows.
“People remember it and it’s fun. But there’s also a new audience who gets to hear it now,” she says.
As for what’s ahead, Roberts says she has hopes to record a gospel album, noting that she and Jennings recorded a gospel track, which was not included on this new album. But she’s in no hurry to rush out another project. Instead, she’s relishing the meshing of blessings in both her personal and professional lives, including her continued remission from MS, her family and her new project.
“I played the Opry this week, and my son got to be there with me,” Roberts says. “It’s moments like this that I’m just soaking in.”