On Chris Tomlin & Friends, Christian artist Chris Tomlin looked to his pals in the country community to lend a hand and their voices.
The album, out July 31, features the 21-time Dove Award winner performing with Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett on “Thank You Lord” and Lady A on “Who You Are To Me.”
Also on the set are Brett Young, Chris Lane, RaeLynn, Blessing, NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bear Rinehart and Russell Dickerson, who was on Tomlin’s tour crew before striking out as a solo country artist. A chance meeting with FGL’s Tyler Hubbard led to Hubbard and his FGL partner Brian Kelley executive producing the album. “Tyler and I both grew up leading worship in the church, performing Tomlin’s songs, so to have the chance to be a part of this album with one of our musical inspirations is a true blessing,” says Kelley. Longtime FGL collaborator Corey Crowder produced the bulk of the project. Tomlin, who relocated to Nashville a few years ago, has been spending a lot of time with country artists lately: he appears on Rhett’s current hit, “Be a Light.”
Shortly before the album’s release, Tomlin, whose 2103 album, Burning Lights, debuted atop The Billboard 200, will embark on Tomlin Worship Tailgate, a slate of three shows set for July 24-26 in Louisville, Huntsville, Ala., and Rock, Ga. Additional weekends will be announced soon. “These tailgate events provide a safe way to come together and remind us how simple songs of worship can connect and give us a voice together in some of the hardest times,” Tomlin says. “This night is about gathering all streams of the church as one voice; so bring your families and friends and pop the tailgate down and let’s worship together under the summer sky.”
Tomlin further explained to Billboard how the album came together and his hopes for the collection.
You and Tyler met randomly. How did that evolve into working together?
Last spring, I was down at the beach and went to a gym to workout. There was only one other person there and I realized it was Tyler so I just walked up and said hello. I did not expect what was coming next. He said, “Are you kidding me? Man, this is full circle in my life.” I was taken back as he explained how he had started out leading worship with BK [Kelley] years ago in college. We ended up exchanging phone numbers and met up the next day to write.
Why did you want to bring in other country artists as the project continued?
This entire project came about organically. As I continued to write with BK and Tyler, more artists expressed their interest in being a part of what was happening and fairly quickly we had a full project on our hands. This truly is a project that was not put together by managers and labels, but by friends.
Country and Christian music have always seemed to align closely, but was there anything that surprised you about the country artists that you worked with on this project?
One of the things that was surprising to me was how many of these artists were inspired and influenced by worship music at an early age. Interestingly enough, growing up as a kid from Texas, I was inspired and influenced by country music. My dad gave me my first guitar when I was nine years old and he taught me my first song, Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” It is just amazing how we all have different paths and platforms but have all met together for this project to bring glory to God.
Given that you were working with country artists who have strong faith, but aren’t Christian artists, did that affect the songwriting process at all in terms of broadening the message?
Everyone bringing their own unique experiences and talents to the table is what made the songs and their message so relatable and powerful. One of my personal hopes for this album is to take a step towards bridging Christian music and all other genres. I believe themes about faith and God are relevant and needed regardless of the style of music or streaming platform genre classification. Since I was young, I have felt a calling on my life to help give people a voice to worship God. I want people to have the opportunity to worship every day of the week not just on Sundays; while they are in their car, at work, running, or just listening to whatever shows up on their playlist. For me this record is a step towards breaking down the walls of the Christian genre and allowing the music to be accessible to a wider audience. That’s my understanding of the Gospel. Music about faith, God, salvation and forgiveness doesn’t only have to come from the Christian genre.
How do you see this as a chance to introduce your vast legion of fans to these artists and you to some of their audiences?
As a country music fan I have always felt there is often a close connection between the themes of country music and faith. I experienced this first hand back in August 2019 when BK and Tyler invited me down to Atlanta to join them on stage towards the end of their concert. After their song, “H.O.L.Y.” I was standing side stage about to join them and I looked out to a sold-out crowd of 20,000 people lifting their hands up in the air. As I walked out to join them Tyler said, “we have found there’s a great power when we lift our hands. We’re going to praise God for a minute,” and he brings me out and we do ‘How Great Is Our God’ right in that moment. I was shaking. It was so powerful.
Will the songs be worked to country radio as well as Christian radio?
We do have plans for “Who You Are To Me” to go to Christian radio in July. I am so excited for people to hear this song. I have always said that there are good songs, great songs, and God songs and oftentimes those God songs just happen to write themselves. When Hillary [Scott], Charles [Kelley], Dave [Haywood] and I sat down to write, “Who You Are To Me” basically wrote itself. This song is going to have a real impact on people’s lives. With all that being said, if the opportunity ever presented itself, we would be grateful for the ability to reach an even larger audience with country radio.