Jason Aldean, country's laid-back superstar

The Baltimore Sun

For the country singer Jason Aldean, success can be measured many ways: more than 8.5 million albums sold, 12 No. 1 hits on country radio and being named the 2013 Male Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music are a few examples that could work. Then there's the fact Aldean sold out Boston's Fenway Park last year faster than Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake.

But the easy-going 36-year-old from Macon, Ga., has a simpler view. Aldean says his Night Train Tour, which stops at Baltimore Arena on Saturday, is different from previous tours because he now has the resources to execute the concert experience he first envisioned.

"The more success you have, the more it allows you to go out and do things in your show that maybe you wanted to do before but you, honestly, couldn't afford to do it," Aldean said on the phone from a tour stop in Iowa a couple weeks ago. "It's a cool place to be, man, where you can dream up some of this stuff in your head, put it down on paper and then walk in a room one day and it's all there."

He was not kidding. The Night Train Tour, which began last February, features high-resolution video panels that take up 1,750 square feet and require more than 130 crew members to construct each day.

How does an artist — one who isn't nicknamed "The Boss" and who would be harder to identify by face than Timberlake for most — reach these heights? Aldean, born Jason Aldine Williams, points to his catalog, which spans five albums (from 2005's self-titled debut to 2012's "Night Train") and includes radio favorites "Dirt Road Anthem," "My Kinda Party" and "Big Green Tractor."

"I've always said it's about great songs," he said. "I feel like every song I put on a record could be a single at some point."

"Night Train," Aldean's fifth album, continues to produce singles, despite being released more than 15 months ago. In November, the singer released the record's fifth single, the up-tempo "When She Says Baby."

More hits means more scrutiny, even away from the microphone. Aldean learned the lesson the hard way in September 2012, when photos of the singer kissing Brittany Kerr, a one-time "American Idol" contestant and former NBA cheerleader, made their way online. The incident, which quickly became fodder for gossip magazines and TMZ, ultimately led Aldean to file for divorce last April from Jessica Ussery, the mother of his two daughters. The two had been together since high school.

Looking back on the controversy, Aldean remains puzzled by the amount of attention it received. It was an "eye-opening" reminder that he cannot live under the radar.

"All of a sudden I do something and it's front-page news and it's the talk of everything. I'm just like, 'Really? People are this interested in what I'm doing? What the hell?'" Aldean said. "It was one of those 'you're-not-in-Kansas-anymore' moments."

He is more comfortable discussing the future, which, at some point, includes the follow-up album to "Night Train." Aldean is tight-lipped on musical details, but says he plans to put a single out this summer before likely releasing the record in the fall.

"We still have to cut a few more songs. We still have to mix a lot of the stuff on the record," he said. "We still have a ways to go, but anytime I have off, man, we're working on that stuff, trying to get it done."

As fans await his sixth album, Aldean is already planning his next major concert run — the Burn It Down Tour, scheduled to kick off May 1 in Roanoke, Va. The tour will find Aldean, a huge baseball fan, performing at MLB stadiums across the country, including Nationals Park in Washington and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

After such extensive touring in support of "Night Train," it would be reasonable to expect Aldean to take a long break from the road. But he simply does not work that way.

"I love what I do. I love working. When I'm off too long, I start going stir-crazy," Aldean said. "I want to work. I miss it when I'm not out here."

If you go

Jason Aldean performs Saturday at Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., downtown. Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr will also perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $28.75-$54.75. Call 410-347-2020 or go to baltimorearena.com.

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