NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Chris Young is shedding his signature black cowboy hat so audiences can see the singer behind a string of country music hits.
"The biggest reason I decided to stop wearing it during my concerts is so people can see my face. I thought I'd try it for one show, and found that I enjoy going without it," the 26-year-old Grammy-nominated singer said.
"The response has been really positive."
Later this week, Young hits the road with headliner Jason Aldean, one of country's hottest young stars, for the "My Kinda Party Tour" that continues through October.
And on July 12 Young releases his third album, "Neon," that features the fastest-rising single of his career, "Tomorrow," which has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
"I enjoy pushing myself vocally, and some of the new songs have me doing that," Young told Reuters in an interview.
"They are vocally powerful, and it's been fun to put them in a set. Of course we're doing the single ('Tomorrow'), along with 'You,' 'I Can Take It From There' and 'Save Water, Drink Beer.'"
The vocals on his new album were more challenging than on his previous efforts, Young said.
"I don't think we went in saying we were gonna make it the hardest album I've ever had to sing, but the way we wrote the songs and the songs that I picked made it that way."
Young wrote "Tomorrow" with Anthony Smith and Frank Myers, with the idea that "everyone has been in a relationship that you know is bad for you, but you stay anyway."
Young's previous album, "The Man I Want To Be," produced three No. 1 singles, including "Gettin' You Home," and he admitted feeling pressure to repeat the feat.
"I think there could have been a lot more pressure if this first single hadn't taken off," he said. "The success of the single is exciting and it feels like we are continuing the momentum from the last album."
Young described the opening track, "I Can Take It From There," as a transitional song from the previous album. "It is a sexy love song, and I just thought it was a cool way to start this record to let people know that even though there is some stuff that is different, we're not going off in a completely new direction."
"Neon" is one tune on the album that Young did not write, but that he chose as the title cut.
"It is cool and different, and it's real country. I love that I can do a song like 'She's Got This Thing About Her,' and then turn around and do this one with twin fiddles."
"This Thing About Her" is the final track on the album, which features soaring vocals but is stripped down musically.
"I actually had this song longer than anything we recorded," Chris said. "I wrote it with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten, who co-wrote 'Gettin' You Home' with me. We usually write on guitar, but that day Cory said, 'I think this would sound better on piano.' He went over to the piano and started playing and Kent and I started coming up with the lyrics."
Young said he looked forward to being the middle act on the tour, sandwiched between Thompson Square and Aldean. Previously he toured with Rascal Flatts and Alan Jackson.
"I think we'll work well with Jason. He is country rock and that's not necessarily who I am, but live we're all over the stage. We have a good time. I'm gonna love being out there, and hopefully we can get them riled up for Jason."
Young will promote his tour and album with appearances this month on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The Jimmy Kimmel Show". The tour kicks off July 8 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Editing by Andrew Stern