Celebrating her seventh studio release, "Slow Me Down," Sara Evans shared a little bit of Nashville with her chosen hometown of Birmingham, Ala., for her album release party March 6. Hosted at the hip venue Iron City, Sara extended a unique invitation to fans to join her special night with 100 percent of the ticket proceeds to be donated to three special charities of her choosing: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Alabama and Alabama Forever.
Nashville Edge sat down with Sara one-on-one prior to show time to chat about the party and her new RCA album, out March 11. "It's the first time I've ever done [a release party] in my hometown," she shared. It was also the first time she opened a release party to fans. Typically an artist's album release is for press, radio and music industry insiders only, but Sara wanted her party to be "more than just 'look at me -- my new album, all about me.'" Instead, she wished to "make something of this."
Sara appeared onstage in a flowy, bell-sleeved, embellished blouse, tight leather leggings and black stiletto-heeled booties, with four white curtain-panels draped behind her, each featuring one bold black letter to spell out her first name.
Pink and purple lights pulsated as she opened her set with a No. 1 medley beginning with "Born to Fly." "Thank you so much," she screamed before going right into her next tune, a fan favorite from 2004, "Suds in the Bucket." "Everyone say 'yee haw'," Sara squealed. “A Real Fine Place to Start” directly followed. All eyes were on Sara and she commanded the stage.
Promoting "Slow Me Down" 15 years and five months after she landed her first No. 1 with "No Place That Far," Sara reflected on her seventh album. "It's unbelievable to me," she said. "The [then] president of RCA Records -- I went into his office and sang three songs for him, a live audition," she recalled. "He signed me to seven albums that day." Oh, and don’t worry that this is No. 7. "We renewed our contract," she said. "I can’t believe it's here. I can't believe it's the seventh one."
Birmingham Mayor William Bell, took the stage, channeling what he called his his "inner Charley Pride" to present Sara with a key to the city for her charity work. "On behalf of all the citizens here in this great region, we present to you this key to our city and the key to our heart for the great work that you do to help raise funds for St. Jude, the Children's Hospital and Alabama Forever," he said. Bell also envisioned future CMA awards for "Slow Me Down" in 2014, proudly predicting, “We know that you’re gonna be at the CMAs -- and it’s starting out right here in Birmingham, Ala."
Sara kicked off the debut of her new music with one of the three songs that she co-wrote on "Slow Me Down," titled "If I Run."
"I’m really glad that first song is done because that's the hardest song on the record and now I can just relax," said a relieved Sara before launching into "I Gotta Have You." "I think about [husband] Jay [Barker] every time I sing this song," she noted. "When I first heard it I thought that this describes the way I feel about him."
Mark Bright, producer of Sara's platinum 2005 "Real Fine Place" set, rejoined forces with her for "Slow Me Down."
"He is incredible, so sweet, so encouraging. Just a really, really great song guy," Sara told Nashville Edge. "If he says he doesn't like a song, then I usually just scrap it and not even argue with it. It's not that I haven't wanted to work with him since then , it's just really hard to get your schedules together and producers are so busy. I was very, very happy he could do it this time."
Of the 11 tracks on "Slow Me Down,” three are collaborations. Instead of performing each one, the singer played all three of those cuts over the venue's speakers while the stage lights dimmed and the atmosphere mellowed into an attentive listening audience.
"This is one of the most country songs that I've ever recorded," Sara said of "Better Off," which features Vince Gill, who also provided harmonies on her very first hit. Sara also teamed up with Isaac Slade from the Fray for "Can't Stop Loving You." And the third collaboration? "It's possibly one of my favorites that I've ever recorded in my career," she said, referring to her heartbreaking cover of "Not Over You" with the song's original artist, Gavin DeGraw.
"I was a fan of that song, so I decided just to cover it, just because I loved it," she said, noting that it is her favorite on the album and that it's DeGraw's best song. He was also recruited to sing harmony on Sara's rendition. "It's almost like he put more into my version than his," she exclusively shared with Nashville Edge. "He's so passionate on it. I love it, I want it to be the second single. That’s just such an undeniable song."
A Missouri native, Sara juggles her multi-platinum, global, award-winning career while being super mom in Birmingham to seven children. Yet, it was clear she's not blinded by the spotlight. "I can see my son Avery," she said onstage. "That's good 'cause I can keep and eye on him with all his friends. He's been on the road with me since the day he was born."
She revisited her fifth No. 1 single, "A Little Bit Stronger," as a sea of cell phones captured her every word. "This has been a really huge song for my career, it means a lot of things for me," she said.
Next, she debuted a handful more of her "Slow Me Down" tunes, which she had "never before played" and she kept printed lyrics on the stage floor just in case. The songs were "Revival," written by Radney Foster; "You Never Know," which she called her "darkest song"; and finally her current her single, the album's title track.
"One more thing, we do have an encore prepared, but we're going to pretend that we're really leaving, so be really loud because that makes me feel good," she teased.
Her encore was nothing short of incredible and also a complete surprise, as Sara tweaked Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man" into the female perspective "When You Were My Man." Then, Sara and a band member teamed up for "Just Give Me a Reason," originally recorded by P!nk and Nate Ruess, where the audience's sing-along almost overcame her performance onstage. "Let's do it," she said before red and blue strobe lights kicked off a high-energy finale of Neon Trees' "Everybody Talks." Sara waved and even reached down to sign an autograph without missing a beat. And with a curtsy, she was gone. If only we could have slowed her down.
The singer raised more than $40,000 for her three selected charities with the sold-out party's ticket sales. "Slow Me Down" will be released Tuesday, March 11. Order it here.