It’s a good time to be Joe Nichols. Baseball season is underway, and he’s at the top of the country singles charts. Both of them.
Joe’s current release, “Gimmie That Girl,” was hailed as the nation’s No. 1 country song by both Billboard and Mediabase this week, marking the first time he’s hit the top spot since “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” did it in 2005.
Joe got the news while he was inspecting his brand new tour bus on Monday, so it gave him a sense that he could actually afford the new purchase. As he tours the highways in that vehicle, Joe’s travelling down a creative road that was paved by some of his heroes, including Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley. And that’s a reason why his current album, Old Things New, is perfectly titled. He brings new life to those old sounds, though Joe’s haunted a bit by the power of those singers’ influence when he hears his own vocals.
“It’s hard to listen to myself and say, ‘Yeah, I owned that, and that’s me,’” Joe admits. “It’s really hard, ‘cause when I hear myself, I say, ‘Did I sing that like Merle Haggard? Did I sing that the way I would do it imitating him? Not just like he would do it, but did I do that trying to imitate him? Or did I do that trying to imitate Keith Whitley?’ Or just a random thought, ‘Is that really me? Is that really me?’”
Ultimately, when all the questions have been asked, Joe can take some satisfaction that he’s arrived at a place where he’s finding new shades of texture in a voice that was practically built to sing country music.
“There’s stuff [on this album] that doesn’t sound like any of the three of us — there’s stuff that doesn’t sound like me, doesn’t sound like Keith, and doesn’t like Merle,” Joe observes. “But it still comes out of me naturally. And there’s a lot of moments like that where I go, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I didn’t know I could do that. That’s really a neat song.’ I don’t know. It’s really strange with this album. It’s unlike anything I’ve been through — in large part because I’m in a different place mentally.”
That “different place” is a reference to the album’s status as Joe’s first since going through rehab for alcohol use. That makes the No. 1 with “Gimmie That Girl” all the more special, because it’s his first chart-topping title since changing his life. He hopes there are more to follow.