Strength, versatility and a spunky sense of adventure are qualities more often associated with literary heroines than successful country singers, but then there’s nothing typical about Sara Evans. Whether dominating country radio airwaves with one of her many hit singles or attracting a new legion of fans with her spirited turn on “Dancing with the Stars,” Evans’ drive, talent and determination have placed her in an elite class of artists who transcend musical genres to become a household name.
Her musical accomplishments are celebrated with the release of “Sara Evans - Greatest Hits.” The 14-song collection features 10 of Evans’ signature songs as well as four inspired new songs, worthy of taking their place alongside such modern classics as “No Place That Far,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” and “Born to Fly."
The greatest hits package marks the first time Evans has worked with acclaimed producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, The Wreckers). That collaboration produced four new tunes, including “As If,” the lead single from Evans’ hits collection. “He’s just amazing to work with and he was exactly what I needed for this project. I know I’ll work with him again - IF he’ll have me,” Evans says with a smile. “He doesn’t do anything like everybody normally does. He has no formula.”
For Evans, releasing a greatest hits package is like looking back through a photo album; each song is a snapshot that brings a flood of memories. “My first No. 1 record came when I was pregnant with Avery,” she recalls of “No Place That Far” which hit the top of the charts as she was expecting her son, now eight-years-old. “I remember that time because it was the most amazing time in my life. I thought things could absolutely not get any better. I was expecting my first child and having my first No. 1 record.”
Indeed, Evans was on her way to becoming one of the most successful female artists of her generation - a compelling, heart-in-the-throat heir to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. She’s won numerous accolades, among them the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year and the Country Music Association’s Video of the Year for “Born to Fly”. She was named 2006 Female Vocalist of the Year in the R&R Reader’s Poll and has been celebrated as one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.”
Evans has earned numerous #1 hits, two of which she co-wrote, including “Born to Fly,” “No Place That Far,” “Suds In The Bucket” and “A Real Fine Place to Start,” which spent two weeks at the top of the country charts. Of the five albums Evans has released, her sophomore set, “No Place That Far,” has been certified gold; 2001’s “Born to Fly” is double-platinum and 2003’s “Restless” and 2005’s “Real Fine Place” are both platinum.
Such accomplishments have been a dream come true for the Booneville, Missouri native. One of seven children, Evans began singing country music with her family’s band when she was five-years-old. By the time she was 16, she landed a gig singing regularly at a club in Columbia, Missouri. Of course, Nashville is Mecca for all aspiring country artists and Evans made her way to Mus ic City determined to realize her dreams. She got her first break when legendary songwriter Harlan Howard heard her amazing voice and tapped her to sing his demos. A deal with RCA Records followed soon after.
Produced by Pete Anderson, her debut disc, “Three Chords and the Truth,” earned praise from critics, but it was her second disc, “No Place That Far,” that brought Evans the commercial success to match the critical acclaim. Her next album, “Born to Fly” spawned four hit singles, which are included on “Greatest Hits” - “I Could Not Ask for More,” “Saints and Angels,” “I Keep Looking,” and the title track.
“It was the first time I ever wrote with Marcus Hummon,” Evans recalls of penning “Born To Fly.” “It was basically a biography of my life on the farm - talking to a scarecrow and dreaming. I had such huge dreams of doing something that nobody where I came from did.”
Evans says “I Keep Looking” is another song that captures who she is and what she’s really about. “That song was more about me just wanting to express my true nature, how I am as a person,” she relates. “I’m totally that way. I keep looking forward and asking how to make things better. What can I do next?”
Always looking to stretch herself artistically, Evans has continued to develop her gift as a songwriter. Her fourth album, “Restless,” spawned the hit “Perfect,” which Evans penned with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin. The album also featured one of Evans’ signature hits, the high-spirited “Suds in the Bucket.” She followed “Restless” with “Real Fine Place,” which served up four hits singles - “Cheatin’,” “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” “Coalmine,” and the title track, which spent two weeks at No. 1.
Writing and recording four new songs for the greatest hits package - songs strong enough to fit comfortably alongside her already impressive body of work - was a challenging task, but Evans is pleased with the outcome. “I could only choose four songs,” Evans says of rounding out the collection with new tunes, “but they are exactly the songs that this project needed.”
“As If” is a buoyant exploration of budding romance, written by Evans, Shanks and Hillary Lindsey. “We wrote ‘As If’ on the very first day,” Evans says of working with Shanks, whom she met at the 2006 ACM Awards, following her female vocalist win. Her collaboration with the award-winning producer proved very fruitful. She and Shanks co-wrote with Aimee Mayo on two new tunes that made it onto “Greatest Hits” - “Love You With All My Heart” and “Pray for You.” Evans, Shanks, Lindsey, and Evans’ brother Matt penned “Some Things Never Change.”
“Love You With All My Heart” is a sexy number that finds Evans tapping into her sultry side. “This song is just about being in a new relationship. This song is all about attraction, really nothing else,” says Evans. “We wrote the song when Aimee was huge pregnant and it’s funny because when I was huge pregnant, she and I wrote another passionate song called ‘Secrets That We Keep’.”
On th e other end of the spectrum, there’s “Pray for You,” a poignant ballad about the comforts of family and faith. “That song was very inspired,” Evans says. “John and Aimee and I were just sitting there and it just sort of flowed out. It was such a blessing to have that song come out. It says I’ve got babies of my own and I’m the one that they are counting on to be here through every little tear and I’ll do the best I can. It talks about calling your mom. I think that’s what all girls do, I sure do. So that song is very, very special to me.”
Evans says “Some Things Never Change” was her brother Matt’s idea, and they brought it to a writing session with Shanks and Lindsey to flesh it out. The result is an engaging number that celebrates the enduring joys of family and love. “The main feel of that song is love,” says Evans. The lyrics paint the picture of a family and the daily routines that define every day life.
It’s that ability to write songs that connect with the heart of her audience that has made Evans such a successful artist, and it’s her willingness to take risks and embrace a challenge that has widened her following. “Some things just feel right,” she says, citing her participation in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” “It totally, totally changed my career. It was one of the best times of my life. I loved it.”
Releasing a Greatest Hits package generally signals the close of one chapter in an artist’s career and the beginning of a new one. It is often a time for introspection and taking a hard look at the factors that contributed to those hits. Evans humbly credits her success to “luck, the kindness of country radio, and a good record label.”
Obviously, there’s been so much more involved. Sara Evans is a vibrant, talented woman with a distinctive voice and an innate ability to relate to her audience. She’s a songwriter, a mother of three, and a master at multi-tasking, but above all, she’s real. It’s that honesty and integrity that resonate throughout her music.
“I’m just really grateful for what I have. I want my life to mean something and I want to make music that matters.”