With a strong sense of vintage country, Aaron Lewis has spent the last ten years committed to making the kind of country he was raised on. Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, David Allen Coe and early Hank Williams Jr. inform the Springfield, Vermont star's take on the genre that started with the No. 1 Billboard Country Albums debut with 2011's "Town Line".
That same passion for the unseen and the unrecognized drives the guitar-playing songwriter. Having spent the last year focused on writing, often with friends he's made over the decade he's spent making country music, he's putting the finishing touches on "Frayed At Both Ends".
"There's so much great music in Nashville, which I think everybody knows. But until you really live here, get to know people, you don't realize how deep it runs," Lewis says of the dozen songs on his upcoming record. "It's inspiring to be around people who are drawn to that same hard kind of country, the stuff that digs down and looks at life with some of the paint knocked off it."
"Frayed At Both Ends" also strips back Lewis's sound, taking it to the bare minimum. With guitarists Tom Bukovac, Biff Watson and Seth Taylor, dobroist Ben Kitterman, acoustic slide and baritone from Sturgill Simpson veteran Laur Joamets, keyboards from Jim Moose Brown, acoustic guitar and mandolin from Dan Tyminski, some of Nashville's best players make less do more.
"Goodbye Town", an acoustic guitar shuffle that looks at a love that's gone, and the echoes that linger after it's over, is the first advance track. With Mickey Raphael's harmonica and a dobro rising from the mix, Lewis's weathered delivery more than carries the enduring ache.
"Big heartache is part of it," says the man cited for "his mournful baritone" by the Los Angeles Times. "Country music takes on the tough stuff, the doubts and the working harder to just stay where you are. Writing with guys like Dan Tyminski, who's sung on some of my earlier records, Jeffrey Steele, Ira Dean, David Lee Murphy and Chris Wallin all have the same sense of what this is, so I can't wait for people to get to hear this record."
Slated for January 28 release, fans can pre-order the album now and receive "Goodbye Town", the project's first teaser track. They will also receive "Am I The Only One", Lewis's anthem of frustration that spent the 4th of July at No. 1 on iTunes all-genre chart, as well as being only the ninth song since 1958 to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
"This is an album of saying things that need to be said about how people actually live," Lewis explains. "Life isn't easy. Most people drink to forget, or drive for hours trying to get away from what they can't let go of or leave behind. Work takes it out of you. Love falls short or destroys you. Disappointments stack up. But still you have to keep going — and how you do that says everything about the man that you are."
The 12 songs are joined by a bonus: the previously released CreatiVets-penned "They Call Me Doc". The bare witness of a triage soldier who holds people together at their darkest moments honors the fighting men and women who've been injured and those who care for them. With just an acoustic guitar, Lewis is joined by Tyminiski and Vince Gill for the homage.
"I've never wanted to be the face of a song, or a time," Lewis offers. "I'm a lucky man. I survived my first record deal, and I can make music on my terms. One of those terms is singing for other people, the things they need to say or the heroism they've lived and no one ever really noticed. If I can put the light in those places, then the music is doing its best work."
Mixed by Chris Lord-Alge, the five-time Grammy-winning engineer burnished the warmth of the playing and found the depth in the room. For a largely unplugged project, its presence is undeniable.
"I played an acoustic show at the Ryman Auditorium," STAIND's founder/frontman remembers, "and Scott Borchetta, the head of my label, had never seen me like that. When we were done, he came backstage and said, 'You need to do a record like that.' I'd never really thought about it, but once he planted the seed..."
"I didn't have a master plan, just these songs that I'd been writing with friends. I'd never really co-written in all my years of being an artist. Sometimes writing with somebody else dials you even more into yourself, or more the reality that's all of us. And with the world being such a mess, I figured 'frayed at both ends' sounds about right. No matter who you are or what you believe, I think we all feel like the knot's coming undone."
"Frayed At Both Ends" track listing:
01. Again (Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean, David Lee Murphy)
02. Goodbye Town (Aaron Lewis, Randy Montana)
03. Everybody Talks To God (Craig Monday, Chris Wallin)
04. Am I The Only One (Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean, Jeffrey Steele)
05. Kill Me Like You Love Me (Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean, Dan Tyminiski, Chris Wallin)
06. Pull Me Under (Aaron Lewis)
07. Life Behind Bars (Aaron Lewis, Josh Hogue, Matt McGinn)
08. Waiting There For Me (Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean, Dan Tyminiski, Chris Wallin)
09. They Call Me Doc (featuring CreatiVets, Vince Gill, Dan Tyminiski) (Shaun Bott, Richard Casper, Brian Carper, Jourdan Walker, Johnny McGuire)
10. Get What You Get (Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean, Dan Tyminiski)
11. Sticks And Stones (Aaron Lewis, Paul Barber, Matt McGinn)
12. One In The Same (Aaron Lewis, Trent Tomlinson)
13. Someone (Aaron Lewis, Paul Barber, Matt McGinn)