Jewly Hight

There's a fascination with music-makers who go from creating behind the scenes to working in the spotlight, like Carole King, Bruno Mars, Chris Stapleton and so many others have. That strikes us as the natural progression for someone motivated by artistic vision, ego, ambition or any combination of the three.

Country music is a genre whose stars tend to grasp the importance of maintaining their fans' trust. Even so, few country luminaries can match the shrewdness and dedication with which Eric Church has cultivated his fans' belief in him. Over the past dozen years, he's fleshed out a heroic image alongside a meaty catalog, inextricably entwining the two.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

On the coffee table of his cozy East Nashville apartment, Aaron Lee Tasjan has a notebook open to autobiographical scrawling — it's a kind of cheat sheet to his musical past, which he prepared, with his mother's help, just in case he forgot anything during his interview with NPR. To be fair, it isn't all that simple to retrace his weaving, winding musical path. The singer-songwriter tried out a variety of musical niches, cities and scenes before landing in Nashville.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Pages