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Sara Evans’ new album, “Copy That,” is out, and there was a genuine sense of not just excitement, but surprise, in her voice when she began talking about the project in a recent phone interview.
“I’d have to say it’s probably, I mean, I hate to say this because I never want to sound insincere, but this could honestly be my favorite record I’ve ever done,” Evans said. “That says a lot because I’ve made nine albums now, but also I’ve written a lot of my own songs and they’ve all been my babies.”
Evans is referring to the fact that “Copy That” is made up of her versions of songs made famous by other artists. She realizes that artists commonly say each new album is the best one they’ve done.
She’s also aware that covers albums are sometimes dismissed as less important than albums of original material and less work-intensive to complete than albums of original material.
But clearly, “Copy That” is not meant to be the lesser of Evans’ nine previous studio albums and her 2014 album “At Christmas,” which she’s showcasing on this month’s Blue Christmas Tour, coming to the Five Flags Center in Dubuque on Friday night, Dec. 17, 2021.
What: Sara Evans' Blue Christmas Tour
Where: Five Flags Center, 405 Main St., Dubuque
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, 2021
Tickets: $40 to $86, fiveflagscenter.com/events/2021/sara-evans-at-christmas
Artist’s website: saraevans.com/
In addition to classic cuts of the album, like "Silent Night," "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," audiences also will hear new songs and new arrangements to lift up holiday spirits.
Evans and producer Jarrad K (Kritzstein) put plenty of thought and work into the new “Copy That” project, beginning with choosing the songs for the album.
“When it got down to it, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to pick the songs? This is way more stressful than I thought it was going to be, because the songs are endless,’” Evans said. “I knew we could probably only have somewhere between 10 and 15 songs.”
Evans decision to stick closely to the original versions of the songs — “That’s why I named the album ‘Copy That,’ ” Evans said — also meant a lot of meticulous work in making sure to emulate even the smallest details in the famous versions of the songs.
“(Jarrad K) was diligent about that. He really worked my tail off,” Evans said.
The musical relationship that developed between Evans and Jarrad K is one of the reasons “Copy That” became such a special experience for the singer. Evans discovered Jarrad K after listening to Ruston Kelly’s 2018 album, “Dying Star,” and was struck by the creative and intricate musical touches Jarrad K’s production work brought to the album.
Evans’ hunch that she would mesh musically with Jarrad K was spot on.
“We are literally kindred spirits. We are soul siblings, we are musical soul mates. And we had the best first meeting,” she said. “I just couldn’t stop ask him things like ‘Why did you do this on Ruston’s record?’ And ‘Where did you get the idea?’ I always tell people that we fell in love musically.”
What also made the “Copy That” project special was that it includes Evans’ 22-year-old son, Avery, as featured guitarist and backing vocals from daughters Olivia, 18, and Audrey, 17. The album also was part of a homecoming for Evans. She had spent the previous decade plus in Birmingham, Ala., where her husband, former University of Alabama star quarterback Jay Barker, has a radio show. But last year, she moved back to her former hometown of Nashville and has been exhilarated by living and working again in that vibrant music center.
Evans’ enthusiasm is apparent in the performances on “Copy That,” an album that gets a strong element of familiarity thanks to the faithful renditions of the songs. The choice of songs, however, has some surprises.
She includes a couple of country classics (Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) and some 1970s-era country tinged pop tunes (the Kenny Loggins/Stevie Nicks duet “Whenever I Call You Friend” and Poco’s “Crazy Love”) you might expect from Evans. But “Copy That” also boasts several seemingly left field choices, such as the Knack’s power-pop hit “My Sharona,” Dexys Midnight Runners’ Irish-tinged rouser “Come On Eileen” and the Pretenders’ bouncy “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”
The diversity of “Copy That” sends a very intentional message.
“I want people to realize that I’m so much more than just the country genre. And like when Spotify does like playlists concerning me, I don’t want to just be associated with Carrie Underwood or Luke Bryan or the current country,” Evans said. “I want to be known as an amazing singer and producer and musician, and not just Sara Evans, the country singer.”
Evans is beginning to filter songs from “Copy That” into her concerts. Of course, with a catalog that includes 20 charting singles, including five No. 1 country hits that during the early- to mid-2000s put her in the front ranks of the country scene, she has plenty of song choices for her shows.