The true measure of an artist lies beyond the milestones and the hardware. Joe Nichols, of course, has plenty of both, but a legacy relies just as surely on an intangible that is just as surely a part of Joe's makeup--authenticity. Legends like George Jones and Merle Haggard have given Joe their public seal of approval, adding real luster to accomplishments that reflect the respect he has earned across the board:
--New artist awards from the Country Music Association, Billboard, Radio & Records, Music Row magazine and the Academy of Country Music, which jump-started his incredible career;
--Four Grammy nominations, a CMA Album of the Year nomination, and a New York Times Best-Albums-of-the-Year nod;
--Multiple RIAA platinum and gold albums and singles;
--And a stream of hits, including chart-toppers like "Brokenheartsville," "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," and "Gimmie That Girl," and Top Ten smashes like "The Impossible," "If Nobody Believed In You," "What's A Guy Gotta Do," "Size Matters," and "I'll Wait For You," that made all the rest possible.
All those accomplishments are fired by the passion for excellence Joe brings to what he does, and it's a passion the artist brings in spades to It's All Good, his sixth studio album and the follow-up to his well-received Greatest Hits project.
"Yes, this is about commercial success," he says, "but if you want to make something that lasts, it's about art too. I want to bring a traditional sound into 2011 and 2012, to keep it faithful and make sure we're still connecting with today's listener. On every album, we're looking for hit singles, but every time out I want to satisfy the artistic part of my soul too."
Joe has long been recognized as an artist who digs deep for songs that touch listeners' hearts and souls and yet who is not afraid to take the lighter side just as far as it will go. With Greatest Hits, he summed up a decade of success on both sides of that fence. Now, his follow-up takes Joe and his fans on the next part of the journey. For Joe's take on how that future looks, look no further than the project's title. "It's All Good as a title has got a deeply personal meaning to me," he says. "I've been through the ups and downs of life and I'm better at knowing what to hold onto. There was a lot of pain and suffering on my earlier albums. Sometimes it was in balance and sometimes there was an unhealthy amount. This one has a lot of love on it. It's got more of a fun and uplifting feel than any record in the past."
The CD's first single, "Take It Off," is a case in point, a bit of breezy summertime fun that became his fifteenth chart hit and a video that quickly passed a million good-time views. There is more fun in tunes like "This Ole Boy," about enjoying the luck of the draw when it comes to love, "No Truck, No Boat, No Girl," a "guy song" if there ever was one, and the title track, an easygoing nod to keeping an upbeat outlook. But, as is always the case with Joe, there is much more here. Love gets its due in "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Never Gonna Get Enough," nostalgia and regret in "Somebody's Mama," and the poignant and powerful "How I Wanna Go," a powerful album-closer with special meaning to Joe.
Throughout It's All Good, Joe shows himself again to be a true country artist, a singer in whom the genre's traditions, sounds and themes meet the future. It probably shouldn't be surprising, given Joe's roots in Rogers, Arkansas.
He grew up with his bank-teller mother, Robin, but spent time with his dad Mike, a long-haul trucker who played classic country at the local VFW. Riding with his dad over school breaks and watching him play on weekends instilled in Joe a love of Haggard, Jones, and Marty Robbins, among others. At 15, he determined to follow in his father's footsteps, and at 21, he was in Nashville, working any number of day jobs and singing at a BBQ and beer spot called Rippy's on Lower Broadway.
In 2001, Joe became the flagship artist on Universal South Records. By the next year, he was on top of the country singles charts, and "The Impossible" and "Brokenheartsville" amounted to a one-two debut that earned him Grammy nominations and a host of awards and established him as one of the genre's most promising young voices. Tours with Alan Jackson and Toby Keith allowed him to prove himself as a riveting live performer, and soon the aforementioned legends were weighing in on Joe's place as their heir apparent.
"It's a wonderful thing," says Joe, "for the legends, the guys who are my heroes, to give me any kind of props. For them to say, 'This guy's got something we like' makes me feel great, like I've done something important."
Along the way, his movie star looks and at-ease-with-the-world personality led him into new realms. He caught the eye of Broadway producers and recently hosted the ACM Honors show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The wide-ranging nature of his appeal led to a couple of tours of Australia, and his appreciation for the nation's service men and women took him to the Middle East.
Through the years, he established himself as one of country music's best judges of material. In addition to his hits, his albums are loaded with strong material--he recorded "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" long before Blake Shelton turned it into a smash. In fact, he says, "The one thing I see in looking at the greatest hits album is that it's incomplete. There's so much more I want to do and so much more I have done. There are a lot of songs that were never released as singles that mean a lot to me, a lot of really cool stuff that never got its due. Moving forward, I want to make sure the best stuff, the best moments I have, people are able to hear."
It is something his fans are looking forward to as well, and Joe is working to extend his legacy.
"We're always trying to put more pieces into the puzzle, to take more steps in the right direction," he says. "It's simple, really--put out good music, make fun videos, do great live shows, keep the visibility up, and pay attention to the business end. The bottom line, though, is one of the key things I've learned from my heroes--go into the studio and produce a quality product. Put in the time to do good work. At the end of the day, that's what they're going to remember."