Chris Janson's new album, All In, contains a little bit of personal history: It includes "You, Me & the River," the first song he's ever cut or a major-label album that he didn't have a hand in writing.

That might seem out of left field for Janson, a powerful songwriter who's said in the past that he prefers to write his own material in order to better connect with the subject matter during his performances. In order to cut an outside song, it would have to be a pretty special circumstance — but then again, "You, Me & the River" is pretty special.

The song was written solo by Eric Church, a longtime musical hero and new-ish friend to Janson. The two men duet on "You, Me & the River," and Church contributed his songwriter's pen to another track on All In, too: He and Janson co-wrote "Flag on the Wall."

"I've been busting at the seams [to talk about the Church collaborations," Janson gushes to Taste of Country in a new interview.

His excitement about the team-up was clear: Well before he could share the full story about how he and Church started working together, he started dropping hints about the duet, and he told Taste of Country about his Church co-write back at the 2021 CMA Awards.

Janson's friendship with the modern legend dates back to a May 2021 tribute to ZZ Top that happened at the Grand Ole Opry, where both men — plus Travis Tritt, the other collaborator on this album — were on the bill.

"We're backstage standing there, and me and Eric started striking up a conversation. He was like, 'Man we need to get together sometime. Let's go fishing.' I'm thinking, 'Hell yeah, that'd be awesome,'" Janson remembers.

At that point, he didn't necessarily think it was going to happen: "You exchange numbers, and what really happens — let's face it, in the real world, people say that and it never really happens."

Not so this time. The next week, he woke up to a message from the Chief inviting him out to a day on the water. "We just fished like buddies would. We got to know each other, had great talks, and I'll tell ya, I gotta tip my hat to him, man," Janson continues. "He has become a great mentor and friend of mine, and a great advocate in my corner, giving me great advice."

And he would have counted himself lucky to leave it at that. But early one morning, Janson was flying back from Whitefish, Mont. He landed at 3 AM, pulled out his phone, and saw a text from Church. It was a song.

"I'm thinking, '... Interesting. Is he pitching me this? He knows I write my own songs. I don't know what to say,'" the singer recounts. He immediately loved the song, though Church had some questions about it — he wanted to know if Janson thought it was too "dark," for instance.

"I say, 'I love it. Hey, why don't we do a duet?' I just threw it out there. If you don't dream big, how could you ever win big, right?" Janson adds with a laugh. Church agreed to the collaboration, and that song became "You, Me & the River."

Much like their duet, Janson's Church co-write, "Flag on the Wall," was born out of a text exchange in the small hours of the morning. This time around, Janson was elk hunting in the Colorado Mountains when he got a text from Church: A work tape of an unfinished song, plus some lyrics. Church wanted him to help finish writing it.

"So I literally wrote a song over the phone with Eric Church, while I've got a bow in my hand in the Colorado Mountains hunting elk," Janson says.

Church also has a co-production credit on All In, for the songs he had a hand in making. "That guy's a one-stop-shop. He's been around long enough to know the nuts and bolts of it and it's just amazing to see the friendship that's grown here," Janson marvels. "And guess what? It wasn't weird. Nobody put us together. It wasn't prompted. It was all just very organic God stuff."

All In is due out April 29.

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