Pat Green’s a grinder and journeyman who by force of will and fun-loving spirit was able to bridge the distance between Texas and Nashville to secure a spot at the edge of the footlights. Not as gritty as some Lone Star brethren, Green’s country sound is heavy on pop hooks and rock backbeat, making that jump a little easier.

When Green first started playing guitar at 16, he was listening to Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, and he naturally gravitated toward that sound. Indeed, it was Nelson who discovered Green shortly after the release of his second Lloyd Maines-produced album, George’s Bar, and took him on tour, lending a much-appreciated boost. And Green kept hustling. When he didn’t have a show some weekend, he’d call the frat houses looking for a gig. (His early ballcap-heavy crowds sparked some disparaging comments, though his audience has diversified much more since.)

By his 2001 major label debut, Three Days, Green was looking to move beyond the acoustic country albums he’d made with Maines. “It really dipped my toe in the idea you can make country music that has giant electric guitar parts that sound amazing,” Green says. “Once that curiosity grew into a love we started having a lot more electric elements to the band, especially on stage.”

That was followed by Green’s 2003 breakthrough, Wave on Wave. It explores a country sound overlaid with crisp atmospheric rock texture courtesy of noted ’80s producer Don Gaimon (John Mellencamp, Hootie and the Blowfish). It climbed as high as number two on the country charts, the first of several “always the bridesmaid” moments. His 2006 release Cannonball and 2009’s What I’m For, both stalled out at number two, boxed out by Taylor Swift.

The latter case was all the more disappointing because it was Green’s bid for a mature pop album, dispensing the party odes of earlier albums in favor of weightier, emotional, and love-laden material. He also enlisted noted session guitarist/producer Dan Huff (LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban) who gave the album a polished, radio-ready sheen. It didn’t work, but Green has no regrets. “I certainly wanted to try every angle,” he says. “The next natural step was to say, ‘Let’s get the hotshot guy in country production right now to make a record with us.”

Nowadays, Green seems to suggest the pop angle may have run its course. “I got a lot of positive response … but I think obviously in the long run people weren’t used to seeing me like that,” he says. “So I really just have to find the right mix and stay a little truer to the central line of me and not the center line of what pop country is.”

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