You wouldn’t think it, but country's shift away from traditional country music is actually good business for Joe Nichols. The singer says it's created a lane for him to work in, but it's also framed what he sees as his biggest challenge moving forward. The mild-mannered country veteran is quietly preparing to release his seventh studio album since Man With a Memory put him on the map in a big way in 2002. "The Impossible" and "Brokenheartsville" left people describing him as country's next Randy Travis. Personal struggles and discontent with several different record labels have led to a fit of stops and starts for the 38-year-old. He admits that when shopping for a new label home, he had trust issues.

There was no passion for what I was doing, the music I was making. We didn't see eye to eye on a lot of songs and a lot of single choices and it wasn’t a good working relationship at all. It was a bad marriage.

“If you’re in a bad marriage and you get beat up all the time, you’re a battered spouse and you kind of get a little gun-shy about getting married again, or trusting your partner,” Nichols tells Taste of Country, talking about previous label partners without naming any one specifically.

"There was no passion for what I was doing, the music I was making. We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of songs and a lot of single choices and it wasn’t a good working relationship at all. It was a bad marriage."

"Sunny and 75" was a trust fall. The 2013 single — his first on Red Bow Records, a division of Broken Bow — was slicker and more pop-friendly than anything he'd released previously, and when the label brought it to him, Nichols was skeptical. Red Bow representatives challenged him to try the song, thinking that his traditional voice would pull even the slickest production back to a realm he felt comfortable in. "They were right," Nichols says of the chart-topping, gold-certified hit. "I wouldn't have done that had they not encouraged me to do that." Another No. 1 followed, and all of a sudden, Nichols' career was rolling again. In 2016 Nichols will release his second album on Red Bow, the followup to Crickets. His greatest challenge, he says, is embracing traditional country music while still appealing to a younger audience. "Sunny and 75" made that road a little smoother. His new single "Freaks Like Me" drives down it gracefully.

Red Bow Nashville

"Freaks" is without-a-doubt Nichols' loudest release to date, and he says a few others on the album also marry his "country bumpkin" voice with loud guitars. These songs may make up what gets released to radio, but the remaining cuts are "stone cold country." "We All Carry Something," a sexy love song called "I'd Sing About You" and "This Side of the River" are three the singer talked about with enthusiasm. The latter is also a love song about living in the moment with someone special. Fans of his more faith-based cuts will appreciate it.

“I think everybody kind of feels country getting away from the same rut,” Nichols says. “The same lyrics, the same sound, the same loops and the instrumentation are starting to sound the same. I think people are looking for authenticity.”

A migration away from traditional country music has left Nichols with an open road to work in. Few artists are uniquely capable of appealing to a younger audience while staying true to men like Travis and George Jones. You'll never find him relying on "looped-up, souped-up, 2016 what-everyone-else-is-doing" kinds of sounds. With the right partners, he's able to appeal to the people who also enjoy those sounds as well.

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