LOS ANGELES (AP) — In July, country music star Craig Morgan reenlisted in the Army Reserves on the historic Grand Ole Opry stage. At age 59, the process required a waiver and an extensive physical test. It also inspired the title for the new EP he had been working on: “Enlisted,” out Friday.
The six-song collection includes two new tracks and a few reimaginations of his hits, alongside A-list and up-and-coming collaborators like Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, Luke Combs, Lainey Wilson, and Jelly Roll.
The Opry holds particular meaning to Morgan — it’s not only a stage he’s frequented, but it is also where he spent his last evening with his 19-year-old son Jerry, who drowned in 2016. “After what happened, happened, everything takes on a new meaning,” he says. “Us not having his physical presence, (he) was missed.”
Previously, Morgan served 17 years in the Army and Army Reserve with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions as an E-6 Staff Sergeant and Fire Support Specialist. He says he’s always regretted not hitting the 20 years of service mark, and reenlisting allows him the opportunity.
Morgan hopes he inspires others to do the same. “Recruiting is the worst that it’s been since the inception of the military,” he says. “I’m marrying both my worlds, my world of music and my world of military.”
As for the EP — Morgan says he wasn’t crazy about the idea of re-recording some of his biggest hits. His manager wanted him to re-do “Redneck Yacht Club,” and he wasn’t sure — until he performed another hit, “Almost Home,” at the Opry in 2022 with up-and-comer Jelly Roll and was confronted with his songs’ impact.
Jelly Roll was almost moved to tears when he described how the song gave him hope. “I realized that ‘Almost Home,’ what it did for Jelly impacted a whole new audience as well as my old audience,” Morgan says. “And I thought there might be a place to revisit these songs.”
“Enlisted” features a new recording of the track with Jelly Roll (“He epitomizes what love is,” Morgan says of the rapper-turned-country singer. “No barriers, no walls,”). Country Music Awards favorite Wilson joins Morgan on “International Harvester.”
“Lainey Wilson had listened to it growing up with her dad, riding around in the truck on the farm,” he says.
“Redneck Yacht Club,” too, gets a facelift, now with Jimmy Buffet -style steel drums and contributions from Shelton, who was featured in the original 2005 music video.
“I absolutely love him. He’s my favorite idiot,” Morgan says of his longtime friend. “I called him up and said, ‘I’m re-cutting some songs. I want you on ‘Redneck Yacht Club,’ because, I don’t know if you remember, but your Mullet-ed self was in the video.’” Shelton, of course, said yes.
As for the two new tracks, Morgan partnered with Combs on “Raise the Bar,” and Adkins on “That Ain’t Gonna Be Me.”
“Enlisted” reworks Morgan’s biggest hits and celebrates the current country musician generation. “There’s something to be said about singing a song that the majority of our populace wants to be able to relate to, or can relate to,” he says. “And that’s what great country does; I believe.”