Let's get something out of the way: longevity is not a synonym for stagnation. Sometimes, longevity is a symbol of stubborn refusal to compromise or insistence on marching only to the beat of the most exhilarating drum.
Take Tim Hicks. If anyone was ready for his proverbial close-up, it's the acclaimed, chart-topping and award-winning artist. His presence as a consistently electrifying entertainer on the Canadian music scene may stretch back more than a decade, but his latest and third studio full-length album, the alternately scorching and tender Shake These Walls, scans as strikingly new.
That's what happens when you're lucky (read: dogged) enough to locate your most authentic musical voice at the precise moment you find yourself in Nashville scratching it out alongside some of the sharpest blades in the musical toolbox.
Co-written by Hicks who writes the songs that define his character, Shake These Walls evolves musically. "I wanted to show people I had grown," Hicks says of the new album. "There is truth in each of these songs because I co-wrote every one of them. I have a personal connection with every lyric, every riff. People are going to find there's a healthy dose of the Tim Hicks party in there but there's lots of other stuff certain to be interesting to many different people."
Indeed, one of the most noticeable things about Shake These Walls is the range of moods and emotions on offer. Take the boisterous first single "Stompin' Ground," an instant radio smash and a snapshot of the good old days when hard-partying with kin and kindred was less distraction than vocation.
"That song and 'We Came Up'" – a soaring ode to brotherhood – "speak to simpler times," Hicks confirms. "They have a slightly new feel to them but they still shoot for the party crowd."
At the other end of the spectrum is "Slide Over," a vividly drawn and unabashedly knock-kneed mid-tempo track with a dangerously infectious chorus. "That song is so real," Hicks says.
"When people with full-time jobs have kids, well… relationships can suffer. Things get in the way of the people you once were. You have to remember to sit down with each other, just have a beer and ask, 'How was your day?' So that song is that."
"I also really felt like I needed to write a song for my wife Amanda who took a leave of absence to move with me and our two small kids to Nashville for four months while I made this record. That," the singer howls, "is just good for business all around."
As Hicks explains, the album was crafted in a somewhat workmanlike fashion during that Tennessee stretch. "It was as close to a day job as I've ever had," he cracks, "With two young kids at home, the days of drinking half a bottle of whiskey and writing songs at 3 a.m. are long gone."
And yet for comparatively slow-burning tracks like "The Night Gets Us" – cheekily detailing how leather and lace seamlessly merge after dark – the trademark Tim Hicks thumbprint is very much in evidence. Take the propulsive title track or the unambiguously titled "Let's Just Drink."
"Ironically, that song came from a session where I just wasn't inspired to write at all. I literally said, 'Forget it! Let's just drink!' Everyone laughed and said, 'Let's write that!' So out of a negative feeling came this great, funny song."
Produced by Corey Crowder (who recently celebrated his second #1 U.S. single with Chris Young), and whittled down from a total of some 70 songs written in Toronto and Nashville over the past year, Shake These Walls provided Hicks with a distinct advantage absent from both 2013's Throw Down and 2014's widely feted 5:01: a live, in-studio band while they were recording.
"I am a band guy at heart and I love playing music live. I'm always asking, 'How will these songs fit into my live show?' Having a band right there made it easier to figure all those parts out."
That's essential given that in 2017, Hicks will mount the "Shake These Walls Tour," his second major headlining jaunt following 2015's sold-out "Get A Little Crazy Tour" and his chance to do what he does best: connect with audiences from coast to coast and beyond.
So while Hicks has the resume of a veteran – seven Top 10 singles on Canadian country radio, #1 country album for 5:01, multiple CCMA and SOCAN wins and JUNO nods, coveted spots on prestigious festival stages nationwide – Shake These Walls charts a path that is completely new… and shoots straight for the country music stratosphere.
"As each year on this crazy ride goes by, I just feel more comfortable as Tim Hicks, the artist," Hicks says. "The challenge of trying to write a good song is still one of the most exciting parts of my job.
"And I just can't wait to get out and start touring these songs to show people their potential. I never thought I'd have the opportunities I am currently having."