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Don Henley returns to country music for latest album release

By Tricia Despres | For the Sun-Times

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Don Henley admits that he does not know if he will ever record another country album or what his future with the Eagles looks like.

But he knows one thing.

At this time and at this moment, he feels comfortable.

And while that might never be an ideal place for a creative type best known for living life in the fast lane as part of the iconic band, Henley did find a sense of solace in the recording of “Cass County,” his first solo album in over 15 years and an album that brought him back to his country roots.

“I was probably more comfortable making this record than I have been at any time previously within music,” Henley said during a phone conversation before a recent tour stop. “The things that the music was based on were so familiar for me. It was about the things I grew up with and the songs that I heard in my dad’s car radio in the 1950s, when I would go to work with him in his 1952 Pontiac.”

But have no doubt – this is no nostalgia trip.

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DON HENLEY

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8

Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

Tickets: $50-$200

Info: thechicagotheatre.com

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“The past is a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live there.,” the 68-year-old Henley laughs. “This is about looking back on my life and giving a nod of respect to the music and the place that I came from.”

That place Henley is Linden, Texas, and it was the memories of growing up there that inspired a handful of the songs featured on the album. “I come from a little town that’s fading, just like a lot of small towns across the country,” says Henley, who recently received the Lifetime Achievement Trailblazer Award at the Americana Awards. “The population when I was growing up was 2,500 people, and now it’s down to 1,900 people and there are just no jobs over there. The timber industry is all that’s left.”

His often gravelly sounding voice drops for a moment, seeming to signal at a bit of nostalgia of times gone by. Yet, it’s that nostalgia that helped him decide who best to deliver some of the standout songs on the album. In fact, Henley sought out artists such as country legends Merle Haggard, Martina McBride and the incomparable Dolly Parton.

“[Dolly] walked in, dressed to the nines, and listened to the song [‘When I Stop Dreaming’],” Henley recalled. “It took her about two takes and that was it. She was gone.”

The recording of the album was split between Dallas and Nashville, and Henley says Music City has long been a creative place for him.

“I had been working on the album there quietly for five years now,” he said. “Nashville is expanding in terms of musical styles and in terms of the diversity of the music community as a whole. It’s not just a town for country music anymore. Nashville is not very different from where I come from. The culture there is very similar to the culture of northeast Texas where I grew up. I feel very comfortable there.”

But one thing Henley admits still having to get more comfortable with is finding himself on those big stages all alone and without his Eagles band mates from those classic songs such as “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Hotel California.”

“I only had about two weeks to catch my breath between the end of the Eagles tour and the beginning of this solo tour,” Henley says. “I have to sing every song, and the show is about two hours long, so keeping the old voice going is something I have to work hard at. But I’m starting to get used to it.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.