Don Henley Casts All-Star Guests For New Country Album

When the Eagles’ Don Henley started looking for guest singers to accompany him on his new country album, he compared it to casting for a film.

“It’s like reading a screenplay. Who would be the best to play this part?” Henley said. “I was extremely fortunate in that nobody turned me down.”

The all-star cast on Cass County, out Friday, includes Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton, along with Miranda Lambert, Trisha Yearwood and Vince Gill.

Photo: Wade Payne/Invision/AP
Poses for a photo at CMT Studios in Nashville, Tenn.

Henley kicks off the album with a killer cover of “Bramble Rose” featuring Lambert and Mick Jagger, who adopts a little twang in his voice and plays the harmonica.

“I emailed (Lambert) and said, ‘What do you think if the guy who sang the last verse was Mick Jagger?’ And she emailed me back and said, ‘Well, hell yes!’“ Henley said.

He wrote “The Cost of Living” with Haggard in mind.

“We squeezed it out of him,” Henley said with a smile. “He got a little cantankerous at one point. But he’s allowed. He’s 10 years my senior. By the end of the session, I was referring to him as ‘sir.’“

When Henley asked Parton to duet with him on a cover of “When I Stop Dreaming” – a song she and Porter Wagoner performed together – Parton told him she normally doesn’t sing so high.

“I love it when she strains, when she sings up that high voice and gets a little hoarse,” he said.

Henley, 68, spent years recording Cass County, his first new solo music in 15 years, in Texas, California and various studios around Nashville. He cut most of the album live in the studio singing with the band.

A noted preservationist, he made his album an ode to Americana by mixing roots rock, folk and pedal steel-heavy country music and throwing in songs made famous by the Louvin Brothers, Joan Baez and Tammy Wynette. He lamented the factory quality of today’s country music, but lauded authentic artists like Jason Isbell.

“I hear a lot of stuff that is more artifice than art, and there is a difference,” he said. “It’s always gone in cycles, both here in Nashville and in Los Angeles. You get into a cycle of music that is very pop and shallow for a while and then someone comes along and begins a new wave of neo-traditional music. And it just goes round and round and round.”