Collin Raye can not help but notice the cruel irony. “As fate would have it,” laughs the 60-year-old singer, “I’m releasing my first album [of all-new material] in ten years, and it has to happen now, during a global pandemic.” The album, titled SCARS, is being released on November 20th, and actually marks Raye’s first album of new songs since 2009’s Never Going Back.
For this album, Raye wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 14 tracks, and a few selections, including the title cut and “I’ve Got a Lot to Drink About,” seem well applicable to the current world situation. But in reality, they were written well before the words “COVID-19” became part of our everyday lexicon. The title track “Scars,” written by Collin’s brother Scotty Wray and Tony Ramey, goes back about 20 years, as Raye points out. He wanted to cut it for his record label at the time, but the company execs gave him the thumbs-down. “The label said that this just doesn’t sound like you,” Raye recalls, more matter-of-factly than resentful. “It’s too deep, too wordy. There was always that wall I was running into.”
The song does deal with fairly harsh realities, delving into the wounds, both emotional and physical, that everyone has endured in life. ‘Some are deep, some are not/Some never hurt at all/Some hurt a lot,’ the opening lines remind us. Perhaps the label balked at the subject matter, presuming it too “down” for the listener. But Raye had a history of exploring social issues, for instance, taking the song “Little Rock,” a song about alcoholism, to the No. 2 spot in 1994. Still, the label didn’t budge, but Raye hung onto “Scars” in hopes of one day recording it for himself. “This time, I said we’re going to cut it,” Raye tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Scotty wrote it for me to record.”
For a little extra enhancement, Raye brought in Miranda Lambert as a guest vocalist on “Scars.” As many of Lambert’s fans know, Scotty Wray has been the guitarist in her band for a number of years and the two have written songs together. “Miranda has performed that song and she has always loved it,” Raye notes. “I told her I would be honored if she would sing on it for this album. She gave it a little element of coolness.”
So, without any label interference, Raye finally got to scratch that 20-year itch. And overall, he’s made the record that he’ll proclaim he’s always wanted. Easy to see why. Producer David Ferguson handed him the reins, and gave him total control in selecting the songs and interpreting them in whatever style struck his artistic bone. “This album is more of an Americana record,” Raye muses. “To me, that means no rules. You have freedom in the styles you want to do. The album contains several styles – there’s rock, folk, country, many different things that I like. That’s why I say that this is the most artistic record I’ve ever been a part of.”
During his nearly-30-year-career, Raye has always been among the more loquacious interview subjects, forever endearing himself to the country music media. He loves to recall the small but fascinating details, particularly when describing a song’s history. One selection from SCARS, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Bone,” comes with an interesting bit of back story, which Raye enthusiastically shares.
“I wrote that in about 30 minutes,” Raye begins. “It’s an extremely autobiographical song, about my musical journey. The first memory I have about performing is singing that Buck Owens song, ‘My Heart Skips a Beat,’ with my brother, when we were growing up in Arkansas. As we got older, we discovered rock and that was a life-changing thing. My brother and I went to a lot of rock concerts, and we saw bands like Foghat and J. Geils Band and you could see the reaction of the girls in the audience. That became my musical background. We went to a lot of country shows, too,” Raye quickly adds. “I remember one with Conway Twitty, Charley Pride and many other acts. I was rooted in country but I mixed in elements of rock when I started performing. So, that’s kind of what ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Bone’ is all about.”
Raye and brother Scotty have continued to team up over the years. They collaborated on two songs for SCARS, “Young As We’re Ever Gonna Be” and “Mama Sure Could Sing.” Raye recalls that “Young As We’re Ever Gonna Be” took shape in the early 2000s, but with a different tempo. “We wrote it as a Springsteen-type rocker,” he says. “But when I brought it in for this project, David [Ferguson] slowed it down a little. I think that made the song more poignant and more relatable.” Raye adds that this was another tune that he wanted to record earlier in his career, but now realizes that the wait will ultimately prove worthwhile. “At the time, I might have been too young to make it believable,” Raye explains.
In keeping with the family affair theme, Raye also includes a co-write with his daughter Brittany, “Never Going Back There Again.” which Raye believes was written in the late 2000s. “I loved that song,” Raye says, “but it needed a new treatment. We sort of took it in a different direction.” Raye and his son Jacob co-wrote “Chasing Renee,” which is also on the project.
Additional guest appearances round out the record, with Vince Gill lending his unmistakable voice to “Rodeo Girl” and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys providing his always-tasteful guitar playing on several tracks. It’s not the first time that Gill has contributed to one of Raye’s recordings. Back in 1991, he sang on Raye’s debut single, “All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory),” which hit the Top 30. “Vince was just starting to explode at that time,” Raye says. “It was cool having him back for ‘Rodeo Girl,’ which is a real Western song. He made it sort of a full circle moment in my career.” Raye lets go a slight chuckle before adding, “We’re both tenors, but he can still get above me on some of those high notes.”
Due to the effects and restrictions of COVID-19, Raye figures he’s lost around 80 concert dates this year. “Many of those, we’ll be able to catch back up in 2021,” he says in an optimistic tone. “I’ve been touring for 30 years and it seems strange to not be out on the road.” For now, he can take a great deal of solace in the new album. “I’m excited to have this out,” Raye declares. “This really is the record that I’ve dreamed of making my entire career.”