Aaron Lewis doubled down on his unfiltered take on a kind of country long-forgotten with Frayed At Both Ends. Stripped even further back, the project was built around songs the songwriter had written – for the first time with friends – and allowed the room to give the emotional charge and musicianship full rein. The result is an album that is the #1 selling album in America this week based on physical sales and digital downloads.
With a core band of Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year Tom Bukovac, Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony band leader Biff Watson and bluegrass award winner Seth Taylor, who joined Grammy-winning Dan Tyminski on acoustic and mandolin, dobroist Ben Kitterman, and supplemented with Sturgill Simpson vet Laur Joamets acoustic slide and baritone where needed and Jim Moose Brown on keyboards, Frayed was a real record capturing human interaction and a voice hailed by the Los Angeles Times for its “mournful baritone.”
“The players assembled are beyond the very best,” Lewis says. “To hear them in a room is so much more than just what they play, you feel the intentions and emotions of the songs. To strip things back this far is scary, but with players this good, it also turns into something thrilling.”
Having previously earned two No. 1 Billboard Country Album debuts, State Line and Sinner, the decision to slash everything back to the essence was a sonic decision predicated in large part by the songs he’d written. After 10 years in Nashville, having dedicated a large portion of his life country music, he wanted to cut to the core of what the music meant to him.
He’d also made enough friends, he’d started – organically – writing with Grammy-winner Tyminski, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famers David Lee Murphy and Jeffrey Steele, ACM Award winner Ira Dean and hard country writer Chris Wallin. Wallin’s “Everybody Talks To God,” 20 years without being recorded, was the performance for Lewis’ “Fox & Friends” appearance on Monday. Response to the guitar and string section performance took the song to #2 on the iTunes all-genre Songs chart and the album to #5 on Amazon’s physical sales chart.
“Great country songs prove life can be distilled down into 3- and 4-minute books and movies,” Lewis offers. “This is how people who need to work are actually living their lives. Mistakes get made, consequences happen, hearts get broken – and then you have to deal with that. Frayed, like a lot of the Merle Haggard records in the ‘80s, deals with those things. And ‘Everybody Talks To God’ suggests that no matter what you think, ultimately, and it’s what makes this song great, you’re going to speak to God.”
Having recorded with George Jones, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Mickey Raphael, the Cox Family and Ben Haggard, Lewis built a singular place in Nashville by absorbing his grandfather’s 8-tracks. As importantly, he’s now maintaining the space for adult music occupied by midcareer David Allan Coe, Hank Williams, Jr and Waylon Jennings.
Mixed by Chris Lord-Algae, the 5-time Grammy-winning engineer captured the warmth of what is becoming Lewis’ most successful tour – his Frayed At Both Ends: The Acoustic Tour — and left room to let the splinters and reckonings that once made country such a good place to drown one’s sorrows and figure out how to move on from the wreckage one creates stand out.