John Anderson teams up with Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for songs of 'healing and faith'
On his first studio record in five years, John Anderson sings about vanishing years and an unclear future.
His rich, traveled voice — the same that brought 1990s hit "Seminole Wind" and "Money In The Bank" — asks "What makes a man keep chasing down a dream?" and assures listeners that he's taking time to celebrate his blessings.
Why's he staring down mortality in these songs?
"I didn't have anything else on my mind other than trying to get well and healing and faith and being better and being thankful for things," Anderson, age 65, said via phone last week from his farm in Smithville, Tennessee, about an hour east of Nashville.
"You don't challenge worse, either," he added. "People say, 'Oh, it can't get any worse.' Yes it can. Be careful."
Last week, Anderson released "Years," a reflective 10-song collection co-written by the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member and produced by The Black Keys' frontman Dan Auerbach with Johnny Cash collaborator David Ferguson. The album released via Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound label.
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Anderson connected with Auerbach and Ferguson about a year-and-a-half after a series of "in-the-hospital-sick" health issues — a benign tumor, heart problems and severe hearing loss among them — took Anderson off the road and out of the studio. Unaware of Anderson's condition, Auerbach said the two connected via Jeremy Tepper, program director at SiriusXM's Outlaw Country channel.
"It was me and Fergie, we were just talking about how much we like John and what a great voice he had," Auerbach said. "We were just wondering what he was up to."
Anderson started feeling "a lot better" around the time Auerbach reached out. The group agreed to meet for a writing session, Anderson said — maybe cut some demos for the young artists on Easy Eye, a fast-growing 真人百家家乐官网网站home for standout artists in soul, country and rock 'n' roll.
They wrote about four songs on the first day.
"At the end of the day, (they) said, 'What're you doin' tomorrow?'" To which Anderson replied, "Not a whole lot that would stop me from doin' this again."
But, as Anderson worked to gain his hearing strength back, he wasn't yet thinking about cutting the songs for himself.
After the third day of writing, Auerbach approached him about turning the session into a record. They settled on cutting demos, Anderson said, which soon graduated to studio time for a full-length.
Tenured Nashville songwriters Joe Allen, Pat McLaughlin and Paul Overstreet joined in co-writing songs for "Years."
"I was getting strong, my hearing was coming back and Dan said, 'I'mma set a studio date,'" Anderson said.
The Hall of Famer had been riding captain's chair for most of his career, co-producing or producing each album since the early 1980s. And he'd seen enough of how Auerbach and Ferguson work to trust the album's sonic direction. All Anderson needed to do what show up and sing.
But, at the time, the group wasn't sure if Anderson would be able to hear in headphones ("It's hard enough to hear in headphones," Auerbach explained, "they're awkward") or outright sing.
Spoiler: He thoroughly delivered.
"As soon as we started and he started singing, he was perfectly on pitch," Auerbach said. "It was John Anderson. It was incredible."
There was one problem, though.
"We did it so quick that it almost didn't last long enough," Anderson quipped, adding, "It was a real healing experience."
With his warming baritone — familiar to four decades of country music listeners— "Years" plays like a soundtrack to creative deliverance; sincere messages that often sounds resilient and at times tender-hearted, each carrying a bit of "spirit, faith and healing," Anderson said.
On the album's standout title track, he sings: "Those years/ Look around/ Up and down/ They're nowhere to be found/ Like the wind/ Old friends/ They come and go again/ Don't look back in sorrow/ Just hope you see tomorrow."
As Auerbach described the sessions: "It was like he just was ready to talk about that stuff. We just let it flow, ya know? You didn't really think about it so much. That's what was on our mind."
Anderson said at one point "Years" may be his last record, but now that may not be the case. Before COVID-19 halted touring, he returned to the road for Blake Shelton's "Friends and Heroes" area tour.
Shelton sings a duet with Anderson on the new album, "Tuesday I'll Be Gone."
He's written "several new songs" since the Easy Eye sessions wrapped in 2018 and wants to tour "as quick as anyone's able" after the pandemic subsides.
Or, in his words, "I'm still hanging on. I don't know if I stuck around, but I'm still trying to hang in there."