As the frontman of Cross Canadian Ragweed, Cody Canada spent years swirling Southern rock, Dustbowl country and roadhouse roots music into songs that celebrated the ups and downs of life in middle America. He was the poster boy for the Red Dirt movement, a proud outsider who could camp out in the upper reaches of the country charts — and sell more than a million copies of the band's albums, to boot — without playing by the rules of the Nashville machine. Even the band's own breakup bucked convention, with the guys deciding to throw in the towel after releasing four Top 10 records in a row.
Now, four years after Cross Canadian Ragweed's final gig, Canada is back with a particularly Ragweed-ish album from his new band, the Departed. Former solo artist Seth James, who shared the band's vocal and guitar duties with Canada during the Departed's first two albums, is out of the lineup, leaving Canada in full control once again. The result is HippieLovePunk, an album whose title reflects the three basic ingredients of Canada's songwriting catalog these days: tunes about getting along, getting it on and getting mad at whoever's trying to back you into a corner. Shot through with organ, harmonies and plenty of guitar muscle, it's a bigger, bolder, boomier version of the sound Canada's been creating for roughly two decades. [Listen to the Southern stomp 'n' strut of the album's lead single, "Inbetweener," below.]
"I think some of the things we did on the last record were a little out of my element," he told Rolling Stone Country during a recent tour stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas. "I wasn't leading. I know that sounds cocky, but I've been the leader for so long. When the Departed started, it was me and Seth sharing that role. We both got tired of that situation, and I think we were both ready to lead again. This record is back to a comfort zone for me. It's me writing the songs. It's me sharing my opinion. We've hit a few bumps in the road with this band because people have been wanting the Ragweed sound, and I think we're kind of getting back to that."
Many of the harder-hitting songs on HippieLovePunk were inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that rocked America in late 2012. Canada, a father of two boys, was terrified by the event.
"Most musicians live in a bubble," he explained. "You play a show, have a few cocktails, smoke some weed, wake up, repeat. You feel so protected and so safe until you turn on the news, and then you're scared. I've always been a literal writer, and I think having kids made me pay attention to what's happening in the world."
HippieLovePunk hits stores in January 2015. Meanwhile, the Departed will be on the road through Thanksgiving, with Canada filling in the gaps between full-band shows with a handful of solo gigs.