Rodney Atkins loved Jason Isbell's "Cover Me Up" from the moment his wife, singer-songwriter Rose Falcon, texted it to him and insisted that he cover it. However, when the country star embarked on a USO Tour to Afghanistan, the song took on a whole new meaning for him, and he knew he had to record it for his Caught Up in the Country album, released on Friday (May 10).

"When I went to Afghanistan, that line hit me -- 'Girl, leave your boots by the bed ...' -- just thinking about all those women soldiers out there," Atkins explains. "I played it there and got this big reaction. So, I was like, 'Well, let's give it a shot.'"

The decision to record a cover song for an album was a first for the singer. "That's the first time I've covered a song and actually recorded it and put it out there," Atkins goes on to say. "I mean, live, we cover, and try to find things that are different. I'm always in pursuit of life songs."

From the start, however, Atkins knew "Cover Me Up" was the kind of "life song" he was looking for, and he also knew he wanted to find a way to put his own spin on it. A few artists had already put out their own renditions of Isbell's original -- including Morgan Wallen's live acoustic take in 2018 (followed by a studio release earlier this year) and a 2017 version from the Zac Brown Band -- but no one does Isbell's style better than Isbell, Atkins reasoned, so he wasn't going to try.

"We just tried to do what I do, but yet stay in tribute to what he did at the same time," Atkins explains. "I tried to not at all do it like Isbell, because what he does is amazing. It's unbelievable the way he approaches things -- his songwriting, his vocals, everything."

Atkins saw that divergence from the song's original style as an opportunity to move away from the treatment he'd seen other artists take when covering the song, too. "Most of the covers I had heard, they were just trying to do what he did. And I don't think you can," Atkins relates, saying that he wanted his rendition to level a little extra atmospheric weight.

"I wanted it to explode. I wanted it to kind of be on steroids, to get big, and to tell the story and maintain that story," he concludes. "But to add some bigness. A little power."

Jason Isbell's Best Live Shots