Dean Brody

Walking the long corridor of the sixth-floor of Club Lounge at Toronto's Renaissance Hotel, I soon spot Dean Brody, or at least I assume so given that someone up ahead is wearing a cowboy hat.

"This is the first hat," he says later of his distinctive headgear. "I think I have an odd head so it takes a special hat to look okay on me."

With his cowboy boots, polite manner, and, yes, his hat, Brody looks every bit the country star he is. But the 36-year-old BC native, who now calls the East Coast home, actually started his musical career as an AC/DC-worshipping teen rocker in his tiny home town of Jaffray.

"But as I got older -- fifteen, sixteen -- I thought the lyrics coming out of this country music genre is something I can relate to because I've lived it," Brody says, noting that his dad worked as a ranch hand and a heavy equipment operator. "I know what it's like to live in a small town and grow up in the country. I just found it was really easy for me to go into that writing process about country living.

"And then singing, I never really had a rock voice, and so when I sang country, it was just there. It fit. And so I think if I had a really raspy, rock voice I may not have found a home in country music. But because I just naturally sing that way, I've just gone down that road and loved every minute of it. I love writing about it and singing about it and connecting with folks who live that way."

Brody has definitely connected with audiences. He won three 2011 Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMA) for Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Single of the Year. Last year he was the #1 most-played Canadian country artist and the #5 most-played country artist overall on Canadian country radio. He has also charted seven Top 10 singles to date, including four consecutive Top 10 songs.

Dean Brody

Brody's new album, Dirt, is his third, and the singer-songwriter finds it hard to believe that its April 24th release date is imminent.

"I can't believe it's my third record already. It's come up fast."

Dirt was recorded over the course of two years in Nashville with regular producer Matt Rovey with whom Brody had also worked on his previous albums, 2010's Trail in Life and his 2009 self-titled debut.

"He's just been there since day one, and that means a lot to me," he says. "He's also got a great ear and a great rapport with the musicians in Nashville. I love working with Matt. I don't find the studio to be a natural place to be in. I'm always a little awkward in it. It's not my favourite place, but he makes me as comfortable as I can be in it."

Brody's connection to Nashville ("it's kind of the Mecca of our genre") runs deep. Before he was a performing artist, he spent two years there as a paid songwriter. Even though he thought he was a pretty good songwriter before he arrived, working with artists there, he says, put him in his place.

"It was a big part of me developing as a songwriter because I thought I could write a song until I got there. Just like you think you can play guitar until you get there. You're like 'wow, I really can't play guitar.' There was a lot to learn."

Among the highlights on Dirt is a collaboration with Great Big Sea on the track "It's Friday." The song, written by Brody and featuring co-lead vocals from Alan Doyle, combines traditional country with GBS's own form of Celtic pop.

"I just love the rich tradition of music and the diversity of music out there, and I couldn't wait to explore that style," Brady says of the song's synthesis of styles. "I get really restless just writing traditional country stuff. I like to push it as far as I can, to the edges of our genre, without getting in trouble. This one might actually be too far gone, but I had a lot of fun. People like hearing something different, I think."

Meanwhile, the album's first single, the tribute track "Canadian Girls," is the fastest-rising of his career, having already topped various charts. In fact, "Canadian Girls," appropriately enough given its subject matter, makes Brody the first Canadian artist to reach number one on Canadian country charts since Terri Clark did it in February 2008.

"I think with our genre of country music especially we have a lot of American influence. And me living in the States for six years, I heard a lot of American pride songs. They're very patriotic. We know them to be that, and it's really special, I think. And I think in Canada we're a little bit more low-key. I think our pride runs deep in our country but maybe we're not as vocal about it, but this song is being vocal about it. And I just figured, man, the Americans have a lot of songs about how awesome it is to be an American. This song's about how awesome it is to be a Canadian."