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It's taken a while for Darryl Worley to get to the point that he knows his "soul's all right," as he proclaims in "Whistle Dixie," the closing cut on his new self-titled album.
But he's finally come to understand and accept who he is - and the contradictions in his own life.
"There ain't nothin' I love more than sittin' in a pew on Sunday morning and getting a message from the minister that just makes my heart run over," Darryl declares.
"But I'm also always gonna be one of those people that likes to let loose and enjoy myself on Saturday night - kick my heels up, dance a little, have a few drinks, play some good country music.
"I know my God. And I don't think the good Lord above is gonna cast me into the lake of fire for enjoying the life that He gave me."
These days, Darryl is enjoying his life, contradictions and all. And it's nowhere more evident than in "Awful, Beautiful Life," his driving Top 10 hit that chronicles actual events in his own realm of experience.
It's the latest in a string of hits including "I Miss My Friend," "A Good Day to Run," "When You Need My Love" - and the powerful anthem "Have You Forgotten?" that spent a staggering seven weeks at No. 1 in 2003.
"It's all personal," he explains about the song. "My little brother and his wife, they had that fight mentioned in the song. As a matter of fact, my band members witnessed it!"
The song is about Darryl's life, but he believes others can relate to it. "It's real life and real people," he says. "I see that being the predominant reason this song is a hit. People come up to me all the time and say, 'Man, that's me and my bunch!' "
That true-to-life component is a common thread among the tunes on Darryl's CD - and like "Awful, Beautiful Life," much originates from Darryl's personal experiences. "Work and Worry" is a case in point. Darryl got the idea for it early last year when he and his dad were in the woods on a turkey hunt.
"He was saying all this stuff, 'Work and worry, work and worry. That's all my life is - work and worry, ' " smiles Darryl. "I thought it was a great idea for a song, but I didn't tell him about it until I finished it and played it for him.
"And he laughed his butt off! It's one of his favorite songs. It struck a chord. If you listen to that song, it's gonna make you want to get your priorities in order, slow down a little bit, and smell the roses, you know?"
That's the one thing Darryl finds difficult to do with his own work schedule. But he's promised himself to make time this year - to focus on his personal life with wife Beverly, who runs the Worley Bird restaurant in their hometown of Savannah, Tenn.
"The last couple years have been really tough for Beverly and I," he admits. "You know, we've never really had a marriage. We haven't had time. But it has to be a priority, so we're working on it. We're gonna give it everything we've got - just like we said we would when we got married."
That willingness to face life's trying times is also evident throughout the new record, especially in "If Something Should Happen" - a tune about a man who's facing surgery and asks a friend to look after his wife in case he doesn't survive.
"Well, that's deep," he says quietly. "Unfortunately, one of my friends was just buried day before yesterday. He died so suddenly and unexpectedly, I wonder if he would've liked to have had that talk with me." Darryl pauses and adds, "I'm sure that he would've, because we were that close."
While Darryl knows it's only natural to feel sadness with losing a friend, he doesn't want people to cry when his time comes. He wants them to "Whistle Dixie."
"All my life I've heard people say, 'You're not supposed to cry at a funeral. It's supposed to be a celebration.' And I've always thought, 'That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard anybody say.'
"But, you know," he grins, "if you believe that there's a better life after this one, you really should be celebrating.
"That's what I want people to do when it comes my time. I want them to say - and know - that I experienced all the things I wanted to. If it all ended today, I've done everything I wanted to do. And that's a good place to be."
- DAVID SCARLETT