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lonestar

Every couple in America has probably danced to the song “Amazed” at one time in their lives.

The song was one of those few ballads that was No. 1 on both country and pop charts in the late 1990s, and is still played everywhere — from wedding receptions to proms.

While “Amazed” propelled the band Lonestar to new heights in the country music world, the song and album “Lonely Grill” created success that’s hard to repeat.

The album yielded three more hits: “Smile,” “Tell Her” and “What About Now.”

After a four-year solo career, lead singer Richie McDonald has returned to Lonestar and the group is ready to re-create that success with a new tour and a single, along with an album due out in the fall.

I caught up with McDonald on Wednesday to talk about the new project and Lonestar’s concert coming up at Ho-Chunk Casino in Wisconsin Dells on Saturday.

He spoke about the band turning 20, his return and former band member John Rich, who left in 1998 and became a star with Big and Rich and appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Tell me about the sound of the new album?

McDonald: “For anybody that hears it, they will know that it’s Lonestar. But as far as the sound, this is the first time we got to produce our own album. It sounds better than ever.

“We took everything we learned and put it into these songs. It’s still Lonestar, but new and improved. Some of the songs have a little edgier sound to them.”

So when you came back to the band last year, did it feel like you never left?

McDonald: “Well, I guess you say it’s kind of like riding a bicycle ... The guys, we kid, we say it’s kind of like falling off a bicycle.

“I think once we got back together it was kind of like we never missed a beat. We just picked up where we left off. It just felt great to be back together, being on stage and playing, singing and laughing and having fun.”

What did you miss about the band those few years? (He was not with the band from 2007-2011)

McDonald: “What did I miss about the band? Absolutely nothin’. Absolutely nothin’. I’m just kidding. Actually I got Keech (Rainwater, the drummer) and (guitarist Michael) Britt in the car with me right now.

“Hey, hey, I quit. AGAIN ... Not again. (Laugh)

“No, I think I missed being together and being on stage and having fun. Just being a band.”

20 years of the band: Did you ever envision that back in 1992?

McDonald: “When you first start out you don’t really think about that. But now that we’re back together, we do think about that, especially with the album we recorded. We think we have 20 more years of music left in us.

“We are thankful and blessed our careers have lasted this long. And thankful we have fans out there that still want to hear Lonestar music.”

Any new songs that you will slip into the concert?

McDonald: “We love to do that. You have to play the hits, but we’re throwing in several of the songs off the new album. The first one would be the single, ‘The Countdown.’ It’s a great live song. A good, summertime, feel-good song. It’s just such an edgy sound to it. Probably one of my favorites to play live.

“I think one of our favorite albums that we recorded over the years was the ‘Lonely Grill’ album. Sold close to 4 million records. And that was kind of the bar on this album, going into the studio and finding the right songs ...

“There’s a song called ‘My Eyes Open.” We feel like that could be the next ‘Amazed.’”

What was it like when “Amazed” came out?

McDonald: “We did have hits, but I don’t think we had a hit quite like that. That’s the song that was eight or nine weeks, No. 1 record on the country chart, then crossed over to other formats ...

“That definitely was the song we think that took us to another place.”

How has the band changed over the last 20 years?

McDonald: “Well, don’t tell anybody, but we got a little older. But that’s nothing to us. We still all love to have fun, laugh and play. I think maybe the best way we’ve changed is that we’ve all learned a lot ...

“Now that we are back together and on this brand new album, we feel like people are going to hear what we’ve learned.”

Any chance John Rich will be part of the band again, even just for a night?

McDonald: “Well you know, each of us probably talk to him every now and then. Text him to see how he’s doing and he’ll text us. But John left the band back then because the label wanted another direction. We tried to be Brooks and Dunn and have two lead singers and it wasn’t working.

“But everything happens for a reason and John kind of laid low there for awhile and then hit like gangbusters, with producing, then Big and Rich and writing songs.

“We’re really proud of his success and he’s really proud of what we’ve done, too.

“You know, we respect one another ... even on this project getting started, throwing around ideas, we had talked about John coming in and producing one side, but that didn’t work out with everybody’s schedule.

“But who knows, maybe down the road we can do a show together with Big and Rich and have one big party.”

If You Go

Who: Lonestar with special guest Heidi Newfield

When: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, July 21.

Where: Ho-Chunk Casino, Wisconsin Dells.

Cost: $35.

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