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Ripples, pushed by a gentle Texas breeze, march across the lake and tap against the sides of the rowboat. Clay Walker, captain of this vessel, is watching his crew reel in their catch. The crew - his daughters, MaClay, 7, and Skylor, 4 - are laughing and keeping an eye on the shoreline for Pocahontas' village.

"Being with the girls on my first day off the road is wonderful - and they both love to fish," declares a beaming Clay from the kitchen of his Texas home. "We caught grasshoppers together and put 'em in a little bug box. Then we headed out on the lake here at the ranch. We were paddling around and the girls thought we were like Pocahontas. It was really cool.

"They both caught some perch," he adds. "And today we're going back for bass."

This wasn't his girls' first fishing expedition.

"I've taken 'em saltwater fishing, too," notes Clay. "The last time we went MaClay caught a really nice drum. She handled it all by herself - I didn't touch the rod and reel. She casted it, set the hook, got the fish in. All I did was net it. And Skylor caught a flounder. We ate both fish - and they thought that was the coolest thing they'd ever done!

"I didn't catch anything that day. So they really enjoyed telling their wonderful mother Lori - and everybody else - about that."

For those of you scoring at home, that's MaClay, 1; Skylor, 1; Dad, 0.

But Clay has been scoring big time on the radio and in record stores. "A Few Questions," the first single from his new album, is already Top 10. "It feels awesome to be back on the radio with a new song," he admits. "Our last hit was two years ago with 'Chain of Love.' There's nothing as cool as reaching fans with fresh music."

With his just-released A Few Questions CD debuting at No. 3 on Billboard's country charts and No. 23 on the pop charts, Clay points out that this seventh album goes beyond anything he's ever done. "This is the most introspective album I've ever made," he reveals. "It really gives people a good look at me - and what I'm thinking.

"I'm so proud of this record. I've had apprehensions on previous albums. I was fearful that people wouldn't like certain songs. I can honestly say I have no fears about any song on this CD. All of them fit me really well and there's not one thing I would do differently on any song.

"The album is absolutely the best I can do at this point in my life," he continues. "I feel like I'm singing better than I ever have. There's a lot of maturity and strength in my voice."

He's definitely out of the chute strong with his debut single."'A Few Questions' is touching people the way it touched me the first time I heard it," notes Clay. "The choruses come right out of the Book of Job. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis back in 1996, the Book of Job is part of the Bible I read over and over, trying to understand what I needed to do. And every time I sing the song, it lifts up my own spirits as much as it lifts those of others.

"My favorite line in the song is When you look down on me, can you see the good through all the bad. That's a powerful thought."

Clay smiles a big, easy smile. "The feedback we get from people all across the country is rewarding. To know that a song I've done reaches out and touches so many people in such a positive way can't help but make my own days a lot brighter."

One of the songs Clay co-wrote, "I Can't Sleep," could be one of the album's singles. "It's an R&B kind of song I started one day at the beach. Not long after that, Chely Wright and Lonestar's Richie McDonald came on my bus at a show in Colorado and we played songs we'd each started writing. When I played a piece of 'I Can't Sleep,' Chely said she could help me finish it. And when we played it at Chely's annual charity fundraiser during Fan Fair last June, it got a standing ovation."

And an up-tempo song on the CD is getting the same response. "'When She's Good She's Good' is one of the best crowd pleasers I've ever had or ever seen," declares Clay. "It has instant audience impact."

The song's definitely had an impact on one of Clay's closest critics.

"MaClay and Skylor listen to the album all the time," beams Clay.

"And they have their favorites. MaClay likes to sing - she's a real bluesy singer - so she really likes 'When She's Good She's Good.' Skylor likes 'Countrified.' It's real rockin' and she gets into it."

Clay breaks into a laugh.

"I've got two little rock 'n' rollers in the house - and that's cool."

Story by Larry Holden