As is the case with life, chemistry is also important in the recording studio. On a recent afternoon at Nashville's Sound Stage Studio, it's obvious Craig Morgan and producer Byron Gallimore share great chemistry as they work on Morgan’s upcoming album for Black River Entertainment.
"We had three or four different people we were looking at, but Byron was the Number One choice," Morgan says, taking a break from recording vocals to talk to Rolling Stone Country. "His sound is fresh as anything that's on radio right now, and yet he still has that country flavor. He doesn't lose that and yet he's very modern and that's hard. Some guys that we looked at were too modern and too fresh. They didn't have enough personality in their sound and Byron's sound has personality so it was a no-brainer. It was just a matter of whether we could get him.”
Fortunately, Gallimore — who's worked with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Sugarland — was both available and interested. Morgan, who is co-producing the album, the follow-up to 2013's The Journey (Livin' Hits), admits he didn' take the decision to change producers lightly. "It was tough to make that decision because Phil [O'Donnell, a.k.a. "Philbilly"] and I have had so much success," he says of his longtime producer. "We never didn't have a hit song on an album, so it's like, 'Why would you change?' But he and I talked about it and in order for me to progress, I had to get outside of my comfort zone, and I did that by not working with someone I'd worked with for so long."
The first fruits of their collaboration to hit the airwaves is Morgan's new single "When I'm Gone," an up-tempo song about wringing the most out of life and leaving a positive legacy. "'When I'm Gone' truly, in my opinion, encompasses the way I want to live and when I'm gone, the way I want people to remember me," Morgan says. "I want people to smile when they come to my wake or funeral and they are hanging out. I hope they are all laughing and telling stories and sharing wonderful memories because it won’t be a sad thing when I'm gone. The only sad part will be for friends and family. It won't be sad for me." (Watch Morgan perform "When I'm Gone" on the Grand Ole Opry below.)
Morgan is excited for his fans to hear the rest of the songs on his next album, especially "Hearts I Leave Behind," which was previously recorded by former Navy Seal Pete Scobell in memory of American Sniper subject Chris Kyle. "I saw a YouTube version. It was toned down and we really picked it up because I felt like it's a positive message in this song, not a negative, and it's not a dark subject,” Morgan says. "For me, it's kind of like reading the Bible — you shouldn't feel despair. You should feel excitement and that's what this message is in this song for me."
In watching Scobell's version, Morgan says it was obvious the song would have special appeal to military families. "[Pete] cut it for Chris Kyle . . . Chris's wife Taya really liked this song," he says. "For them, it had a military message and I think it's definitely something that the military can relate to, but it's not just that. This song is bigger than that. It's bigger than one subject matter. It's bigger than one race. It's bigger than one country. To me this is 'We Are the World.'"
The record company has yet to set a release date for the album, but Morgan says it will likely be March or April. His original goal for the collection — which he feels like he's achieved — was to deliver an album of positive songs that would encourage people even when they were dealing with difficult topics. "I wanted to have a positive message. I'm a believer and I share my faith," he says. "I felt like if I could give him [God] some glory in this thing, somehow that he would reward us and if he didn't, it's okay too, but I felt like I'm supposed to do that. And I felt it more on this project. Without badgering or hammering anybody, I wanted just a positive message."