By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - After kicking up a storm with the success of "My Kinda Party", country music singer Jason Aldean is feeling the pressure for "Night Train" to keep up the pace of his rising star.
Aldean, 35, scored his biggest hit to date with his fourth studio album "My Kinda Party" in 2011, which became the biggest-selling country album of the year and also hit the top five all-genre rating alongside Adele, Lady Gaga and Mumford & Sons.
For his fifth album "Night Train", released this week, Aldean told Reuters in an interview he was aware of high expectations surrounding the follow-up record.
"I tried not to add any more pressure to myself," Aldean said. "I feel like what's put us in this position is me doing the things I always have - trusting my instinct to find the best songs."
Aldean said the album's title track "Night Train" was a perfect description of his career right now. "The train is moving, and it's moving at a rapid pace."
The new album has so far been well received, with lead single "Take a Little Ride" becoming the biggest country music digital debut by a male artist in July.
It helped Aldean secure what will be the first gig by a country artist at Boston's Fenway Park in July 2013.
"Night Train" features 15 songs that range from what Aldean terms his core tunes to the ones that are a little outside the lines. One of those, "Black Tears", is about a subject not often found in a country song - an exotic dancer.
"I feel like it‘s one of the most well written songs on the record, and it's probably one of the coolest sounding tracks we've ever cut on any album, dark and mysterious but real."
One of Aldean's most personal songs on the album is "Wheels Rollin'", written specifically for him by Nashville songwriters Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Hillary Lindsey.
"The song describes what it's like for all of us out there. People see you onstage and the glamorous side, but they don't see you traveling 600 miles a night, eating truck stop food and spending by yourself staring at walls," Aldean said.
"You do all of that stuff to be on stage for that hour-and-a -half, and this song sums up that reality."
BIGGER SPOTLIGHT, SMALL TOWN PRIDE
Just a few short years ago, before songs like "Dirt Road Anthem," "She's Country" and "Big Green Tractor" hit the airwaves, Aldean's career was moving at a slow, steady pace.
But crossover pop-country songs like his Grammy-nominated duet "Don't You Want to Stay" with Kelly Clarkson have helped Aldean become one of the hottest commodities in the country music market.
With success comes a bigger spotlight, and the singer, who is married with two children, recently found his private life grabbing headlines after being photographed in a Hollywood bar kissing a former "American Idol" contestant, Brittany Kerr, by celebrity news outlet TMZ.com.
Both Aldean and Kerr were subjected to vitriol from fans on social media platforms and issued formal apologies to their families and friends.
Reflecting on the craziness of his career at the moment, Aldean said, "the great thing about it is, it's the place I always hoped we could get to and what I've worked this whole time for. The bad thing is, I don't take the opportunity to sit back and reflect on it as much as I should and realize how far we've come."
Georgia native Aldean has also made a stand for the small towns and residents scattered across the U.S. with tunes like "This Nothin' Town" and "The Only Way I Know".
"It's just how I grew up and something I can sing about," he said. "I feel like a lot of times mid-America gets looked down on by other parts of the country, which drives me crazy. I'm from middle Georgia and I'm proud of where I came from."
As for the crossover songs, which have brought Aldean new fans but also critics who think he is moving away from his country roots, the singer shrugs off the notion.
"I think as an artist all you can do is just go and do your thing. We were fortunate to have a couple crossovers, the duet with Kelly Clarkson and ‘Dirt Road Anthem,' which brought us new fans," Aldean said.
"We cut the songs because we thought they were great songs, not because we thought we'd grab some pop fans. All you can do is go out and represent country music the best way you can, and when you get a chance to do that, make it count."
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Andrew Hay)