The title itself is reflective of his outlook on life — if LaRue has a mantra these days, it’s “keep moving forward.” His first album since 2015’s Us Time, Onward captures the husky-voiced singer looking not only ahead, but inward. This is a man unflinchingly shining a light into some dark, uncomfortable corners of his psyche and bettering himself in the process.
“You want to test your bones and see where they break,” he says, dropping one of the many bon mots that pepper his conversation. “This record is wading through all the mud and storms to hopefully come out on the other side with a wisdom that you didn’t have before. It’s a brighter way to look at things.”
Before there can be redemption, though, there must be a conflict, and LaRue dives into that head-first in the album opener “Fallin’ and Flyin’.” One of 10 songs co-written by Onward’s producer Gary Nicholson, the track was famously performed by Jeff Bridges in the 2009 country music drama Crazy Heart. In LaRue’s hands, it’s a humble admission, part of his journey toward self-improvement. “I never meant to hurt no one/I just had to have my way/if there’s such a thing as too much fun/this must be the price you pay,” he sings.
Likewise, he lays bare his soul in “You Oughta Know Me by Now,” a song that Nicholson and his co-writer Shawn Camp wrote especially for LaRue. While it’s framed around a man’s shortcomings and bad habits, it also conveys a precious honesty, like much of the vulnerable Onward does. “Gary told me, ‘You’re getting a chance with this album to show people who you truly are,’” LaRue says. “It might be too blatant for some people, but if you’re that blatantly honest, that’s a direct path to someone’s spirit, you know?”
Forging connections with his fans is paramount for LaRue, who plays more than 200 live shows a year. His base is a fiercely loyal one, and not just within the Red Dirt region. He regularly tours throughout the entire country and has fans in some unexpected places. Chalk up his mass appeal to the way he sells his songs both onstage and on record — to listen to LaRue sing the nostalgic, Bob Seger-esque “Drowning in Moonlight” on Onward is to hear someone with whom you share an experience.
“I thought that song would be something that’s very relatable. You want to think about your first kiss overlooking the city with the top down,” he says. “There’s something so sexy and romantic about that song. It’s dark, but it’s light at the same time.”…