Craig Morgan Reveals Stories Behind Collaborating With Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll, Luke Combs & More On His New EP, ‘Enlisted’

“It just turned into one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done,” Morgan shared.


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

October 20, 2023


2:56 pm

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Craig Morgan is reimagining a handful of his fan-favorite songs while also introducing two new tunes on his just-released EP, Enlisted.

The six-song collection features four re-recordings of his previously released tracks that were pulled straight out of his impressive catalog of hits. Plus, to elevate the new versions even more, he recruited several of his friends and fellow country stars, including Lainey Wilson, Blake Shelton, Jelly Roll, and Gary LeVox, to join him on the project.

Bookending those classic tunes are two brand-new songs – “Raise The Bar” feat. Luke Combs and “That Ain’t Gonna Be Me” feat. Trace Adkins. 

Collaborative Project Out Now

Craig Morgan; Enlisted Cover Art
Craig Morgan; Enlisted Cover Art

While discussing the project with Country Now, Craig Morgan admits he wasn’t too keen on the idea of reintroducing a collection of his hits at first, but then the thought of bringing in a few famous friends to give these songs a new life changed his perspective. 

Started With “Raise The Bar”

At the time, he and Billy Dean had written a new song called “Raise The Bar,” that Morgan had initially thought he would pitch to Luke Combs. He ultimately decided he would keep the song for himself and instead ask Combs to join him on the recording, which ended up being the first cut for the EP. 

“Raise The Bar” fits perfectly into Combs’ catalog as it offers a fun, upbeat, yet sincere approach to celebrating the working class. Together, the pair of country music superstars raise their glasses and their voices, making for a must-hear celebratory anthem. 

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“I’ll be honest, this song is more in line and in the vein that Luke is than probably me even more so. But the thing is, I love the play on words. We’re here to raise the bar, we’re here to make things better. And I’m not trying to pigeonhole Luke and say that he’s just a beer guy, ‘Cause I mean, he has great music across the spectrum, but it just seemed like a perfect fit,” Morgan shared. 

Full-Circle Moment With Blake Shelton

This collaborative new tune then sparked the inspiration to bring Blake Shelton on the renewal of 2005’s “Redneck Yacht Club,” and slowly, the collection of star-studded collaborations began to form. 

“That’s what started this whole project. It was that ‘Raise The Bar’ song, which is why it’s the first song on the project. Then Blake came in and we did that, and then we started thinking about other hits that we should use.”

Having Shelton take part in the new version of “Redneck Yacht Club” acts as a full-circle moment for the pair of country stars because back when the music video for the original recording dropped in 2005, Shelton made a hilarious cameo while sporting his iconic mullet. This project gave him the opportunity to reunite with his longtime friend and also bring his fun-loving spirit to the comedic storyline that describes a group of “regular joes” enjoying their ideal summer day on the water.

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Shelton and Morgan take turns delivering the verses and then come together on the chorus as they sing, “Bass-trackers, Bayliners and a party barge / Strung together like a floatin’ trailer park / Anchored out and gettin’ loud all summer long / Side by side, there’s five houseboat front porches / Astroturf, lawn chairs and tiki torches / Regular Joes rockin’ the boat, that’s us / The Redneck Yacht Club.”

Despite having a blast recreating this song with Shelton, who Morgan considers to be one of his “best friends” and “favorite idiot,” there was a still a bit of hesitancy when it came down to the fact that he was changing up a beloved classic. 

Admits It’s “Nerve-Wracking” To Change Up A Classic

“As an artist, that’s a little nerve-wracking because I know that people come to know that song for what it is. So when you make changes, especially the drastic changes that we make, you know, it can be a little unnerving. But I think it’s exciting, especially having Blake on it and we made it a lot of fun.”

When selecting each of the different artists to appear on these tracks, Morgan put careful thought into who would sound best, as well as who would connect with the narratives best while also making it their own. 

“The thing is about every one of these songs that we did, although they were big hits, they weren’t just big hits for me, in some way they were impacting the other artists that I recorded with. [They] had some type of a relationship…’That’s What I Love About Sunday,’ Gary said that when he first heard me sing that song, we were out touring together. He said he heard that and thought, ‘Man, I wish we could have recorded that song.’ He said he sung it to himself for a year. So he had that relationship and this went on and on.”

Craig Morgan, Jelly Roll; Photo Courtesy Grand Ole Opry
Craig Morgan, Jelly Roll; Photo Courtesy Grand Ole Opry

Jelly Roll’s Connection To “Almost Home”

The same is true for Jelly Roll’s involvement on “Almost Home,” which first appeared on Morgan’s 2003 I Love It album. The “Need A Favor” singer has previously expressed his connection to the reflective tune, claiming it impacted his life during his incarceration and to this day inspires him as an artist. The pair have also performed this song together already live on the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium stages. 

“As much as it impacted his life, his story and his relationship with this song, it impacted mine. It humbled me. I do appreciate how much impact we can have as entertainers and as songwriters and singers, but to hear it from someone in our business and for him to be so forthcoming and so honest, it’s very humbling.”

Morgan continued gushing about Jelly Roll as he said, “I’m so proud of him, I’m proud of what he’s doing, I’m proud of his representation of our format, I’m proud of the love that this guy shares and shows with the world. His candor, his openness, it’s very humbling for me, and I’m grateful for that, I’m grateful for our friendship. Like I said, everybody thinks that it’s meant that much to him, it’s meant that much and more to me.”

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When it came time to find an artist to sing  2006’s “International Harvester,” which reached a new fanbase after going viral on TikTok, Wilson came to mind. Morgan had thought back to the time she told him a story about how she and her father would ride around their farm singing the catchy tune together and knew she was the right one for the job. 

“I asked her and she said, absolutely. So now we have a whole new take on that song from a female’s perspective, you know, being a female farmer, a female girl up on the tractor.”

After this song was added, the collection was mastered turned in and Morgan was ready to give it the stamp of approval. That is until he wrote another new song with Wade Kirby, Trent Willmon, and his co-producer on the project, Phil O’Donnell, called “That Ain’t Gonna Be Me.”

It’s Now One Of His “Favorite Projects”

“I went in the studio and recorded it, thinking that it would be something that we might use later on down the road, maybe just for socials or whatever. And I thought, what the heck, I’m gonna ask Trace Adkins if he would do it with me. He said yes, we did it, and the label said this has to be on the project. And that rounded out the whole thing.”

“It just turned into one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done,” he added.

This prideful tune featuring Trace Adkins serves as the perfect ending to the 6-track EP as it showcases the country star’s confidence as they vow to stand up for what they believe in. 

It also comes at a key time for Morgan and his decision to return to serving his country. Adding to his impressive 17.5 years of active-duty service, Morgan was sworn into the U.S. Army Reserve live on the Grand Ole Opry stage this July. 

The newly sworn in Staff Sergeant and Warrant Officer candidate will also continue performing on the road as part of his popular God, Family, Country Tour 2023. This trek kicked off in September and continues through the end of October with special guests The Reeves Brothers.

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.