Even before Russell Dickerson released his much-anticipated second album on Friday, he already knew the new music had one superfan: his 3-month-old son, Remington Edward. The baby's favorite song? Title track, "Southern Symphony."
"Whenever we're in the car and he's crying," Dickerson, 33, tells PEOPLE, "I just put it on and blast it. He recognizes my voice, I guess, and I think just the beautiful acoustic guitars kinda sway him to sleep."
Its lullaby qualities notwithstanding, the song captures a sweet, nostalgic side of Dickerson —just one of the album's many moods. But whether it's the steamy passions of "All Yours, All Night," the party-heartiness of "It's About Time" (with Florida Georgia Line) or the unabashed romance of lead-off single "Love You Like I Used To" — which recently earned Dickerson his fourth consecutive No. 1 — every one of the 10 tracks exudes a gratifying depth that the high-energy artist says reflects a new stage in life.
"I just couldn't be more proud of how real these songs are," says Dickerson. "They're not made-up fairy tale songs. Every song is deeper into my story, with my wife and my child. It definitely digs a little deeper into who Russell Dickerson is."
And if there's anything to know about who Dickerson is, it's this: he's half of one of country music's great love stories. In fact, seven of the 10 songs on the album (all co-written by Dickerson) are obviously inspired by his relationship with his wife of seven years, Kailey, whom he met when both were studying music at Nashville's Belmont University.
"When you know my wife, you understand why she gets 70 percent of this record," says Dickerson. "She guides me and keeps me grounded and humble. And she is honestly one of the most incredible human beings I've ever met. And I'm just getting started, too. There's so much to discover and share about her."
Perhaps the album's most "real" song is "Home Sweet," which alludes to the couple's lean times when Dickerson lost his publishing deal just days after their wedding: "Touching down from a six-night honeymoon / Sun kissed kids still drunk on love / Went from all-inclusive margaritas in Malibu / To prayin' we could pay rent this month."
Dickerson's voice soars in the song's love-conquers-all message that ends with "laughin' and cryin' / Just starin' at them two pink lines."
That positive pregnancy test, of course, heralded the couple's biggest life change in recent years. Dickerson was already extolling his deepening love for his wife in "Love You Like I Used To," but that's changed even more, he says, since the birth of their son on Sept. 10.
"Whatever myth that you hear that your wife gets less attractive after she has a baby is the most crock of you-know-what I've ever heard," he says. "Once you see the strength of a woman like that … She is a superhero in my mind. I'm more proud to be her husband than ever. Even her getting up at night for feedings and still functioning throughout the day is superhero status. So there's a couple more reasons why I don't love her like I used to — straight up!"
Here's another one: Just as she did for Dickerson's breakout smash, "Yours," Kailey Dickerson conceptualized and directed the music video for "Love You Like I Used To." "We didn't have to go hunt down a director to do this," Dickerson explains. "She was on set, and all the cameramen and the cast were like, your wife is legit. It's just another reason she is a complete rock star."
Dickerson has a passion for collaboration that extends far beyond his marriage partner, a fact that's well represented on the new album. For songwriting, for instance, he relied on either Casey Brown or Parker Welling, or both, on eight of the 10 tracks, and Brown also co-produced the album (along with Dickerson and Dann Huff). Dickerson has known Brown and Welling since college, and the three have been writing together for a decade.
"'Yours' was the second song we ever wrote together, and it just clicked," Dickerson recalls. "They knew me, they knew my wife, they knew our story. I didn't have to walk into the writing room and be like, 'Hey, I'm Russell, and this is my story.' They knew everything, and so we got straight to 'Yours,' 'Blue Tacoma' 'Every Little Thing, and now 'Love You Like I Used To' [his four No. 1s]. It's just like they are the magic sauce for me."
Dickerson's collaboration with Florida Georgia Line is also the result of a years-long kinship. Dickerson was still in college and Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley were recent Belmont grads when they attended one of his early shows.
"I think there were probably eight people there," Dickerson remembers. "They were two of them, and they came up to me afterward and were like, 'We dig your vibe. We should write some songs.' And so we started writing just for the love of music."
The three have stayed close over the years, and Dickerson knew they'd be a natural fit for "It's About Time" (for a drink, of course).
"I'm like an upbeat, hyped, party guy, too," says Dickerson. "And so I'm like … FGL, duh! They're the party boys of country music. There's nobody else than FGL to get on the song with me."
A couple weeks after Hubbard and Kelley heard it, the three were in the studio together — capturing their chemistry on the recording.
With the pandemic, "it'd been months since I'd seen them both," Dickerson says, but "it picks up right where you left off."
No doubt Dickerson's favorite collaboration at the moment is with the little boy he calls Remington, Remy or his "personal favorite": Rem Dog Millionaire. "We've got options!" the happy dad says.
Before his son was born, Dickerson said he was most looking forward to when they could ride bikes and play sports together. Now he just laughs at that prediction.
"I thought, I'll let Kailey do the infant stage," he says. "But I love putting everything else aside and just holding him and staring into his face. Everybody says how fast it goes, and I want to soak up as much of that little face as I can."
One way Dickerson gets that face time: he's now a dedicated Baby Bjorn-carrier dad. "I love that thing," he says. "If he's fussy, if he's sleepy, whatever, I just lock him in on my chest and he is out. It's like our secret weapon. It's amazing!"
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