Last year, Sara Evans released the live EP The Barker Family Band, a collaboration with her daughter Olivia and son Avery. It was familiar territory for the Missouri native, who grew up performing in a family band with her siblings. Evans' latest project, the covers album Copy That (out May 15), co-produced by Evans and Jarrad K, turned out to be another family project. In addition to Avery playing guitar throughout the album and Olivia lending vocals to the tracks, her kids helped choose the songs for the decade-spanning album.
"We started a group chat with me and my three kids and my husband and my brother and one of my sisters and my manager. And anytime any of us thought of a cool song, we would put it on the group chat," Evans tells Wide Open Country. "Every time I would hear a cool song I would just put it on my list. So we probably had close to a hundred songs and then we just kept narrowing it down."
Copy That features Evans lending her honeyed vocals to everything from Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (a collaboration with Old Crow Medicine Show) to the 1977 Bee Gees hit "If I Can't Have You," which Evans calls the heart of the album.
"Once we got the strings on and all that... it just grooves. I see why it was in Saturday Night Fever and everybody wanted to dance to it because it's just so good," Evans says. "After the day of tracking it, we all just kept dancing and singing it and then it just became the love of the album."
2020 is a year of reflection for Evans. It marks the 20th anniversary of her career-defining album Born to Fly, which spawned the hit title track, "I Could Not Ask For More" and "Saints and Angels." She's releasing a memoir, fittingly titled Born to Fly, in September.
Evans says the book is a collection of significant portions of her life and stories she's never shared before.
"I thought, I don't really want to write a full blown autobiography because I'm too young and I don't know if I'm ready to do that yet," Evans says, explaining that her life has changed since she was first approached about writing the book. "I really wanted it to be sort of like a 'how-to,' like [Allison Pearson's 2003 novel about a working mother] I Don't Know How She Does It. Four years ago, when we started it, the kids were all still in school. We were still in Birmingham. I was still very much balancing, you know, my career and motherhood. Now, we all live in Nashville again. And my teenage daughters are both in online school, so they're traveling with me. My son is 20. So we're not in the same situation that we were when I started the book."
The singer says the book will capture "what I'm really like" and includes everything from career stories to parenting advice. (Evans married Alabama football star turned sportscaster Jay Barker in 2008 and the couple has a blended family with seven kids.)
"There are a couple of chapters where I need to talk about parenting and I do give a lot of unsolicited advice," Evans says, laughing. "How I think, what I think the key to raising great kids is."
Following the release of her 1997 debut album Three Chords and the Truth and breakout record No Place That Far (featuring the No. 1 hit title track with vocals from Vince Gill), Evans quickly became one of the most successful country artists of the late '90s and early aughts. She's been the fifth most-played female artist at country radio for nearly two decades. But Evans says the opportunities for women in country radio have diminished drastically in the last 20 years.
"There's nobody talking from a woman's point of view these days. It's just about the truck and the beer and partying down by the river. 'Get in my truck girl with your tight shorts on.' You don't have any songs like 'You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man' or 'I Could Not Ask For More' from me," Evans says. "I really don't know how to advise my daughter. I would never want her to try to get into country because she's just not going to get the opportunity to be heard on radio. And it's not that way in pop, which is funny. There are just so many great female artists and it's ridiculous what has happened. I keep hearing people say, 'Well, it's changing. It's changing a little bit. It's getting a little bit better.' But every time I turn on country radio all I hear is the same guy over and over and over and over."
Despite a steady stream of albums -- 2003's Restless ("Suds in the Bucket," "Perfect"), 2005's Real Fine Place, 2011's Stronger, 2014's Slow Me Down -- Evans, like most female artists, has seen her presence on country radio rapidly decline. 2017's critically-acclaimed Words was largely ignored by mainstream stations.
When asked how current treatment compares to what she experienced when launching her career, Evans doesn't mince words.
"I was very respected and known as somebody who was not only having hits at radio, but was also respected in the industry. Radio just flat out rejected me after 'Slow Me Down'," Evans says. "'Slow Me Down' was my last hit."
Even without current radio play, Evans' influence on a new generation of artists hasn't waned. Her performance of "Born to Fly" during the opening medley at the 2019 CMA Awards was a highlight of the night and sales for the track soared in the following days.
With Copy That, Evans offers a source of escape and comfort at a time when it's most needed.
"I want everybody to hear it because it really is fun and everybody's going to know every song," Evans says. "They're not going to have to invest the time to learn the songs. They're just going to be able to turn it on and sing."
'Copy That' Track Listing:
1. "If I Can't Have You" - (originally recorded by the Bee Gees)
2. "Don't Get Me Wrong" - (originally recorded by The Pretenders)
3. "Come On Eileen" - (originally recorded by Dexys Midnight Runners)
4. "Crazy Love" - (originally recorded by Poco)
5. "Whenever I Call You Friend" feat. Philip Sweet - (originally recorded by Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks)
6. "It's Too Late" - (originally recorded by Carole King)
7. "Monday Morning" - (originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac)
8. "All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye" - (originally recorded by John Mayer)
9. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" feat. Old Crow Medicine Show - (originally recorded by Hank Williams)
10. "6th Avenue Heartache" - (originally recorded by the Wallflowers)
11. "My Sharona" - (originally recorded by the Knack)
12. "She's Got You" - (originally recorded by Patsy Cline)
13. "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" - (originally recorded by Chicago)