As his latest album suggests, Nashville recording artist Chris Cagle is "Back in the Saddle" again, and now that he's righted himself, he'll be bringing one hot show to Elkins tonight.
"We just get up there on stage and play and have a good time and we don't take any moments for granted," Cagle told The Inter-Mountain in a phone interview Friday from Jim Thorpe, Pa., where he had a show that evening. "We just try to express our gratitude to the fans by playing hard and working hard on stage."
Cagle, who says he's performed in West Virginia "about four times a year for 10 years," is the headliner of the 77th Mountain State Forest Festival's Country Music Show, which kicks off at 7 p.m. in the Harper McNeeley Auditorium on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.
The 44-year-old singer says fans will hear career-spanning music, including chart-toppers such as "Laredo" and "I Breathe In, I Breathe Out" from his 2000 debut album "Play it Loud," as well as more recent hits, like "Got My Country On" from his fifth and latest studio album, "Back in the Saddle."
In fact, it's his more recent music that Cagle most enjoys playing.
"Every (song) that's been on the radio, you have to play at the show," he said. "But my favorite now is probably 'Dance Baby Dance,' because it's about my kids. It's the one moment in the show I get to go home."
Cagle, who now lives on a ranch in Love County, Okla., with his two toddlers and wife, Kay, says he's finally comfortable with the sound of his own voice.
"'Back in the Saddle' is probably the first time I've ever gotten to a place where I didn't mind so much hearing myself played back on tape," he said. "Before, you know how you hear yourself on an answering machine and think, 'I don't sound like that, do I?' I used to feel like that.
"There's a lot of happiness and a lot of pain in this album," Cagle added, noting one song is about the death of his grandmother on the same day his daughter was born.
But "Back in the Saddle" is the album that almost wasn't one. Disenchanted with the music industry, Cagle decided to leave the business behind sometime after his 2008 release, "My Life's Been a Country Song."
"I quit for four years," Cagle said. "I got sick and tired of managers. The business side of music is very taxing, and I'm not a businessman." The country star was disillusioned by how much money music executives and record labels were reaping from his talent, he said.
"I wasn't seeing the money, but the money had to go somewhere, and I realized, 'I'm not happy, I'm angry,'" he said. "But much later, someone called me up and they said, 'Hey man, you left something on the table and we want you to make a new record. They called me and called me, and finally I said, 'If you let me do it my way, I'll do it.'"
Cagle prides himself on writing most of the tunes he produces. He uses moments from his life as little glimmers of inspiration from which to flesh out a larger truth.
"I take a moment in my life, and I try to make it general," he said. "There's a lot of songs I'll write where my wife will say, 'it didn't happen like that,' and I'll say, 'I know it didn't happen like that.'
"I don't want people to know the particulars; I want people to get this idea from the story, the feeling of that moment," he continued. "If you can capture that moment and extend it three-and-a-half or four minutes, you really got something."
When he's not writing songs, Cagle is busy playing with his kids or raising cutting horses on his Oklahoma ranch. Cutting, an equestrian event in which a horse and rider are judged on their ability to keep an animal away from a herd of cattle, is Cagle's favorite pastime.
"It's not very well-known as a sport," he said, "but it pays higher than the Triple Crown, and it's as addictive as playing in front of 10,000 people."