Fort Worth resident and Texas-country flag-bearer Pat Green has spent the last 18 years creating some of this region's most popular and polarizing music. Green has more than a dozen national top 40 singles to his name, making him arguably the state's greatest musical success story of the past two decades. And he's ready to go from what has seemed to be the quietest stage to something considerably louder.
While Green has gone four years since his last proper album, 2009's overly polished What I'm For, his last album for BNA Records, he hasn't been as silent as the uninitiated observer might think. Last year saw the release of Songs We Wish We Had Written II, in which Green served up his interpretations of songs both beloved (Tom Petty's "Even the Losers") and obscure (Aaran Lee Tasjan's "Jesus on a Greyhound"). Aside from the tribute album, Green has also completed recording of the eagerly anticipated proper follow-up to What I'm For, tentatively entitled Home.
In addition to his recorded work, Green is an active player in the charitable organization bearing his name, the Pat Green Foundation, which aids other organizations helping those in need including orphans and military veterans. And Green has partnered with Free Range Concepts (Bowl and Barrel, Mutts Canine Cantina), and together they'll open The Rustic, a new music venue and restaurant this fall in Dallas that Green hopes will provide the area with its own version of Stubbs' Bar-B-Q in Austin.
So, while the airwaves haven't seen a blitzkrieg of new singles from Green recently, it's clear he's an artist looking for the right times and places to make his next move. Such calculated consideration is to be expected, given the pace of his evolution from bar-stool folkie to Gold Album-selling arena act. Today, he's a free agent musician with a new outlook and a finished album under his arm.
"The new album is finished," Green says over the phone as he drives to a meeting at the office of his foundation in Fort Worth. "And now we're in the process of figuring out what to do with it, to be completely frank. There are details about the relationship with the label that put out Songs We Wish We Had Written II [Sugar Hill Records] that, out of respect, I can't talk about just yet. There isn't any bad blood; we're just not sure what direction we want to go on that end of things."
While it's a tad surprising that an artist of his stature is label-less, it's not exactly a massive risk for Green. Since the mid-1990s explosion of Texas- and Oklahoma-based acts that target Greek Row gold over that of Music Row, the Texas country fan has proven to be hyper-loyal. Many of the artists who were playing small clubs with Green in the '90s, such as Jack Ingram and Cory Morrow, are still revered and enjoy elevated status when they play anywhere near a college town within 200 miles of the Red River.
A new company's logo isn't the only thing that will be different on Green's new record. For the first time in a very long time, Green made some changes to the in-studio personnel.
"What we have ready is a great album," he says. "I recorded it with my band, instead of using studio musicians, which I've never really done before on my studio albums. Creatively speaking, having a new group of faces caused me to dig deeper instead of being comfortable with the old bag of tricks. This time, I got into the studio with my band, and I felt that everyone really stretched out and worked really well together. I'm a great fan of collaboration, especially when it's such a high caliber of talent involved."
Indeed, the theme of collaboration, and the quality of specific collaborators, will be perhaps the hottest topic when it comes to the discussion of Green's forthcoming record.
"We've got Lyle Lovett on a track," Green says. "We've also got Sheryl Crow and Delbert McClinton on some tracks and even Marc Broussard is on the record. It's not a duets record, but when you're sitting with a guy like Lyle, and he agrees to participate in the recording, you take advantage of it immediately."
As with Green's earlier albums, the overall sonic vibe will be intricately dissected. It has been a regular practice for Green's fans since his song "Wave on Wave" became a chart success, effectively cementing his place in the mainstream of the country music universe. Green's never denied that albums such as 2004's Lucky Ones or 2006's Cannonball are a different breed of recording than his early, beloved albums George's Bar, Dancehall Dreamer and Carry On are. He purposely took his work into new and perhaps unusual directions, using producers who had worked with John Mellancamp and Hootie and the Blowfish (Don Gehan) and even Rascall Flatts (Dan Huff).
While Green hasn't lost any sleep over the increased gloss and greater adherence to a certain song-making formula on his records for Universal and BNA, he admits to feeling the benefits to some freedom he hadn't had in a while.
"I feel like all of my records have sounded like me," he says. "There's no doubt about it, when you're making records with Dan Huff, you know exactly how the record is going to sound and the production will leave nothing rough around the edges, nothing dangling. Also, when you're making records for the big labels, there's always pressure to produce a hit, and I didn't feel that pressure with this new record. I felt really calm as I put this one together."
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For the past decade, Green has felt the pressure of printing money for his label bosses, and he admits that he's had his share of dejection. He points to the way in which Universal/Republic mishandled the radio promotion of his 2005 single "Baby Doll," which stalled at 19 on the Billboard chart, though Green is convinced it was destined to ascend higher. Still, that sting doesn't hurt him as much as it helps him appreciate the opportunities laid before him now.
"I mean, if there weren't any disappointments in life, how would we know what the good stuff is, you know?"
Whatever the path that's led Green to the music on Home, it's one that has him feeling comfortable outside the polish of a major label production.
"I wouldn't call the songs retro, but the new mix is more ragged and threadbare than what I've done in the more recent past," he says. "Starting from there, I knew this record would be different."