Gospel and country music have always been kindred musical genres. That strong creative connection is readily apparent on Jason Crabb’s new album Unexpected. The Grammy-winning gospel artist tapped Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus to produce the project and recruited Flatts lead vocalist Gary LeVox to join him on one of the album’s most compelling songs.
“It is a thrill to work with someone who is a friend and who is an amazing producer. Jay DeMarcus is brilliant,” Crabb enthusiastically tells Sounds Like Nashville. “He knows me and my voice and he works to get the best out of me. The wisdom and creativity he brings to the table just can’t be beat. It’s an honor to work with him.”
DeMarcus, who early in his career was in a Christian music duo called East to West, is equally complimentary of Crabb’s gifts. “Jason is one of the most talented, naturally gifted singers you’ll ever hear,” says DeMarcus, who previously produced six songs on Crabb’s 2013 Love is Stronger album. “It is an honor to be in the room with him, and watch what he does. Really, all you have to do is press record. It makes my job easy. Then you add Gary to mix, those two together? Forget it! I was like a kid in a candy store.”
LeVox joined Crabb on “You Chose to Be My Friend,” a song written by Jason’s father, legendary gospel songwriter Gerald Crabb. “I knew Jason’s dad loved that song and the main reason Jason wanted to cut it. I sure had to step up my game. A duet with Jason and one of his dad’s favorite songs? No pressure,” LeVox says with a grin. “I’m so proud of the way it turned out.”
Crabb says the duet with LeVox was a long time in the making. “For years we’ve said we were going to record a song together and it just never worked with our schedules,” Crabb shares. “I was in the studio with Jay listening to music for the album and I said ‘Gary’s gotta sing this!’ We talked to Gary, he was available and the rest is history. No one can sing a song like Gary LeVox and I am so happy to have him on this record.”
Crabb is a Christian music veteran who began singing with his family when he was in his teens. The Crabb Family became one of the most successful groups in Southern Gospel music, but disbanded in 2007 to pursue solo careers. Jason’s self-titled solo debut album won a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Southern/Country/Bluegrass Gospel Album. Crabb has also earned 21 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, including Male Vocalist and Artist of the Year.
In addition to working with DeMarcus and LeVox on Unexpected, his fifth solo album, Crabb also enlisted pop singer/former Pussycat Doll Kaya Jones to sing on “Let it Be Love” and he penned “Day One” with disco legend Gloria Gaynor, well known for the timeless hit “I Will Survive.” The two became friends thanks to social media. “There’s good and bad with social media. We all know that, but this is an example of a really, really good thing,” Crabb says with a big smile. “I was in New York City for a concert at Carnegie Hall and my publicist said, ‘Gloria Gaynor is tweeting/retweeting you on Twitter.’ I did not believe it was her at first because, you know, everyone is impersonated on Twitter. But, it was really her! I invited her to my concert that night and, of course, I asked her to sing with me. We’ve become great friends since then and we wrote this song together with Chris Stevens on one of her trips to Nashville. You’ll never meet a sweeter person than Gloria. She’s the queen of disco and she’s an icon, but she is truly one of my favorite people. I just love her.”
In addition to writing with Gaynor, Crabb co-wrote with many of Nashville’s top songwriters, among them Jimmy Yeary, Tony Wood, Kenna West and Ronnie Bowman. Crabb says watching the news and seeing the chaos going on in the world inspired some of the songs on Unexpected. “We are just called to love one another, help one another, lend a hand, and shut the door to hate,” he says. “Those are some of the things I just wanted to scream. How can we hate each other like this when we’re called to love? I felt like we were back peddling instead of moving forward as a country, as a people. We aren’t called to fix one another. We are just called to love one another.”
Family is another topic addressed on Unexpected. Crabb lives outside Nashville with his wife Shellye and two daughters. Though written by Michael Boggs, Neil Thrasher and Bryan White, the song “Short Are the Years” sounds like a page from Crabb’s journal as it talks about the busy lives of modern parents and how quickly the years sail by. “I’m more excited about that song than anything I’ve ever done in a long, long while. I have a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, both girls, and seems like yesterday I was bringing them home from the hospital,” says the proud father, who has also authored a series of children’s books. “Now they are 12 and 15-years-old and you look back and go, ‘Golly, how time flies!’”
Crabb is in the midst of a busy tour schedule promoting his new album, but will take time out on May 11 for a very special event. He will be inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame alongside this year’s other honorees Billy Ray Cyrus, bluegrass songbird Dale Ann Bradley, Grand Ole Opry star David “Stringbean” Akeman, Bobby Lewis and Jackie DeShannon. “I’m very thankful that my home state would recognize and honor me,” says Crabb, who hails from tiny Beaver Dam, KY. “It’s a blessing. I’m really overwhelmed.”
Over the years, Crabb has earned praise for his ability to sing any kind of music from soulful urban gospel to pop-flavored contemporary Christian and of course, his roots are in Southern Gospel, but country music has always been close to his heart. He’s had singles embraced by country radio such as “Somebody Like Me” and “Love is Stronger,” and he’s hoping country fans will enjoy the new music on Unexpected. “‘Short Are the Years’ is as country as country can be,” he says. “God has really blessed us because this record really crosses all genres. Jay helped me with that because Jay is a fan of all of that music too.”
Crabb is really excited about Unexpected and credits DeMarcus with helping him realize his vision for the album. “I absolutely love him. We have become like brothers. He has been so nice to me and doesn’t have to be,” Crabb says. “He doesn’t have to show me any attention at all, but he does. This is a man that has been a part of millions of records that have sold. He could just kick back and just take it easy from all the years he’s traveled on the road, but for some reason, in his heart he feels like he wants to be a part of my life and my ministry and music. I don’t know why, but I’m sure thankful.”