Clay WalkerClay Walker is back and better than ever after a few years away from the country scene. The 40-year-old singer has returned with a renewed sense of purpose and a laser focus that's usually found burning in artists much newer to the business.

Clay changed his approach to recording his latest studio album (his ninth), painstakingly selecting 12 songs he felt would connect with listeners. And so far, so good. He has already landed a Top 5 smash with the first single/title track from the collection, 'She Won't Be Lonely Long.' Along the way he also achieved one of those chillbump career moments when he tapped one of his longtime heroes, Randy Owen, to record his favorite Alabama song, 'Feels So Right,' with him in the studio, an experience he found equally intimidating and exhilarating.

The Boot caught up with Clay in Nashville to talk about making what he feels is the best album of his long and successful career, his new family, Darius Rucker's golfing skills, and how a born-and-bred Texan likes Tennessee since making the move to Music City with his wife and kids.

It's been three years since your last record and a lot has changed in your personal life. How is that reflected on this album?

The way my personal life factors into the record is the fact that I'm so focused now. This has been probably the most focused I've ever been in my entire career. My goal was to make sure each song on the album had one or two lines in it that people could hang their hat on, could connect to. That was a new approach for me. Before, I've always looked for 11 or 12 songs trying to find commercial appeal, this or that, but I thought, "What do people remember about songs?" It's normally one or two lines that really pertain to them. So that was the goal, to keep it simple. I think it worked. 'She Won't Be Lonely Long' is the best album I think I've ever recorded, from start to finish. We've had some big hits, and I've enjoyed all of them, but as far as complete albums go, my first album is the only one where I've ever looked back and said from start to finish that's a completely, absolutely, no-regret album. Now I'm saying the same thing with this one. And that's the first time I've done that in a long time.

What's the difference? A lot of bumps in the road in your career along the way, changes in the industry?

A lot of it is certain distractions of input, or just not having 10 or 12 great, great songs, only four or five. And this time I felt like we had 12 great ones.

It's been 15 years since you first debuted on the scene. How have you been able to hang in there and persevere and not give up during the ups and downs?

Most of it is the same in that it is still songs that people still gravitate to. It's not about other things. Even a huge artist can slip a little if they don't have a great song. That's one of the best things about our format -- you're never out of the game if you have a great song. It's surprised me how many new artists have come in and I think it's awesome because it means our format's growing. Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts were really instrumental in starting a new era of music and what was allowed in country.

The single is doing so well. It sounds really retro and familiar, yet current at the same time. Do you think country is moving back towards that traditional sound?

There's been a void there, and people really like to hear that type of sound right now. The rest of the album has it, there's a common thread in it. It's very soulful. As an artist, I find more about what songs I really sing good and really what I've learned is if I don't really like a song that much, people aren't going to like it either Because being a fan myself is all part of why it makes it so fun to record music. Because I do love it.

Who do you like right now that you're listening to a lot?

I like Chris Young, I like Keith Urban a lot. I've liked him since the beginning. And on the new side I like the Band Perry a lot. That song 'Hip to My Heart,' that was a great song.

Your wife is in the video for the single. Were those your horses in the clip too?

Yes, that was our place. It was great making the video there. Being in love does make everything sweeter. And before we knew it, making that video, the day was over. It went by that fast! I still ride a lot and I've really enjoyed having the horses up here in the hills. Back home in Texas, it's all flat you know. We moved here and love it. We still have our home in Texas but are living in Tennessee more now.

You put an Alabama cover on this record. Why that particular song, and what was it like being in the studio with Randy Owen?

My first concert was [Alabama] in 1982. My mom took me. I was in elementary school. They did 'Feels So Right and my mom was crying. I thought, "Wow, it got to her that much!" it's always been one of my favorite songs. And I met Randy Owen down at St. Jude [Childrens Reserach Hospital] about five years ago. I told him I loved the song and asked him if he minded if I recorded it, and he said, "[No], as long as you let me sing on it," and he kind of winked at me. I thought he was joking. So when we got ready to record it, we were in the studio and we weren't going to record it unless he said yes. I called him and said,"What do you think?" and he said, "I'll be there." He came in and recorded the song and that's probably the only time I've ever been majorly intimidated in the studio! I feel like we captured the magic that the first record captured.

You have a favorite songwriting spot that you nicknamed the Dog Pound. Do you still have it and do you still write with Jason Greene a lot?

Yes, It's funny you should say that! Jason and I just wrote a song called, 'Digging My Way out of the Doghouse.' I got it from [NFL legend] Joe Montana. He's a friend of mine and I called him one day and said, "What are you doing?" and he said, "Digging my way out of the doghouse!" and I said, "Well that sounds like a song!'"

I hear you've been talking smack about Darius Rucker's golf game recently. What's that about?

Darius and I are friends. We actually met at Pebble Beach a couple of years ago. We played in the same foursome in the tournament. And we were singing old Commodores songs and having a ball. It was early in the morning when we teed off, I don't know if either one of us had had two hours sleep, one for each eye!

You have four kids, ranging in age from 14 years old to five months! Let's talk about the new baby. Is it tougher this time around, being a dad, or is it easier?

It's just the greatest thing in the world! My wife is so selfless, and the most graceful person I know. She really puts everything she has into being a great wife and great mother. Mary Elizabeth, who's five months old, looks just like my wife, and William, who's 22 months, looks just like me. So it's crazy! But, yeah, with a new baby, sleep is not overrated. If we just keep on doing what brought those two, you never know, we may have more.

Tell us about this backyard barbecue you're doing. It sounds like a fun thing!

One of the cool things we're doing as a promotion for the summer is anyone can go my website and register to win a backyard barbecue, where we pull our buses up and do the show, and [the winner can] invite 50 of their friends and we cater it. It's going to be a lot of fun, we're looking forward to it!

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