Just in time for the Fourth of July comes Mark Wills latest album Looking For America. This Tennessee born, Georgia-raised country singer has left behind the major labels to make more personal statements with his music. Looking at the American flag motif on the front cover, it's clear that Wills has something to say about his country on this album:
This is definitely a personal album for me and although some folks might see it as a bit of a departure from the music I’ve recorded in the past, this project is really ‘all-encompassing. It’s got gun and grit, pain and romance, heart-heavy emotions and is chock-full of life situations; there is a strong dose of reality in this record. All of the songs really spoke to me and I felt the ‘tug’ to record each and every one for very different reasons.
Like any good southern boy, Wills likes to mix his rock and country together. Now that he's no longer answering to the strict demands of country radio, he can kick his album off in style with "Rockin' The Country". This Southern Rock burner moves "like Haggard with a swagger, like Jagger with a twang" just like the lyrics say.
Wills has been a country hitmaker for many years and many of those elements are here a well. There's a great cheatin' song in "Smokin' Gun" and a pedal steel-driven heartbreaker in "Rather Be". There's also an ode to the country ghosts that haunt Music City in "Phantom Of The Opry". Wills's vocals remain strong throughout showing equal skill with ballads and the uptempo songs.
Still, Looking For America digs a little deeper beyond mainstream Nashville. Wills has long been a supporter of our military men and women. He has made more than seven trips to Iraq and Afganistan to entertain the troops. Wills is also the son of Vietnam veteran so the plight of post traumatic stress disorder has been a cause of his for a while. This new album and the song "Crazy Being Home" is dedicated to helping raise awareness for this important issue. Wills has teamed with USA Cares to help them in their effort. Wills explains:
My father was a Vietnam veteran who returned before I was born. I had the all-American childhood growing up in a small Georgia town where people kept their doors unlocked and everyone knew your name. As a kid I heard all the Vietnam stories my father shared with his friends. He was a great provider but I felt there was this emotional disconnect in our family. One of the things I always wondered was why he would never take me hunting and never told me why. Once I recorded "Crazy Being Home" and played it for him, we started to talk honestly about the real story of what happened to him in Vietnam.
It is now apparent to me that my father's emotional disconnect was because he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from his Vietnam deployment that was never treated. In the 1960s, the Veterans Administration had little research on the effects of PTSD. They did not how to diagnosis or treat it. I am very thankful through our family and church support; my father has become an amazing grandfather to my two daughters and a great father to me.
In addition to the powerful message and story behind "Crazy Being Home", the title track provides another personal insight to Wills. The song centers around a man reflecting on the parts of America he remembers from his youth that have been lost. Taken together with "Crazy Being Home", Wills covers a lot of loss and pain.
In the end, Looking For America is about healing and finding strength. Wills and his co-producer Chris Lindsey, who also had a hand in writing half of the album's songs, bring everything to life. This is country music at its core - storytelling, heartbreak, and perseverance.
- Jim Markel
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