2007 has been a rocky year for Lonestar. The country band that sold millions of albums on the strength of crossover power-ballads like 'Amazed' and 'I'm Already There' saw declines in sales and radio success this year. Subsequently, the band parted ways with longtime label BNA Records, and frontman Richie McDonald announced he was leaving to pursue a solo career.

But if there's one thing about Texans, they don't take defeat lying down. Remaining members Dean Sams, Keech Rainwater and Michael Britt saw both splits as an open window to take Lonestar in a different direction, getting back to their rock 'n' roll roots.

It didn't take the guys long to find whom they insist is not McDonald's "replacement," so to speak, but is rather "the future of Lonestar." They found that in Florida-native Cody Collins, whom Sams discovered performing at an Atlanta honky-tonk.

"He became the guy to beat very quickly," Sams says of Collins. "Every CD we got, we compared to him. Every picture we got, we compared their looks to him. And nobody topped him. Nobody even really came close."

Lounging on the couches of AOL Music's New York studio, Collins is still very much the new kid on the block, having played just a handful of live shows so far as Lonestar's new lead singer. But the rapport with his new partners seems old hat, almost as if he's the little brother they never had. Rainwater teases Collins for dethroning him as "the messiest guy in the band." Sams pokes fun of how long it takes the newcomer to get ready before a show.

"That's because I have more hair than you," Collins bites back.

But the teasing quickly turns to praise, as the original members explain how they spent a lot of time listening to Collins' original music on his MySpace page and were blown away by what they heard.

"He does the ballads just as well as he does the rock stuff," guitarist Michael Britt says. "And he just has this sound that if we were to say, 'Here's what we want our future to sound like.' Then that was it."

"It's not about filling Richie's shoes, it's about taking Lonestar to the future," Sams adds. "And so far, he's doing it with great style and class ... and a whole lotta talent."

The conversation isn't so cheerful when the question is posed of the circumstances behind McDonald's departure. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the guys break into laughter, looking around at each other to see who is going to respond. Finally, keyboardist and founding member Sams comes clean.

"It hit us like someone smacking us in the face," Sams admits. "It came out of nowhere. And in the beginning, it was tough. But it was definitely in the best interest of the band and himself that he moved on ... We don't wish him any ill will at all. You can say that he left on maybe not the best terms, but he's a talented singer and songwriter, and he has a lot to offer. But where his direction was going was not where the band wanted to be."

The direction McDonald had taken the band was one Britt says "pigeonholed" them. With songs like 'Class Reunion,' 'Mr. Mom' and 'My Front Porch Looking In,' Lonestar became known for sappy, feel-good songs about kids and family.

"We felt like we were kinda beating a dead horse there," Britt says. "We were being taken to a place that wasn't really our goal to begin with."

The new goal of Lonestar? To be grateful for their past success, but to concentrate on a new sound to bring them success in the future.

"You can't have 10 No. 1 songs and sell over 10 million records and go, 'Eh, that was then.' But at the same time, the past is the past," Sams says. "And now it's time to think about what we can do now."

Lonestar's first album with Collins at the mike is a collection of holiday tunes called 'My Christmas List,' which is sold exclusively in Cracker Barrel Old Country stores and on Cracker Barrel's website. On a first listen to the CD, it's clear they have already unleashed an edgier sound, at least instrumentally. For example, their version of 'Away in a Manger' is uptempo, and 'Deck the Halls' is very guitar-driven.

"We tried to be creative and think outside the country-box, bringing in a lot of different influences," Britt says. "There's really rockin' stuff, and there's pretty, melodic instrumental stuff, too. It's not just a country Christmas record, it covers a lot of genres."

Lyrically, fans who love Lonestar for the positive messages in their signature songs won't be disappointed. The album includes a list of holiday standards plus two original tracks: 'That's What Christmas is For' and the title track, both of which highlight the true meaning of Christmas.

"I started thinking, 'What is Christmas for? Does everyone know the true meaning of Christmas?'" Sams says, who co-wrote both of the new songs. "And then the title popped in my head: 'That's What Christmas is For.' And what it's for is the birth of Jesus Christ."

Cutting a holiday record was also a means of slowly introducing Collins to longtime Lonestar fans, without the pressure of having a big-time radio hit. That will hopefully come in early 2008, when the band plans to drop its first radio single with the voice they're proud to call their new lead singer.