Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Country star's muses spark creative fuses

Keith Urban explores variety of styles on first new album in three years

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NASHVILLE -- Keith Urban didn't need to change a thing.

With an enviable consistency, the American Idol judge remains a platinum-selling, arena-filling guitar slinger after spinning hits for 15 years -- not to mention the movie-star wife and the Dorian Gray good looks. Yet when it came time to record his latest album, Urban decided to alter the formula even as he reached new peaks in popularity.

The deluxe version of Urban's new album, Fuse, is stuffed with 16 songs recorded with eight producers from widely different backgrounds. There are entries from Urban's longtime collaborator, country hit machine Dann Huff, but also tracks from a menagerie that includes rock and rap mainstay Mike Elizondo, Nashville maverick Jay Joyce, Norwegian hitmakers Stargate, Taylor Swift collaborator Nathan Chapman and rocker Butch Walker.

"I felt like an air traffic controller trying to land 16 planes," Urban said.

Getting everything down on the tarmac took the 45-year-old Australian a year longer than expected. It's been three years since Urban released his last album, and he's long since missed the perfect marketing window his first year on Idol provided. He initially intended to meet with a large group, then settled on a single producer. Things got out of hand as Urban began to see the possibilities.

"As I started working with different people, they'd bring out different things in me," Urban said. "I'd play different for Butch Walker than I would for Dann Huff. I'd sing a little different for Stargate than I would for Jay Joyce. So I thought, 'Let's just keep going on this a little longer."'

Urban's seventh album still sounds very much like a Keith Urban album. He said his goal wasn't to have Walker write a rock song, but to meld sounds and ideas to update and diversify his music.

"I realize now, particularly after this journey, apparently I love hokey songs. I love choruses. I love guitar riffs. I love particular grooves and rhythms and I like them being prominent. I love acoustic instrumentation fused with electronic-type instruments. I like ballads. I like rockers. I like pop aspects. I like all that stuff. I just make my record -- it's all me. If I was to label it, I'd probably say it feels like a progressive crossover country album, 2014," Urban said.

Joyce said the country star called and dropped by his Nashville studio for a visit. He was drawn to Urban's energy, and like the singer, he loves to mix things up in the studio.

"It was different because he's really heavily involved, so it really was a lot of pushing and pulling each other to get to this place," said Joyce, who works with artists as diverse as Eric Church, Cage the Elephant and Amos Lee. "And I kind of admire anybody that's willing to push themselves musically and not try to think of it as this record is just a means to keep the train going, making the music be first. I think it's brave."

Urban agrees he could have taken the safe route, but didn't see his approach as much of a gamble. Fuse hits during one of the most creative points in Urban's life. He's finishing up a tour, preparing for a second season on Idol and is raising two young girls with his wife, Nicole Kidman.

The album is simply Urban embracing the possibilities life has presented him.

"I feel very alive and I find this to be a very alive album," he said.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 D8

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