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Jon Bream, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Published February 20 2012

Country star Aldean remains the guy next door

MINNEAPOLIS – Jason Aldean is known as country music’s boundary buster.

He rapped on his No. 1 single “Dirt Road Anthem.” He enlisted pop princess Kelly Clarkson for his chart-topping duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” He insists that his bandmates crank their guitars to 10.

But Aldean is no outlier. He may be the closest thing Nashville has to a country everyman. He’s like a lot of the guys in his audience – hoop earrings, scraggly beard, tight plaid shirt – and he’s open to all kinds of influences.

“I just grew up thinking that good music is good music,” said Aldean. “In our show we’d play like a Waylon (Jennings) song and then we’d turn around and play a Guns N’ Roses song. That represents where I grew up and what I grew up listening to. Macon, Georgia, is a big melting pot of music. Country is always my favorite but I was never ‘Country music is all there is and everything else sucked.’ Guys like Eminem and Ludacris are awesome.”

He may be open-minded, but Aldean’s music has an edge and an attitude – think Kid Rock’s Southern lil’ brother with more maturity and a better voice – that set him apart from such current country superstars as Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.

“I see fans reaching now for rougher, edgier and grittier kinds of things,” said concert promoter Gary Marx. “People like Jason Aldean and Eric Church have attitudes. They’re a little fresher and more aggressive, and people are responding.”

But it’s not a manufactured image for Aldean.

“I don’t record songs that aren’t me,” said the plain-voiced country-rocker, who turns 34 this month. “What you see is what you get. I don’t have the energy to go out and be something that I’m not.”

Aldean is in the midst of his first arena headlining tour. This is the second leg, and he’s retooled things for 2012.

“This tour is unlike any we’ve done,” he said recently from a tour stop at Arkansas State University. “We decided to play basically in the round. It’s been a really cool deal.”

Aldean will be one of the headlining acts at this year’s WEFest country music festival outside Detroit Lakes, Minn., in August.

In the past year, Aldean has arrived as one of country’s bona fide stars. Not only is he filling concert venues but his “My Kinda Party” took the Country Music Association Award for album of the year in November and ended up as the biggest-selling country disc of 2011.

“It’s crazy, man,” he said. “It’ll have that title ‘album of the year’ forever. It’s a cool feeling.”

In this challenging economy, Aldean knows how to give value. While most albums have 10 or 11 tunes, “My Kinda Party” has 15. While Urban and Chesney asked as much as $80 a ticket in 2011, Aldean’s top price is $50.

“I remember having this conversation with (promoter) Live Nation when we signed with them,” he said. “You can go out and charge 80 bucks for a ticket and have the place half full or you can charge 40 bucks a ticket and have the place completely full and you make the same amount of money. It’s just common sense.

“And it’s no big secret the economy is screwed up. Same with the album. Make them feel like they got their money’s worth.”

Jason Aldine Williams grew up in Macon, a rich musical city known for Little Richard, Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers. As a teenager, he began to appreciate its musical history. “As I got older, I started buying Otis albums,” he said. “He is my favorite singer of all time.”

At 21, he signed a songwriting contract and moved to Nashville. A few years later, an indie-label deal led to his self-titled 2005 debut, which yielded three hits, including a No. 1 single (“Why”). But his career really blew up with his third album, 2009’s “Wide Open,” with three No. 1 country singles including “Big Green Tractor.”

“My Kinda Party,” released 15 months ago, has produced two No. 1 singles (“Tattoos on This Town” and the title track) and two No. 2’s while selling more than 2 million copies. It also led to three Grammy nominations, his first nods from that organization.

He’s recorded a new album, but the title and release dates are still to be decided.

“It’s going to be like the ‘Party’ record where there are a couple of surprises on it,” said Aldean, who has performed with rapper Ludacris on the CMT Awards and recorded a duet for pop veteran Lionel Richie’s upcoming album. “But at the same time, the style of music I’m known for – the aggressive country style – is going to be there throughout the whole record.”

Aldean wouldn’t disclose the famous collaborators on his new album, except to say they’re from Nashville.

Since he has already name-checked Johnny Cash, George Jones and Lynyrd Skynyrd in his songs, how ’bout mentioning his homeboys Little Richard, Redding and the Allmans in a tune?

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find something that rhymes with Otis,” Aldean said. “I’ll have to get on that.”