Jimmy Fortune embraces two of his favorite themes on his just-released album, which is fittingly titled “God & Country.” The ex-Statler Brothers member, now enjoying a solid solo career, grew up on a balanced diet of gospel and country music, and is unwaveringly proud to be an American. He displays all of those passions on the new album, with his renditions of popular hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Garden” and patriotic tunes such as “The Battle of New Orleans” and a new song, “Meet Me at Arlington.” Also featured is a new rendition of The Statlers’ hit “More Than a Name on a Wall,” which Fortune wrote during his time with the award-winning group.
The album stands as a further collaboration between Fortune and his partnerships with gospel music great Bill Gaither and the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store corporation. The Gaither Music Group released Fortune’s recent albums “Jimmy Fortune Sings the Classics” and “Hits & Hymns.” The latter was sold at all Cracker Barrel locations. “That did really well,” notes Fortune, seated in the office of his Nashville publicist. “I was talking with Bill a few months ago and he said that he was getting ready for another project with me. He asked me, ‘Is there anything you want to do?’ I felt that with all the things that are going on in our country, why not do one called ‘God & Country.’ I wanted to do some hymns that I listened to when I was younger. There were some that I didn’t get to do on the previous one that people had been asking for. And then I thought about songs that built our country, like ‘God Bless America’ and ‘The Battle of New Orleans.’ The idea was not to change these songs, but more like, ‘How can we breathe new life into them?’ It was a very emotional project for me.”
That’s evident in Fortune’s stirring renderings of the album’s 14 selections, featuring his still-resonant tenor voice that graced Statler Brothers hits like “Elizabeth” and “My Only Love.” The voice is filled with emotion and power on an original number he wrote for the record with songwriter Dave Clark, “Meet Me at Arlington,” inspired by a true-life incident. A Gold Star mother, who had lost a child in combat, took issue with a college professor who apparently berated a student for wearring a Marine tee-shirt to class
“My good friend Dave had seen something on the news about this Gold Star mom,” Fortune begins. “She wasn’t angry at the professor but thought, ‘I just wish he could meet me at Arlington.’ The graves there at the cemetery represent those who have died for our freedom. That’s what that song is about.” The incident, states Fortune, is an all-too-common modern example of people not respecting the views of another, “We need love and understanding toward one another instead of all this division we’re having now,” he says, more matter-of-factly than angrily. “All this name calling really upsets me. I don’t understand the hatred that is out there.”
For someone raised in Virginia on gospel and traditional country, it is particularly galling to see the level of discontent that seems to pervade society. Today’s music, he feels, isn’t exactly helping the situation.
“The songs these days are missing the message of love,” Fortune says. “It’s all about drinking and partying and that’s what they’re throwing at our young people and making them think it’s glamorous. But that life can kill you. They need to think about what children are hearing in this music.” Fortune doesn’t imbibe for religious reasons, but actually has no issue with others who choose to drink. “There is nothing wrong with it if you are being responsible with it,” he says. “But I see young people all the time who are drinking to excess. They need to know there is a danger in that.”
Fans can hear Fortune spreading the word of love and understanding throughout the summer. “My tour schedule is getting full,” he smiles. “We are already booking into next year.” Like many of his peers, Fortune, now 64, is enjoying a resurgence in his career, with increased interest in his music. After the three principals in The Statler Brothers decided to retire in 2002, Fortune, who was much younger than the others, embarked on his solo career. He’s had considerable success, particularly with the “Hits & Hymns” album, which reached Top 10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart in 2015.
“It’s amazing to me that I am still creating new music,” Fortune sums up with a smile. “We’re still out there making a great living.” He’s especially pleased about the early reaction to “God & Country.” The album sold out on its first day at Cracker Barrel and the project is receiving rave reviews across the board. “The record was coming from a thankful heart,” Fotune says. “I have been able to enjoy the freedom I have in this country. And the songs on here are ones that impacted my life.”
Jimmy Fortune’s new album “God & Country” is available now through several outlets, including Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations. For more on Jimmy, visit his website and follow him on social media.