Sometimes the best way for an artist to move forward is to take time to be still. There’s nothing that feeds a creative soul like taking time to soak up life and marinate in the moments that matter. Sara Evans embraced that philosophy, and now, six years after her last studio album, she’s back with Stronger, a landmark record filled with the kind of gutsy explorations on life and love that have made Evans one of the most compelling female vocalists of her generation.
If people are surprised to hear that Evans is back, it’s because it didn’t seem as though she’d ever gone away. She continued to tour and maintain close contact with her active fan base. She became an author, signing a three-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishers, which has already published two of her novels – The Sweet By and By and Softly and Tenderly. She released a greatest hits collection that included four new tunes, and she’s continually remained a favorite at country radio thanks to such hits as “Born to Fly,” “Suds in the Bucket,” “I Keep Looking,” “Perfect,” “No Place That Far” and “A Real Fine Place to Start.”
Away from the spotlight, much has happened to Evans since her last studio record. She weathered a high profile divorce, yet focused on her three children, took time to heal and found love again with football-star-turned-sportscaster Jay Barker. They married, and Evans moved from Nashville to Birmingham, AL, devoting the last few years to happily focusing on home and their blended family of seven children. “I cannot believe it’s been six years,” she says of her self-imposed hiatus. “In so many ways, I feel like I’m just beginning. I really and truly do. I feel like I’m just starting my life, my career, and there’s nothing that I can’t do. I’m definitely more confident now than I’ve ever been in my life.”
That confidence informs the album’s lead single, “A Little Bit Stronger,” a portrait of a survivor that carries an empowering message. The song has quickly become one of the most successful singles in Evans’ career, approaching the half-million digital sales mark even before the release of her album. “‘A Little Bit Stronger’ is definitely something that I can relate to, and everyone else can, too,” Evans says of the song, penned by Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laird and Hillary Scott. “Time really does heal everything. You come out on the other side, and you always are stronger from it.”
Though Evans readily admits she’s the happiest she’s ever been in her life, her new album is a diverse collection of songs that don’t represent a singular season. “I honestly have to say that very little of this album is autobiographical,” Evans says, “because I really separate my personal life from my artistic life and my professional life. I could be going through a horrible, horrible day, but I could still go and write a happy song. I don’t have to write about what I’m going through. I like to write about something I saw in a movie or something that I heard a friend say or something that I saw on the news. I can put myself into a song. It doesn’t have to be about me in order for me to be passionate about it.”
Though she’s occasionally taken the confessional approach to writing – best exemplified by her autobiographical hit “Born to Fly,” which is reinvented on Stronger with a spirited bluegrass twist – Evans generally takes an observational approach, and it serves her well on her new collection. “What That Drink Cost Me” is a heartbreaking ballad about a woman who loses her husband to alcohol. Co-written with her brother Matt and producer Nathan Chapman, the song is a classic country weeper that gives Evans a chance to reveal the full emotional range of her powerful voice.