A quick reality check for Trisha Yearwood's old boyfriends back in Jasper County, Ga.: Her touching new single, "Georgia Rain"? It's not about you.
"There may be one or two who think it's about them," Yearwood laughed during a recent interview, "but it's not. It's not about anything I've been through."
It's easy to read too much into Yearwood's music. She doesn't write her own songs, but she's one of the best in Nashville making intensely personal tunes. With her recent engagement to superstar Garth Brooks, it seems natural to search for clues about her personal life on "Jasper County," her first album in four years.
The Monticello, Ga., native didn't intend to be gone so long. She says she meant to take only a year off, but when she returned to the studio, she wasn't happy with the first batch of songs and decided to start over. Changes at her longtime record label, MCA Nashville, added to her time away, as did her move to Oklahoma to be with Brooks and his three daughters.
When she finally completed "Jasper County," she was careful about the first single.
"I thought 'OK, I've been off the radio for 3 1/2 years — what do I want people to hear first?'" Yearwood said. "Something that sounded very familiar."
Thus "Georgia Rain" — part country and part pop, with rich, emotional lyrics reminiscent of her musical hero, Linda Ronstadt. It recalls a teen romance so strong that the Georgia rain "couldn't wash away all the love we made," then picks up years later when the narrator returns to her hometown and reveals that she still pines for her former love.
"That song is personal only in that it's about home," Yearwood says. "I really wanted to find a song about Georgia, and I love those great story songs."
Most of the album's 10 remaining tracks touch on relationships, from anger ("Who Invented the Wheel") to sorrow ("River of You") to bliss ("It's Alright"). For Yearwood, the most unusual song is "Standing Out in a Crowd," a declaration that the things that make us different make us special.
"That's probably the most atypical song I've done," she says. "I don't really do anthem-type songs. ... But that song felt personal to me, especially now that I'm involved with a man with three children. I see on a daily basis how important those things are when you're a kid."
Keeping quiet about wedding plansA week shy of her 41st birthday, Yearwood looks much as she did 10 years ago. She wears jeans, a black blouse with a Western floral design around the shoulders and neck. Her frosted hair is pulled back.
She laughs when asked if she and Brooks, one of the most successful recording artists in history, have set a wedding date.
"If I had one, I wouldn't tell you," she says coyly.
Brooks, 43, who retired from performing in 2001 to raise his girls, proposed in May. The marriage will be his second and her third.
Yearwood was a demo singer when she sang backup on Brooks' 1989 debut album. She also appeared on his blockbuster follow-up, "No Fences," and the two have since recorded together sporadically.
She seems surprised their engagement drew the attention it did. She recounts her disbelief when friends phoned her to say they saw it on CNN.
"When you're a celebrity on your own there's a certain amount of acknowledgment. When two people who are both famous get together it becomes a bigger thing. It almost becomes bigger than the couple," said Yearwood, who had her first hit in 1991 with "She's In Love With the Boy."
But she's adjusting. She says they lead a relatively quiet life in Oklahoma, where Brooks is from, and knows the limelight could be brighter:
"I look at the things I see all the time on the fronts of the magazines in the grocery line and I think, 'If I'm Jennifer Aniston, I'd move to Australia.'"