Parker McCollum's list of collaborators for his Gold Chain Cowboy album is impressive by any standard, but especially for an artist at the start of his career on a national level.

Texas great Randy Rogers co-wrote three of the 10 songs with McCollum, including one with fellow Texan Wade Bowen, on which yet another Texas native, Danielle Bradbery, sings. Hit songwriter Randy Montana ("Better Together," "I Hope You're Happy Now"), frequent Chris Young co-conspirator Corey Crowder and "I Drive Your Truck" singer-turned-in-demand songwriter Rhett Akins are on there, too. Grammy winner Jon Randall, in addition to co-writing two songs, produced the record.

And — oh, right: Miranda Lambert and Brian Kelley each co-wrote a song with McCollum for Gold Chain Cowboy, the 29-year-old's debut major-label album but his third project overall.

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The former, "Falling Apart," is upbeat but heartbroken, a big, '80s-rock guitar line backing McCollum as he sings about how he did an ex a favor by ending things because "you were fallin' in love and I was fallin' apart."

"[Randall] had .38 Special on the speakers [when we were doing pre-production work], and I remember asking him, like, 'Why does nobody ... produce records like this anymore?'" McCollum shares. "And he was like, 'Well, man, let's do it. Let's take "Falling Apart" and rip off .38 Special.'

"And so, we did," he adds. "... It just absolutely kicks ass."

Rogers organized the co-writing session for what became "Falling Apart" after suggesting to McCollum that they, Randall and Lambert — whom McCollum calls "the Dolly Parton of my generation" — get together. McCollum brought in a melody and the line "Maybe I just wanted someone else," which he loved but, he says, gave Lambert pause.

"Miranda didn't like how mean that line was," McCollum recalls, "so she suggested 'Maybe you're better with someone else,' which I thought was a really cool angle on the song."

Gold Chain Cowboy's final song, "Never Loved You at All," meanwhile, is the Kelley cut, and was also co-written with Corey Crowder. Barroom piano and a twangy melody give off George Strait vibes, but McCollum and company didn't necessarily have the King of Country Music in mind as they wrote; in fact, he says "it was just kind of a shot in the dark."

On his way to Kelley's house that day, McCollum was thinking about a song called "Wish I'd Never Loved You at All." When he proposed the idea to Kelley and Crowder, they let him run with it.

"They literally just let me stand there and kind of freestyle sing, and just kind of ramble out some stuff," McCollum says. "And they were writing it down, and I'd sing some more, and they'd write it down."

Taken as a whole, McCollum notes, Gold Chain Cowboy follows a timeless — though never any less tragic — country music arc: Something great going south. In the opening track, "Wait Outside," McCollum is promising to love a "pretty angel" forever, even if it means waiting outside the gates of Heaven; by the album's end, he's wishing it'd all never happened.

"That's right up my alley," McCollum says. "There's so many things in life [that] start off so great and end so terribly. And when you're writing songs, that's a great, great route to take."

The year 2020 was one of those things for McCollum. After signing with MCA Nashville in mid-2019, he was poised for a big year; instead, he released his first national radio single, "Pretty Heart," just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting the world down and wound up stuck at home instead of out on the road.

"I never really got down about it; I was more just, like, scared of: Did this just happen when I was getting my shot?" he says. "You just don't know what's gonna come of it or how it's gonna end up."

It would be unfair to say that things went completely bad for McCollum, of course: "Pretty Heart" topped the country radio charts at the end of the year, and now that he's back at full speed, career-wise, "it's never been better than it is right now."

McCollum learned, too, that slowing down isn't always a bad thing. He takes better care of himself on the road now, and tries to be "much more professional" about his songwriting — "nitpicking a lot more and really trying to get to the bottom of what my heart, my mind, are trying to say."

"COVID kind of forced me to ... realize that, man, just take it one step at a time," he says, "and if you're gonna write this song, really put some thought into it instead of just rambling about stuff."

"Rest of My Life" — the only song on Gold Chain Cowboy that McCollum wrote alone — is an honest look at the difficult moments that led to those changes. The singer admits that the early days of the pandemic messed with his creative abilities, and he fell back on some bad habits. The song came out stream-of-consciousness style, but what you hear on the album is what he put down on paper that day — no changes.

"I was very honest with myself about the way I was living, and trying to put everything into perspective," McCollum says. "For the first time since I started touring, I was kind of forced to slow down and think about everything ... and [ask myself]: How long do you really want to be doing this?"

The answer was clear: "If you want to do it forever," he remembers realizing, "you've gotta get your s--t together."

Parker McCollum Gold Chain Cowboy
UMG Nashville

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