Like any artist, Michael Ray can trace his evolution by looking back at the songs he's released. The singer says that Amos, his second album, marked the moment when "I started realizing who I was, not only as an artist but as a person."

It was during that album cycle that Ray began finding the confidence to organize his life the way he saw fit, hiring new management and making personal changes, too.

"I feel like "Kiss You in the Morning" was my kick-off, my big introduction to the world. And I was very fortunate to have my first single go No. 1," Ray explains. "Then "Think a Little Less" was this great, kind of hot, mid-tempo, feel-good [song], and I think we were just missing that rocking song that got everybody going."

Enter "One That Got Away," Ray's newest No. 1 hit, a rousing sing-a-long that can kick off a setlist as easily as it can shoot up the country charts. And it's no accident that the three singles each fill a different role, the singer says.

As he works on a new record, Ray's music will continue to grow and evolve, hopefully becoming even better and more true to his sensibilities than any of the songs he's shared to date. Some of those changes will be pretty obvious to fans who've been following the singer's love life over the past year and a half or so.

"[I sing] a lot of love songs now. That was not me before," Ray admits with a laugh. "And so I think with this new record, you're definitely going to see the drop-in of Carly [Pearce] in my life."

That's not the only new development in Ray's music that comes from a major life change, however: "I've been fortunate to tour with a lot of great artists," he goes on to say. "And I take advantage of that -- like, I stand sidestage and I watch. I don't care if it's [a new artist] with one song out or if it's Jason Aldean -- I feel like we can all learn from each other.

"Because I've been able to tour a lot in the last few years, you start learning what you're missing, and what you need," Ray relates. "I think you're also gonna see that I'm writing a lot of this record for the live show."

Ray has gained confidence from his experience in the music business up to this point, and as much as that confidence encourages him to expand his musical wheelhouse and experiment, it also encourages him to stick to his roots.

"I grew up on a lot of traditional country, and the Grand Ole Opry. I feel like some of that, in my world, has gotten a little lost," he says. "I definitely wanna make sure that I touch on some of that, because that's what I grew up on. That's my roots.

"So I wanna be making a [diverse] record," Ray concludes, "but I definitely want that to be shown more than it has before."

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