Nearly a decade and a half after he first came to America from Australia, Keith Urban has arrived in a major way as a global musical force. This accomplished singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has slowly but surely established himself as one of the most consistent and exciting talents not simply in country music, but in our music world as a whole.
A sense of steady artistic growth has been apparent since Urban's American debut as part of the country rock trio The Ranch back in 1997. There's been a series of increasingly acclaimed solo albums from 1999's Keith Urban, to 2002's Golden Road to 2004's Be Here, which topped Billboard's Top Country Album charts as well as hit #3 on the Billboard 200. Keith Urban and Golden Road, combined, produced 7 Top 5 Singles, including 4 #1s with sales of more than 4 million. Ultimately, Be Here, which went platinum in every country in which it was released, and four times platinum in the United States, would yield five smash singles ("Days Go By," "You're My Better Half," "Better Life" "Making Memories of Us" and "Tonight I Want To Cry"). Urban earned his first Grammy Award for Best Male Country Performance and the very prestigious Entertainer of the Year Award from the Country Music Association.
Anyone who imagined that the massive success of Be Here and the flurry of honors that followed it would lead Urban to rest on his laurels is in for a big, bold and rather beautiful surprise. Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing, a multi-textured work, which Urban co-produced with longtime collaborator Dann Huff, is already being lauded as the most ambitious, accomplished and intimate album in Urban's already impressive career.
Of Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing, Urban says, "It's just an accurate reflection of where I am now. I think it's the sound of being happy with my life and passionate about the music that I'm making." As for the album's intriguing title, Urban explains, "It's inspired by a great old movie called Love, Pain and the Whole Damned Thing. We just swapped the "Damned" for "Crazy,' and it gave the right sense of how the album feels and what it's all about. It's about Love, Pain and the whole crazy thing. It's about life. When the title came to me, it was obvious - it seemed to fit."
Recorded and written with key collaborators from previous recordings including producer Dann Huff and engineer Justin Niebank, Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing seems set to generate another string of hit songs. Yet each and every one of them feels exceptionally fresh. As Urban explains, "It's a lot of the same team as the last two records, but in a way it seems quite a bit on from the last record. I think it's because there is a sense of a feeling of a full heart here -- so much so that just playing music these days feels different to me. There is much more of a balance to my life, and music, than there has been in the past. If this album is reflective of anything, it's reflective of the peace that I feel now and the desire I have to keep reaching to try different things."
That sense of overflowing passion is at the heart of who Keith Urban is today. "I don't think back too much because I'm so focused on the now and on the future. I think of myself as a work in progress, so I'm always moving forward by my nature. I'm just grateful that I have the freedom to go and make the record that I've just made - big kudos to Capitol Records for believing in me and supporting that freedom."
Of his vision for the album, Urban explains, "What I try to make are records that have an ebb and flow, that you can listen to from top to bottom and that take you on a journey. The result is a record with a lot of diversity. It was also great to play a few more instruments this time around. For instance, when it comes to piano playing, I'm not an accomplished pianist, but that was the appeal of it for me - the texture without the technique." With Urban and Dann Huff producing, the album has no shortage of textures. "Dann's got a great sense of arrangement, and he's really gotten to know me after three records. He knows when to push and when to back off. He's also very creative in the studio, so I take more creative risks because I trust him."
Also making a major contribution to the album is David Campbell, who was responsible for the string arrangements and an unlikely choir arrangement that graces the introduction for "God Made Woman." For Urban, "It was fantastic with David. He's got a great quirky bent, but he also understands the majestic
approach to string arrangements."
One other notable guest is Ronnie Dunn of country superstars Brooks & Dunn, who appears on "Raise The Barn," an uplifting salute to those rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "I've always wanted to do a song with Ronnie and, strangely enough, he records all of his vocals in this old barn on his property. Needless to say, when we did it there was a whole lot of 'raising' going on."
As far as songwriting is concerned, Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing reflects a prolific time in Urban's career. "I found this house in Nashville that had a great room in the front of it, with windows all around and amazing views, here I could set up my studio. It was supposed to be the dining room, but I sacrificed that for the music. I just had the feeling I could write a lot of songs in that environment and as it turned almost all of the songs for this album were written there."
Now, Urban is ready to bring the songs to life onstage. "With the album completed, I can now see how there might have been something subconsciously at work in the creation of these songs. I think in the arena environment that we've been fortunate to find ourselves in, these songs are going to feel very much at home."
Asked if he's proud to be bringing so many people into the large world of country music, Keith Urban says, "If what I do encourages people to discover country music, including artists that I grew up listening to, then I'm grateful for the opportunity. I see it as a diverse genre, from the traditional to the contemporary. The point is that there is a lot of great music of all sorts out there to discover."
Ultimately, though, Urban's musical mission with Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing is much more personal than that. "I just want to be true to my music and share it," he explains, "I hope I've done that."