Brett Eldredge hadn't even signed a record deal when he first heard the title track to his fourth studio album — an album remarkably more mature than any of his radio hits thus far. Sunday Drive marks a rebranding for this crooner. "Sunday Drive" brings his career full circle.

"I watched that thing like a hawk through the years," Eldredge tells Taste of Country Nights of the nearly five-minute-long story song. Barry Dean joined Don Mescall and Steve Robson to pen details of the ballad. The "Gabrielle" singer first heard it while interning for Universal Music Publishing.

“I heard that song and it just stopped me right there, in that little dungeon of a room in the bottom of that building,” Eldredge tells Rolling Stone, adding that he felt he needed to grow into the song. Each verse describes a stage of life for him, and the character he plays. The final verse is predictably and satisfyingly melancholy. It's worth all five minutes.

“I was just praying I wouldn't turn on the radio one day and hear that song. It’s selfish, but in a great way," he shares with ToC Nights.

The title track is representative of an album that goes to great lengths to show that Eldredge has matured since his 2017 self-titled album, a project that started to edge in this direction but still left room for bombast in songs like "Somethin' I'm Good At."

Thin, piano-led arrangements mark the 12 songs on this new album. Often symphonic strings replace more traditional country instruments. The 34-year-old's vocals stand out like always, but there's a quiet quiver during his best performances. Don't interpret that as nerves.

“I knew we had something really special," Eldredge says when asked why he held off sharing the music with anyone (including family) until he could share it with everyone, "but I like the feeling of knowing we got something good, let’s see what happens when we unveil it to the whole world.”

So, what makes Eldredge's Sunday drive playlist? The singer says he leans heavy into nostalgia, much like the new album's title track. Jackson Browne and Ray Charles are two he might choose for cruising along to, and then maybe his own album, which he admits he's listening to so frequently on Amazon Music that Alexa is probably sick of it. While "Gabrielle" is moving slowly at country radio (No. 44 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart after 12 weeks), he's measuring success differently this time. He's looking for passion.

"It's the most passion I’ve ever had from my fans for an album," Eldredge says.

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