Successful artists can often feel like they are on a fast-moving treadmill that never stops. Trisha Yearwood took the risk of stepping off and has no regrets.
After a self-imposed hiatus, she will return Sept. 13 with “Jasper County,” her first new album since “Inside Out” debuted at the summit of the Billboard Top Country Albums chart in 2001.
Yearwood’s break was spurred by both creative and business considerations.
“When [former MCA Nashville chairman] Bruce Hinton retired, that was really the catalyst for me,” she says, citing the changing of the guard that followed at the label. “There was a lot of stuff going on, and I thought it would be a good time for me to take a break and let everything get sort of settled down before I came out with an album.”
Produced by Garth Fundis, who has helmed many of her albums, “Jasper County” is the Georgia native’s 11th MCA project. She says she intended to take only a year off, but then had a hard time finding tunes.
In fall 2002, “I took some songs that I liked and we recorded them, but… I kept trying to make them be something they just weren’t,” she says. “I was so anxious to get into the studio, but I just don’t think the songs were quite there.”
She and Fundis resumed their search for material in spring 2003, tapping such writers as Beth Nielsen Chapman, Al Anderson, Anthony Smith and Leslie Satcher.
“I knew I wanted to make a country record,” the three-time Grammy Award winner says. “I wanted it to be new and not sound like what had been done before by me, but I also wanted it to be familiar. Being off the radio for three years, I didn’t want the first thing people heard to be something they couldn’t recognize [that would make them] say, ‘Gosh, what was she thinking?’ “
Yearwood says “Georgia Rain,” which is currently No. 17 on the Hot Country Songs chart, was the obvious choice for a first single.
“It’s one of those story songs that I love so much,” she says of the tune, which features harmonies by fiancé Garth Brooks. “That song set the tone. All the songs we ended up cutting had to be something that you’d [say], ‘Oh yes! That is what I would expect Trisha to do, but I’ve never heard this before.'”
Yearwood has long been known for her extraordinary voice and great song sense. She has placed 38 titles on the Billboard country singles chart, with 19 landing in the top 10 and five reaching the summit. Six of her 10 previous albums have been certified platinum, and four have gone gold.
Her latest offering mixes frisky, uptempo numbers like “Pistol” and “It’s Alright” with potent ballads like “Trying To Love You” and “Georgia Rain.”
While some artists who take a long hiatus come back to find themselves displaced because the market has shifted in their absence, Yearwood has no such concerns.
“I still think there is a market for artists like myself,” she says. “It would be a mistake to try to cut a record for the market, because it wouldn’t sound like me and it wouldn’t be sincere. So my only choice is to do what I do and hope that the market, for me, is still there.”
Not surprisingly, Universal Music Group Nashville senior VP of sales and marketing Ben Kline believes Yearwood still has a country home, in part because she has never tried to follow the latest fad. “Trends come and go, but Trisha has made a classic Trisha Yearwood album,” he says.
Yearwood’s new album is not the only thing her fans have been interested in lately. Following her May engagement to Brooks, she found herself in the middle of a media frenzy.
Yearwood says she understands fan interest in her personal life. “The only place that I have to be really careful is I don’t want people buying tickets to my shows thinking they are going to see Garth Brooks, because he is a stay-at-home dad,” she says. “He is not coming on tour with me, and I just don’t want people to be disappointed.”
In the future, Yearwood says, she would love to record a big-band project, a live set and a duet album with Brooks. She will do a theater tour this fall, and is happy to be back in the spotlight, but admits her priorities have shifted.
“Singing is just who I am. I have to sing to feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” she says. “The difference now is my career has to accommodate my life.”
Excerpted and expanded from the Sept. 10, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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