Jessi Alexander Needed to Be Selfish to Create ‘Decatur County Red’
Jessi Alexander says "I Should Probably Go Now" is probably the hardest song she's ever written, but the reasons aren't obvious.
The country hitmaker for Blake Shelton ("Drink on It"), Lee Brice ("I Drive Your Truck"), Miley Cyrus and many more agonized over every word of a ballad that describes someone pulling away from barroom temptation.
"Yeah, I'm praying to the Lord / Won't you lead me to that exit door / Make the words fall right from my mouth," she sings at the end of the first verse, with little more than a few brush strokes, acoustic guitar strums and steel guitar wails holding her up.
"I should probably go now," she continues, convincing no one her next steps will take her further from the bad idea in front of her.
Forgive yourself for flinching when you hear it — nothing about this arrangement lets you or her off the hook. This specific kind of raw, unapologetic yearning is rare in country, and even rarer among the married women of country music.
"I started thinking about some of my friends and women my age that are going through the ‘What now?'" Alexander tells Taste of Country. "'What now? I’ve had my kids and maybe my marriage isn’t as dynamic as it was, and my career is up and off the ground."
"So when you have this moment when you feel like a kid again or you have this flirty moment — what do you do with it?" she asks.
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Maybe you do something selfish, for once. Alexander moved to Nashville nearly two decades ago, at age 21, and married songwriter Jon Randall in 2006, a year or so after her record deal with Columbia Records fell through. Together they have three kids — an 11-year-old daughter and twin 8-year-old boys — and enough hit songs between them to feel secure. But until recently it had been about everyone else first. Finally, at the end of 2017, Alexander says she entered a recording studio intending to cut a few songs nobody would hear.
"But they kept haunting me, and then more started pouring out," she recalls.
After more time, she settled on eight songs to form Decatur County Red, her new studio album (available March 27). The music is her story, packed tight with her influences. Growing up halfway between Memphis and Nashville means equal parts Grand Ole Opry and Mississippi delta blues. Descriptive, colorful, bold songwriting tie it all together.
If you're an active listener, you'll flinch.
The beauty of "I Should Probably Go Now" is that it tells a different story to everyone hearing the song for the first time. A young man or woman may be ashamed of the temptation. Someone a few years older may be afraid of the reckoning it forces. A man or woman in his or her 40s or 50s can appreciate how it's okay to live in that head space for a short while. Maybe lust is a sin, but as you get older the world becomes less black and white.
Therein lies the challenge.
"I wanted the listener to get caught up in all the senses: the neon, the crave for the cigarette, the taste of the whiskey, the sound," Alexander says, explaining how she needed to keep her story open-ended and accessible. "And then I wanted the listener to have their own version of this romance.”
Like all of the songs on Decatur County Red, Alexander wrote "I Should Probably Go Now" which, she jokes, is why it took so long to finish. There's an old gut-string guitar that floats about her Franklin, Tenn.-area home, and she picked it up one day, strummed a single chord and sang, "I should probably go now."
“I feel like all guitars have songs in them," she says. "It came out and I was like, ‘What does that mean?’"
"That’s when you have to make a decision as a songwriter. 'Is this worth chasing? Is this bulls--t? Does this even matter?'"
The rewarding part about about this song is it has mattered to fans in their own unique and personal ways. The same will surely be said about many of the remaining songs on Decatur County Red. Start with "Mama Drank" and "Lonely Out of Me," and if you're a creator, skip ahead to "Damn Country Music," previously heard on Tim McGraw's 2015 album of the same name.
So much for being selfish.
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