"I'm humbled when you take the time/ to hear my life in verse and rhyme/ but when it comes to heroes I know I'm just a singer in a band." Singer In A Band - Gary Harrison-Tim Mensy

I've long been bemused when precious pop-rock singers try to avoid fans at all costs.

A colleague, accustomed to major country acts spending hours post concert with fans, was bemused when a low rent international blues man disappeared into the ether after a Richmond gig.

He spoke nary a word to his audience on stage - and not a whisper afterwards.

Arkansas born country star Joe Nichols, 27, is a complete contrast.

He's well qualified to act out Gary Harrison-Tim Mensy song Singer In A Band from his third album Revelation (Universal South.)

< Joe Nichols

At 19 his self-titled indie 1996 debut disc produced three singles but the label folded and he returned to skull orchards to sing for his supper.

Career rebirth disc Man With a Memory sold a million copies with hits such as She Only Smokes When She Drinks, The Impossible and Brokenheartsville.

Nichols uses humility to put his success into perspective - he lauds unsung heroes and victims akin to songs by Troy Cassar-Daley and Lee Kernaghan.

But Joe has a distinct advantage - an international radio and concert audience when he sings of those heroes.

"Cause I've seen a third grade angel with dark circles neath her eyes/ not a trace of hair left on her head, saying "Daddy don't you cry.'"

He's not a prolific writer - the flippant What's A Guy Gotta Do is his only original here.

But he has good taste.

Nichols revives Iris De Ment song No Time To Cry, cut in 1996 by Merle Haggard, as a tribute to his dad Mike who died of lung cancer at 46 in 2002.

"It just reflects my life at this time more than anything I've heard," Nichols revealed. "It's an emotional moment on the album for me, personally."

Mike was a big influence on his son and shared his success; when Joe made his Grand Ol Opry debut in March 2002, he was stage side.

"Of course he was in a wheelchair then, he was pretty sick," Nichols recalls. "After I was done we cried together and he told me that was one of his proudest moments."

Joe also reaches back for the Bobby Braddock title track, cut by late Waylon Jennings on his 1972 disc Ladies Love Outlaws.

The song, a cheating nightmare in which Jesus greets the character as he awakes from his motel sin bed fire, is classic country.

"It was the first time I'd heard it," Nichols said of the original, "I couldn't believe that anyone hadn't recut it since then. Of course, Waylon did a heck of a job on it. It kind of punched me in the gut."


Nichols pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley in I Wish That Wasn't All, a tale of the good things in life "leave you wantin' more."

"My dad was a big fan of his, too," Nichols says. "He was a truck driver, and we'd spend a few weeks out on the road away from home. I remember we wore the Keith Whitley tapes out."

He explores parental responsibility in Things Like That, eroding values in If Nobody Believed In You, honky tonk hedonism in Don't Ruin It For The Rest Of Us and revamps Lawton Williams penned Gene Watson seventies hit, Farewell Party.

So what makes Nichols more than an average Joe?

He is a neo-traditionalist in the style of Whitley, Travis and Merle Haggard but unlike his mentors scores widespread airplay and sales in his homeland.

The baritone shares radio with Alan Jackson and George Strait and his dreams emerge in entrée song The Shade.

"I don't want a fast car/ don't need a four lane highway/ there's not another place I'd rather be/ cause out here in the country, bluebirds sing for nothin'/ and the shade comes free with the tree."

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