Hank Williams did it. So did the Louvin Brothers. Even Bob Dylan. But nowadays — save for the frequent shout-out to Jesus or thematic thread in a Carrie Underwood song — it’s not quite so popular to sing overtly about your faith in modern country music. Just don’t tell that to Craig Campbell, who’s never been particularly concerned about toning down his neo-traditionalist twang or his beliefs. The Georgia native certainly doesn’t hold back on his new single, “Outskirts of Heaven,” a ballad with a sweeping, Nineties-style twang. (Watch the song’s lyric-video premiere above.)
“I was laying in bed, thinking about heaven one night,” Campbell tells Rolling Stone Country about the evening he came up with the idea for “Outskirts of Heaven.” “What I have been taught about heaven is all pearly gates and golden streets — very big-city. And it hit me that that is the absolute opposite of where I grew up. So I had this idea to write a song about how, maybe, when I get to heaven I want to live in the outskirts, and how I can write this song as a request to the good lord. Maybe he’ll set aside me a few acres on the outside of town for me.”
Written with Dave Turnbull, “Outskirts of Heaven” is another preview of the material Campbell has been concocting in his new relationship with Red Bow Records, following 2015’s “Tomorrow, Tonight.” First known for his equally poignant “Family Man,” Campbell’s since had to weather his original label shuttering, which put a stall on a career that had garnered him comparisons to Alan Jackson and Clint Black. But now he’s back in the studio, collecting material for his next album. And while he’s pleased that the country radio dial is turning back toward the traditional sound that he grew up loving in small-town Georgia, he also never saw a problem with any direction the genre may have been headed.
“I’ve never been un-pleased with it,” he says. “There are a lot of people upset with what’s on the radio, with everybody using the same ideas, but I feel like that’s what makes our genre great — nobody has defined or can define it. Though I do get particularly fired up when I hear somebody on the radio who leans more traditional, like Chris Stapleton or Mo Pitney.”
Touring through summer, Campbell is currently recording demos for his album and is constantly seeking out and writing new songs — 10 or 20 land in his inbox a week, he says. And he’s not censoring himself when it comes to including more tracks about faith, or dealing with his experience in the past few years shuffling between labels.
“That rocked my world, but I got through it,” he says. “And it might work its way into my music in an indirect kind of way, getting a new deal and having a new lease on life. I sing about what I know, and what I believe in.”