Country rockers Confederate Railroad last released an album of new material in 2001 (Unleashed). In the 15 years since, the band has released a couple of compilation discs and a record of cover tunes (2007's Cheap Thrills) ... but the time was never quite right for another album of new material until now.

On Friday (July 15), Confederate Railroad released Lucky to Be Alive, their first album in nine years. The Boot recently sat down with the group's founder and lead singer, Danny Shirley, to discuss the new project, Confederate Railroad's constant touring schedule and why they aren't ready to slow down yet.

Describe Lucky to Be Alive.

It’s 75 percent pure Confederate Railroad, maybe updated a bit, and maybe 25 percent stretching out and doing some different things.

I always stayed away from love songs on my albums; it was just a little too vanilla for me. Now we do ballads, I do things more about family. Everybody does love songs, but on this new album, I wrote a couple things that normally I wouldn’t put on a Confederate Railroad album.

I think at this point in my life -- I’m getting ready to turn 60, and things are a lot different than they were 25 years ago. I thought, "I’m going to put a couple of these things on the album, and see how it flies," and I’m proud of it.

Did you write all of the songs on Lucky to Be Alive?

I wrote eight of them. It’s always just really a guessing game as far as if you’re looking for commercial success and all. When I put together an album, I always try to do things that I like. George Jones told me long ago, "Sing the songs you like, and you’ll do a better job singing them." You’ll do a better job if you believe in it.

I think, on this new album, the reason I went that way is, I did want to stretch out a bit; I didn’t want to do another one and say, "Well, that just sounds like the same ol’ Confederate Railroad record, re-done." I picked the songs that meant something to me ... There are a few on there that I’ve done over the years in the live show, and people request them, so I go, "Okay, that’s catching them pretty good, so we’ll do that on the album."

... In the period I was doing this, I was going through a divorce, and that gives you a little different perspective on things, and I think some of that came out in the writing.

Why was it important to you to write so many of the songs yourself?

When I put together an album -- and I don’t mean to come off self-centered, but -- I do it because this is what I like. If people hear this and feel like they’ve learned something about me, I’m comfortable with them knowing this. Of course, you want everybody to like it, but it’s just worked well for me if I just go with my heart, and this is what I would like to hear.

It’s not that I’m a great singer or a great writer, but it’s things that, fortunately, people have been able to relate to in their own lives.

Why did you wait so long between albums?

In that 15 years, I did a couple records: I had a label want to do a live album, so we did that. Then I had a label out of New Jersey a few years ago that asked me to do a live record; they were wanting to venture into country.

We actually started working on this a few years ago. Some of these new artists that are doing so well now have come to me over the years and said, "If you only knew how many times over the years I’ve been sitting on the riverbank, fishing and listening to Confederate Railroad records." Or, "When I was too young to get in the clubs, I used to stand at the back door and listen to your shows. I was such a big fan."

So I got to thinking, "Well, from a financial standpoint, I should be writing songs for these guys and pitching to them." But then it started coming together like an album, and I got greedy again and said, "I’m not going to share this. I’m going to do it myself."

It was a few years in the works, just when I was in town.

You have several guest vocalists, including Willie Nelson and Colt Ford, on this record's remake of your 1993 hit, "Trashy Women." Explain how that came to be.

I’m singing the choruses in that remake, and my old buddy, Jerry Glanville, the old coach of the [NFL's Atlanta] Falcons ... I put him on that little intro. John Anderson, who’s been a great friend for years, he did the first verse. And then Willie Nelson – it was the coolest thing ever, hearing him sing "Trashy Women." And then Colt Ford. That was a lot of fun doing that with those guys.

I thought it was good cross-section: You’ve got Willie, who of course is an icon -- his reach, just as far as fan base, is just amazing, not just in country music, but he’s just a music icon -- John Anderson from my era, the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then Colt Ford, a new perspective on things.

Do you ever think about retiring, or at least slowing down?

We took about four weeks off a few years ago. I thought, "Man, this is going to be great, to sit there and do nothing." After about two weeks, we were all climbing the walls.

We’ll take a week off every now and then.

What else do you want to accomplish?

After being in the business for 40 years, of course I still want to be touring and doing the live shows, but I think it would be really fun and rewarding to find some young guy that was me 40 years ago and pass on to him all that I’ve learned.

This July, it will be 40 years that I’ve been doing this with a living -- that goes back to the years with Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe, before Railroad. I cut that first Railroad album 25 years ago, which, it doesn’t seem like it.

It does feel good. I’m enjoying it.

Danny Shirley Shares the Story Behind "Lucky to Be Alive"

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