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After she wrapped the biggest tour of her career in 2019, Carrie Underwood says she was ready "to live my life for a second and figure out where I want to go."
It didn't take her long.
Even through a pandemic, the past year has been a remarkably productive one for the 38-year-old country star. Friday, she releases her second album in six months: "My Savior."
It's her first gospel album, but faith has been a constant in her life and her catalog, from "Jesus Take The Wheel" to "Something In The Water."
Ahead of the album's release — and an Easter Sunday concert stream — Underwood gave us a call to talk about making "My Savior," and how it overlapped with the making of her 2020 Christmas album, "My Gift." Here's what we learned.
She's wanted to make a gospel album "literally since the beginning": "I knew it would happen at some point, I just didn't know exactly when," Underwood says.
"Actually, before 'My Gift' was even finished, we had started working on 'My Savior.' I was working on new songs and approving other mixes and stuff like that from 'My Gift.' But it was such a great experience. And it was just the perfect time, I think, to make both of these albums. This is, to me, the stuff that's gonna really outlive me. Music is always growing and changing. There's new styles and new avenues to explore. But I feel like music like this, it always has been, and it always will be."
She first sang onstage at her Oklahoma church — as a toddler: "People have asked, 'Why do you think so many singers get their start in church?' It's such a welcoming environment. You're up there, you're singing your heart, you're singing songs to God, and the people in the pews aren't judging your vocal performance. They're like, 'You're making a joyful noise.' So you're in such a loving and caring, warm environment. I feel like that's why so many people start there. My mom has a picture that we included in the album packaging, and I think I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, standing up on stage. I guess I wasn't shy to sing 'Jesus Loves Me' for the convocation (laughs)."
The hymns she had to include: "I definitely wanted to do a proper studio version of 'How Great Thou Art.' I've sang that many times over the years, and we have live recordings here and there, but I wanted to do something proper. And then "Just As I Am," that was that was the altar call song at my church...it was that time when people were being led to walk down the aisle and go up to the altar and say whatever they needed to say. I feel like that's the way it was in a lot of churches, especially in the south."
She had a vision for the album — and then decided to tweak it: "My original thought was, 'We're going to be super traditional about everything.' And then we got into work on it. I'm like, 'Oh, man, a lot of these songs sound the same (laughs). Because a lot of them were written a very long time ago, there was only a certain amount of instrumentation available, and they obviously didn't have the technology that we have now...We kind of wanted to keep the core and the heart true to what these songs are, and didn't want to 'jazz them up' too much. But we definitely wanted to make them really sound like they belonged many years ago and they belong today."
Case in point: "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus," a hymn from the 1870s that charges with a modern folk-pop pulse, and harmonies from NeedtoBreathe frontman Bear Rinehart.
Finding the right time (Easter Sunday) and place (the Ryman Auditorium) to celebrate 'My Savior': 'We're not in a time yet where we can have albums come out and just go on tours, and do that whole thing. But I definitely wanted to be able to have a moment where I get to perform (the songs). We had just (finished) the Christmas special for HBO Max, and it was just such a beautiful, wonderful experience. This whole time, we've thought of 'My Savior' being the sister album to 'My Gift.' ..We thought the Ryman would be perfect for it. It's the best of all worlds — it's a church, and it's a live music venue — and would be a really cool way to bring the new songs to life."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Carrie Underwood talks release of 'My Savior' gospel album