When Don Henley was a boy growing up in rural Texas, he used to listen to country greats like Hank Williams and George Jones on the legendary Louisiana Hayride radio show. For Cass County, his first solo album in 15 years, Henley went back to those roots, recording in Nashville with singing partners like Mick Jagger, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert and Alison Krauss. “I got people whose voices move me, people whose music I respect,” says Henley. “They’re real singers who can really get the job done.”
Henley wrote songs for the album during the 160-mile drive between Dallas and his tiny hometown of Linden in Cass County, Texas, drawing inspiration from a landscape he describes as “where the Old South meets the West.” Co-produced by former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, the songs stretch from country and blues to rock and Americana, the kind of organic blend he’s specialized in since the Eagles’ early days.
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Henley spent five years on Cass County, recording in Dallas and Orlando as well as Nashville. Henley, Jagger and Lambert mix voices on “Bramble Rose,” originally by singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, and there are hints of the Eagles’ “Desperado” on the understated Haggard duet “The Cost of Living.” Parton appears on “When I Stop Dreaming,” a bittersweet 1955 classic by the Louvin Brothers. Henley had hoped to record with Jones, but that collaboration couldn’t be arranged before the iconic singer’s death in 2013. “I’ll always regret that,” says Henley.
Henley — who has toured steadily and recorded one studio album with the Eagles since the band re-formed in 1994 — enjoyed the process of getting back in the studio, and also spending time in Nashville. “They have the heart-attack food that I grew up on,” he says. And he doesn’t expect it’ll take another decade and a half before he releases his next album. “I write a little bit every day,” he says. “I still hope that my best work is ahead of me.”