First impressions of Don Henley's first solo album in 15 years, 'Cass County'

Don Henley invokes country spirit in latest solo album, his first in 15 years

“I’m still foolish enough to think that my best work is ahead of me,” Eagles co-founder Don Henley said Thursday night during a private playback session for his forthcoming solo album “Cass County.”

“But I’m going to have to hurry up, though” the 67-year-old singer and songwriter added, wryly acknowledging the 15 years that have lapsed since he last put out an album outside his affiliation with the Eagles. That was "Inside Job" in 2000.

An audience of a few dozen listeners, including journalists, fellow musicians, music industry executives and others filled rows of chairs set up in Capitol Records' historic Studio A in Hollywood for the session, during which eight songs — half the 16 tracks that will be available on the deluxe edition of the album when it’s released this fall — were played.

The listening session, hosted by John Grady, head of recently reactivated IRS Records label based in Nashville, was followed by a question-answer session emceed by veteran Los Angeles music journalist Chris Willman.

What they heard was a strongly country-leaning set in which Henley is joined by a number of mainstream country and Americana musicians, including Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill and yes, even one Mick Jagger.

Jagger and Lambert team up with Henley on Tift Merritt’s song “Bramble Rose,” which Henley pointed out reflected Jagger’s longtime passion for American country music stretching back at least to the late ‘60s when he and Keith Richards struck up a friendship with country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons.

Of his many female collaborators, Henley said, “I’ve been singing with guys since 1963, and don’t get a chance to sing with girls much.”

The album has been in the works for about five years and was finished a year ago but had to wait to be released until Henley completed his latest round of obligations with “that other band I play in,” he said.

“Praying for Rain,” one of many songs Henley wrote with former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, felt like a California-centric lament given the state’s severe drought of recent years, and then things went as traditional country as could be in his duet with Dolly Parton on the Louvin Brothers’ heartbreak classic “When I Stop Dreaming.”

The album looks to be a sure hit among country fans and likely will appeal to a good portion of Henley’s Eagles and classic rock audience as well. He said he doesn’t know how to categorize it, but said “I tried to make the kind of album I’d like to hear on country radio.”

The title refers to the region of East Texas, near the borders of Arkansas and Louisiana, where Henley was born in 1947 and grew up in the 1950s.

Ultimately, Henley said, “it’s an album about the circular nature of things,” at which point he became one of the rare musicians working in country music — in 2015 at least — to invoke T.S. Eliot’s famous quote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Calendar will have more on the project closer to its still-undetermined release date, sometime in the fall.

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