Even though country recordings are climbing the pop charts the way rock releases used to, there are still significant differences between the expectations folks have for rock stars and the way things work over in Nashville.
For instance, when a rock or R&B artist takes a couple years to complete an album, nobody gives it a second thought. Heck, a five year wait for a Bruce Springsteen or Def Leppard album is almost considered normal. In country circles, however, any album that takes more than a year to make is immediately marked "overdue," and that posed something of a problem for Clint Black's third album, "The Hard Way."
"It was almost two years between releases for me, and in country music that's unheard of," he says over the phone from a tour stop in Huntington, W.Va. "Everybody always goes every 12 months like clockwork, and even my second album was 14 months after the first."
Does he wish he'd worked faster? Not really. "In a way, I wish I'd have had it out sooner," he admits. "But in other ways I'm glad I didn't. If I would have had it out when I should have had it out by industry standards, it wouldn't have been the record it is. So I just took my time, and did it the way I wanted to do it."
In other words, he did it the hard way.
But as far as Black is concerned, if an album isn't worth doing right, it isn't worth doing at all. And that's why, though he's certainly pleased by the explosion in popularity for country music -- a boom, by the way, which his "Killin' Time" helped spark -- he has no interest in merely riding the latest trends.
"Somebody told me you really have to stay current, and be out there, and have 'product' out," he says, his low, laconic voice tinged with doubt. "Somebody else told me that if you put the right things into your records, then that's not true."
What does he think? "I don't think anybody's really written the book on country music," he says. "But I would like to think that if you're working on something and you're doing it right, then you can take your time."
Of course, there have been some suggestions that the singer has been, er, distracted by his marriage to TV star Lisa Hartman. Even Black admits that, in the overall scheme of things, he puts his home life first. "I'm probably more excited about being married than about having the record out," he says, chuckling.
Still, what Black wants most is to make albums that endure, and that's really why "The Hard Way" took so long to make. "The thing that I respected the most about records by the Eagles or Loggins and Messina was that 10 years later, I was still discovering interesting things musically in the record that I hadn't caught before," he says. "So the whole purpose of taking my time and doing this album 'the hard way' was that I'd like for people, 10 years from now, to still be recognizing things that they never heard before.
"What I was trying to do was make it obvious enough in the sense that the lyric hits the nail on the head, and the instrumentation flicks a hook," he continues. "But if you listen long enough, you'll discover something different. In 'The Hard Way,' there's a cabassa that comes in. Naturally, people will think that it's a high-hat. But in time, if somebody's paying attention and knows what they're listening, then they'll realize that there's something else happening there."
And if it strikes some people as funny that Black would be less concerned with stardom than with the relative merits of the high-hat versus the cabassa, well, that's fine with him.
"The reason I got into this business was to make records and be on the radio and go out and perform concerts," he says. "It all starts with music. If I don't take the time to do the music, then I'm not going to be satisfied, and maybe the listeners aren't going to be satisfied.
"If I do take the time, at least I'll be satisfied. And if time passes and I'm forgotten and nobody listens to my records anymore, at least I'll know that I did the right thing for my music."
When: Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Where: The Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia.
Tickets: $22.50 for pavilion seating, $16.50 lawn.
Call: (410) 730-2424 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.