Exclusive: Collin Raye Opens Up About 'Masterpiece' New Album, '25 Years, 25 Hits'

Collin Raye is back with new music. The country music icon will release 25 Years, 25 Hits on Tuesday, May 15, celebrating Raye's more than a quarter-century in music.

"It seems like it was really just yesterday," Raye tells PopCulture.com of the release of his debut album, All I Can Be, in 1991. "But then when you really start counting the years back, and realize all that has transpired between then and now, it does seem like an eternity ago."

The Arkansas native has had more than 20 Top 10 singles, including "In This Life," "My Kind of Girl" and "Not That Different." But for Raye, there is one hit that will always stand out above the rest.

"'One Boy, One Girl' or 'I Think About You,' 'Little Red Rodeo' – some of those have become so automatic to me, that when I'm singing them, I could be thinking about my grocery list, or something else, and it just comes out," Raye admits. ''Love, Me' can be that way at times, because I've just sung it so much. 'Little Rock' is one of those songs that, every time you sing it, you can't help but perform it. The song takes over. It's that dramatic of a song, that dramatic of a story. The melody is real compelling. So I've never just sort of went through the motions on that song. I can't. As soon as it begins, you start performing the song. So that would probably be my favorite."

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(Photo: Absolute Publicity)

25 Years, 25 Hits became a passion project for Raye, who devoted a lot of time and energy into making sure it was perfect, both for himself and for his fans.

"This has been a labor of love, and the keyword is labor, because we've spent over a year and a half making this album, like the old rock albums of the '70s," shares Raye. "There's 28 songs on this record, 25 hits. It's called 25 Years, 25 Hits. So we re-cut everything. That in itself was a big undertaking, because you want the new tracks to sound like the old tracks, so people hear the licks and they go, 'Oh, I know what that song is.' But yet you also want to try and improve upon what you did the first time. That was a labor to do that, and cut them all in the same key, do them with the same intensity. I'm a lot older now than I was when some of those early ones came out. And so, it was a challenge, but it was a good challenge."

"I really wanted to make it my masterpiece," adds Raye, "so that if I never make another record, somebody could put that on and go, 'That was as good as it got right there.'"

With a busy touring career still, both on his own and with Aaron Tippin and Sammy Kershaw as part of their co-headlining Roots & Boots Tour, the 57-year-old has no interest in reinventing himself, or doing anything other than making music.

"You get to the point in your life where you're like, 'I'm a singer. That's what I do,'" Raye says. "I'm a singer. I'm a live performer. I'm an entertainer. And I'm still pretty good at making records. So to me, I am comfortable in my skin to the fact that I will keep playing until nobody comes anymore. I'm going to keep touring until nobody wants to hear me, because that's what I do. That's just what I do. And I don't think I would still have the ability to do it at the level I do if I wasn't supposed to still be doing it. I feel like if [God]'s ready for me to be done, it's going to be obvious, because I won't be able to do it anymore.

"Making records, there's more I would like to do, but I'm also realistic to know that it depends on the situation," he continues. "I'll seize whatever opportunity comes my way if it makes sense for me. I've always admired Rodney Crowell a great deal. And Alison Krauss, people like that, because they didn't get into this business to be stars. They're not interested in being stars. They're not interested in being celebrities. They're artists. And Rodney would not do anything that wasn't true to his art. He didn't care if he sold a million records or if he sold five."

Now that Raye is making music on his own, he hopes to emulate Crowell's career, and continue to make his music, his way.

"It's comforting to me right now to be like, 'I can be like Rodney Crowell. I can do something I want to do,'" says Raye. "Thank God I have a loyal bastion of fans out there that are interested and fascinated by whatever it is I do. And if I only sell stuff to them, or play to them, that's fine. I don't have to try to knock down any more walls or barriers. There's a freedom that comes with that, that I didn't know existed back in the day when we felt like it was all a foot race. Who's going to win the trophy? Who's going to race to the finish line first."

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"Whatever I do, I'm just worried about the music," Raye maintains. "If it turns out good, if I'm happy with it, if I'm proud of it, then I don't really care what else happens. Of course, you want it to be heard, but as far as how many you sell, it doesn't matter anymore."

Photo Credit: Instagram/collinrayeofficial