VISALIA – If it sounds like Aaron Lewis is long past defending his country music pedigree, that would be a correct assessment. Lewis would prefer the music speak for itself and, with the release of “Sinner,” Lewis’ stunning Dot Records follow-up to his groundbreaking full-length solo debut The Road in 2012, any would-be detractors will be pretty much out of ammo.
Lewis, however, is not. “Sinner” blasts through today’s country music doldrums like a shot of 100-proof whiskey, with the singer making zero compromises with either himself or the restrictions of a format that seems to have abandoned its rougher tendencies in favor of pop and ’70s rock inclinations largely lacking in grit.
“I’d like to think that “Sinner” is a newer take on classic, traditional outlaw country, Waylon and Merle and Willie, and Hank Jr. and Johnny Cash and all that stuff,” says Lewis. “That was the music I heard as a kid, and that’s the country music that permeated my soul and stuck with me my whole life.”
Lewis admits he “didn’t really pay attention to any of the country music in between” that early Outlaw exposure and his emergence as a new voice for the genre with the release of “Country Boy” on the Town Line EP in 2011. “I was too busy going down the road of one day ending up being in a rock band, and revolting against the music I was basically force-fed as a kid,” he says. “I finally came around full circle, and this music crept back into my life. My plumber at the time bet me that I wouldn’t write a country song, so I sat down and wrote ‘Country Boy,’ and the rest is history.”
As front man for one of modern rock’s most successful bands in Staind, Lewis admits his detour into the Country world has been met with mixed reactions. “I have definitely dealt with some of the old guard questioning my commitment to the genre, questioning how much of this might be a toe-dipping in the water to see what the temperature is,” he says. “I had, and still have, a very established career in the rock world, and as much as that has been a blessing in some ways, it has been a curse in others in trying to be looked at as somebody who is taking this seriously and isn’t just trying to go where the money is.’
If “Country Boy,” with it’s swaggering bravado, was the opening salvo, the 11 songs on “Sinner” herald a man who admits—and often deeply regrets—his personal shortcomings, yet offers no excuses. “This is an album of acknowledgement, admittance, moments of self-awareness,” he says. “It has been a pretty trying time in my life over the past few years, and these songs are what have come of it. At the risk of sounding cliché, my music has always been therapeutic for me.”
Produced by country legend Buddy Cannon (whose production resume boasts masterpieces with artists ranging from Kenny Chesney and George Strait to Merle Haggard and George Jones), and recorded over 16 intense hours at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, “Sinner” captures what was going on in Lewis’ head at this point in his life; laid back with a soundtrack that harkens back to the country genre’s most honest and musically adventurous artists.
Written on tour and during infrequent down times over the past two years, and road-tested in front of fans that basically served as judge and jury for inclusion on the record, the songs on “Sinner” together alternate between swagger and vulnerability, biting humor and fierce independence.
The result is an album that is “as raw and as real and as un-messed with as it could possibly be,” according to Lewis, with the energy of a “band” record and an introspective tone that completely reflects the state of mind of Aaron Lewis.
Lewis will perform songs from “Sinner” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11 at the Visalia Fox Theater, 300 Main St. in Visalia. Tickets range from $44 to $67 and can be purchased online at www.foxvisalia.org.