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Call it the calm between the storms. “This has been a year of trying to wrap my head around what’s going on,” Aldean says. Hatless and wearing a faded Foo Fighters T-shirt, Aldean is clearly relishing some time off in the midst of his mega-selling tour. “Last year kind of took us by storm. We felt like we had a great record [in “My Kinda Party”], we felt like we had some big hits on it, but I don’t think any of us expected things to explode like they did. And when we went out and started not only selling out dates, but selling them out way in advance, we knew something was going on that was really cool.”

The spark was smoldering, and it ignited when “Dirt Road Anthem” was released in April 2011. “I went on vacation and ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ came out, and when I came back things were just crazy,” Aldean recalls, shaking his head. “You work for something for six, seven years, and all of a sudden in a matter of months”; it was ridiculous. It took a little getting used to.”

“Night Train” — arriving on Nashville indie label Broken Bow Records, which signed Aldean to a seven-album deal in 2003-shows all indications of continuing Aldean’s upward trajectory.
Night Train is multi-faceted, packed with what have become signature Aldean calling cards in pounding midtempos, smoldering ballads and rowdy party soundtracks. Having broken country/hip-hop ground so successfully with “Dirt Road Anthem,” Night Train memorably features rap elements during “The Only Way I Know,” which includes scene-mates Eric Church and Luke Bryan, and arguably the most downright fun country song to emerge this year, “1994,” which celebrates good times to a soundtrack of ’90s radio hitmaker Joe Diffie.

Elsewhere, Knox and Aldean serve up plenty of their trademark country-meets-arena rock, with the atmospheric ballad “Wheels Rollin’,” along with the pure romance of “Talk” and Aldean favorite “Staring at the Sun.” If there is a common thread in Night Train, it’s the one that runs through tracks like “Drink One for Me”: taking stock of life as adulthood settles in, less about nostalgia than the realization that the wilder, younger days have been survived.

Aldean doesn’t disagree. “Everybody does that when you get to be a certain age,” he says. “You’re not a kid anymore, you’re not an old man, you’re caught in the middle, and that’s where I am. If we sit around and talk, I don’t know one person my age that won’t bring up, ‘Man, when we were in high school we did this one night and got caught,’ or ‘I met this girl.’ It’s fun for people to reminisce about good times and things you should have got arrested for.”

Check out much more of Jason’s interview with Billboard & more details about the issue here.