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Keith Urban: Desires of the Heart (2007)

Originally published in our April 23, 2007 issue featuring Keith on the cover.

I know you’re gonna see . . . the best is yet to come . . . The sun is shinin’ on a brand new day

From Keith’s hit “Once in a Lifetime”

For Keith Urban, the sun truly is shining on a brand-new day. 

After a 90-day stint in rehab for alcohol addiction in late 2006, he’s once again fallen in love with the guitar that’s been his near constant companion since he was six years old and is playing with a passion that reveals not only his incredible artistry, but the sheer joy of a man who’s so obviously found inner peace. 

But that peace has been a while in coming. And Keith is quick to look beyond himself to give credit to the anchors in his life who helped him find it.

“I’ve always believed in a power greater than myself,” he declares, “but the key component for me is dependence upon that power. That’s faith.”

And, even during times when he might have appeared to have lost his way, Keith has known there was something guiding him. “I just kept showing up and doing my best,” he candidly admits. “I had desire and dreams in my heart—I still do—and I visualize. 

“I’ve always felt I’ve been guided along a path and so long as I stay out of my own way, things go where they should. I believe it comes down to desires of the heart and if they’re pure and strong, they can come to pass.”

And there is no stronger desire in Keith’s heart than to maintain a strong, supportive relationship with his wife of nine months, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman. In a video statement released on his website shortly after he left rehab, he credits her—as well as other family, friends and fans—for providing greatly needed support.

“It’s [rehab] been one of the most impactful times of my whole life. And I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everybody out there who’s watching this right now . . . for your support. I got cards, I got letters . . . I got . . . hundreds of e-mails. And I just didn’t expect that kind of support.

“But my wife stayed extraordinarily strong and loving . . . and my friends and family were there. And, man, it’s been really overwhelming. I feel so much gratitude.” 

With his young marriage tested and found to be rock solid, Keith is going to considerable lengths to ensure that he and Nicole spend as much time together as possible. In fact, during the U.S. leg of his Love, Pain and the whole crazy World Tour—named after his current Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing CD—Keith has scheduled several blocks of time to leave the tour and fly to their native Australia to be with Nicole as she works on her upcoming epic movie, Australia. He also has some earlier bookings of his own down under and, if her schedule permits, Nicole may be able to go with him to shows in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne.

“My wife and I are gypsy kids and we love traveling,” proclaims Keith. “When I’m by her side, I’m home—wherever that may be. Our main residence is Nashville, where I’ve lived for 16 years, but the home in our hearts is obviously Australia.  All of our families live there and our childhood memories are there. We’re Aussies. We love and live in the U.S. and now we have an opportunity to spend more time in both countries. We’re best friends, so, we do everything together and we’re rarely apart for long.” 

With his personal life back on track, Keith’s career has taken on a new dimension. If anything, he’s even better now than when he began racking up No. 1s and major awards in 2002 when “Somebody Like You” spent an amazing six weeks atop the charts. 

Since then, Keith has had No. 1s with “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” “You’ll Think of Me,” “Days Go By,” “Making Memories of Us” and “Better Life”—the perfect title to mirror Keith’s renewed focus on his own life. He’s also earned a Grammy, the CMA Male Vocalist award in each of the past three years and the CMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year honor for 2005. During the 2006 CMA show, Ronnie Dunn read a gracious acceptance letter from Keith, who was in rehab at the time. 

He’s already had two hits from Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing, “Once in a Lifetime” and “Stupid Boy,” a song Keith heard on newcomer Sarah Buxton’s album and told Nicole he wanted to find a song “like that” to record. Nicole suggested he just record that very song—and the rest is musical history. 

The song, about a man who doesn’t appreciate the wonderful, spirited woman he’s with—until he’s driven her away—is truly powerful. Keith says he doesn’t have any personal experience with that sort of scenario, but doesn’t claim to have been guilt-free in his relationships.

“I’ve never tried to hold anybody down,” he declares, referring to a line in the song. “But I’ve caused hurt in my life that I’m sorry for.”

Keith gives one of his most impassioned performances ever on the tune, captured brilliantly for the GAC concert special, Keith Urban: Inside These Walls, which aired for the first time on Valentine’s Day of this year. Not surprisingly, given Keith’s rediscovery of his passion for the instrument after not playing the guitar throughout rehab, his show these days is very heavy on guitars. He ranks picking right up there with another of his passions in terms of its therapeutic effects. 

“Music and motorcycle riding—very cathartic,” he confides.

“I’ve been playing guitar now for 33 years,” he declares. “And in that time it’s been my life. In the last year or so though, I’ve been awakening to a life outside of music. I’ve spent long stretches without picking up my guitar, sometimes up to a couple of months, and, consequently, I’ve returned to it with a renewed passion. I’ve just had new amplifiers built, they’re called 65’s, and I’ve bought several more vintage guitars as old as 1952. It’s not so much kid in a candy store—it’s more like Charlie being given the whole chocolate factory.”

And Keith is definitely not the only virtuoso picker onstage when he performs—far from it.  “It’s a guitar-based band,” he explains. “Given that a lot of instruments on the record, like mandolin, banjo, papoose, piano, and more, were played by guitarists—me and [co-producer] Dann Huf—we figured we’d have four guitar players, and Jerry Flowers, play all the various parts. 

“There’s a lot of instrument swapping on this tour. The stage is designed to bring you in wherever you’re sitting. [We do] a lot of songs from the new album and a few re-workings of older song’s arrangements. About 22 or so songs on the set list and we may change it up periodically.”

The new songs on Love—10 of 13 written or co-written by Keith—are an eclectic mix of varied grooves and instrumentation. There are some tunes that are variations on vintage Keith Urban and others, like “Faster Car,” where Keith plays the heck out of the bass, electric guitars and ganjo (see sidebar page TK) producing sounds unlike anything else to come out of Nashville in quite a while. And that’s a good thing.  

On “Raise the Barn,” a tune written in the wake of hurricane Katrina and inspired by “the eternal spirit of all our brothers and sisters throughout Louisiana and Mississippi and the Gulf Coast Region,” Keith is joined by Ronnie Dunn, who gives a powerhouse vocal performance, as does Keith. 

And on “Shine,” “I Told You So,” “Won’t Let You Down” and “Used to the Pain,” Keith appears to draw heavily from his own life experience with lines such as Yes I’ve been a fool, but I’ve learned what not to do . . . and . . . For worse or for better, we’re better together . . . and There’s a past in everyone . . . you can’t undo, you can’t outrun.

While Keith loves playing live in venues of any type, he admits to having a soft spot in his heart for small clubs, such as two in Toronto and Nashville where he recently played. The Nashville show was a surprise for some of Keith’s Monkeyville fan club members and a few lucky radio programmers in town for the annual Country Radio Seminar in March.

So, how did it feel playing in that intimate setting?

“Killer,” proclaims Keith emphatically. “It’s where I come from, and it’s the best way to really feel the band. There’s nothing to hide behind—it’s raw, it’s real and it’s how I most love to hear a band. And be with the audience.”

Keith admits to occasionally getting emotional onstage when the audience outpouring is truly overwhelming, but he’s reluctant to say what it is about his music that makes so many people find an emotional connection with it.

“That’s really more a question for the audience,” he declares. “For my part, it’s expressing something that someone relates to, and in that moment the two of you are connected. They feel understood. That’s how we all want to feel.”

Those moments of connection and shared understanding—onstage and off—are really what it’s all about for Keith, who cares much more about far loftier things these days than some of the sex symbol labels that have been sent his way.

“I think about it a lot when I’m taking out the garbage in the morning,” hBut what he does think about are the desires of his heart, what he wants from his life and from himself. ”I desire to be a good husband, a good father and a relevant artist,” he states simply. 

With priorities like that, there’s no doubt Keith is, indeed, headed for a “Better Life.”

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