What's your favorite song you've ever recorded?
I wouldn't record a song if I didn't love it. But on Eleven, there's one called "I'm Going To Love You Through It." It's about a woman fighting breast cancer and her husband's love and support. It's the only song in 20 years that, every time I sing it, I get goose bumps from head to toe.
Country music is rooted in great stories. Who is your favorite storyteller?
I love memoirs. One of my favorite Southern writers is Rick Bragg. I love his book All Over But the Shoutin'. The sentences are like a gift of language you want to open over and over.
Who would be your dream duet?
Hank Williams or Patsy Cline. Their sound is just really pure. Before there was a business to the music business, they were creating something from their hearts without thinking about how many records they would sell or how many people would show up to hear them sing. It was just the music, and that's a beautiful thing.
Who would you trade careers with, if you could?
I think it would be fun to be a great chef, like Mario Batali. It would be amazing to travel and make people happy with food. I love to cook!
Do you have a signature dish?
My kids always ask for chicken-and-sausage gumbo, but I only make it a few times a year because I want to keep it one of those foods that they associate with special occasions like birthdays or the first day of school.
You do a lot of entertaining. What's your secret?
Planning. When I give a party, it's like I'm giving my guests a gift. If you're a stressed-out hostess, that makes everybody ill at ease. I want them to feel comfortable and happy, so I make a game plan. But if last minute things go awry, you have to go with the flow. And I always keep crackers, cheese, olives, and a little honey on hand. It's good to have something to pull out if a friend stops by.
How do you take your barbecue?
Wet. At Jack's Bar-B-Que in Nashville, they have a spicy-sweet tomato sauce that's great on pulled pork or ribs.
Any favorite Southernisms?
"Bless her heart." You can say the meanest thing, but as long as you bless her heart, all is forgiven. "Aw, that outfit is not working, bless her heart."
What was the last thing you scribbled on a paper napkin?
Album title ideas.