For the first time in his career, singer-songwriter Don Henley has a Number One solo album, as his Cass County LP debuts at Number One on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart. Henley’s first solo effort since 2000’s Inside Job sold more than 87,000 units in its first week of release, according to Nielsen Music. Produced by Henley and Stan Lynch, who also co-wrote 11 of the songs on the album, Cass County features guest appearances from Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert, Trisha Yearwood, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Mick Jagger. The album is named for the northeast Texas area where Henley was raised, in the community of Linden. A sense of community has, in fact, always been important to the musician and activist.
“Rock & roll has always been associated with rebellion, but I think rock & roll, country music and all kinds of music have always had a role to play in terms of creating community,” Henley tells Rolling Stone Country. “Music has more to do with creating community than it does rebellion. It’s one of our greatest exports. It crosses political, ethnical and religious boundaries and it brings people together, so that’s why I think it’s more important than ever that we focus more on the quality of the music we’re making in this country and the message that we’re sending to the rest of the world.”
Recorded in Nashville and also in Dallas, where Henley lives with his wife and three teenage children, Cass County took several years to complete, due to the heavy tour schedule with the Eagles, the iconic band with which the singer (and drummer) has scored several chart-topping and multi-platinum-selling albums. The new project is often referred to as the rocker’s “country” album, and while he doesn’t reject that label, Henley says much of it fits more neatly into the Americana format. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to assessing the current state of mainstream country music.
“I don’t recognize country music anymore,” Henley says. “The bar is not very high right now. I’m not naming any names. I’m just saying the bar isn’t very high right now. [There is] a lot of bad songwriting going on, really sloppy stuff. Not that country music is supposed to be an intellectual exercise, but it could be better than it is. It could have more meat to it than it has currently got.”
On Thursday, October 8th, Henley will perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Later this month, on October 24th, he’ll make his debut on the long-running Austin City Limits. He’s currently on tour, with singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin serving as opening act. The trek includes several California stops and also reaches Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on October 18th.