The host of CMT’s new reality show, Gone Country, is going solo for 2008.

John Rich, of the genre-bending country duo Big & Rich, tells EW that he’s already recorded half a solo album for Warner Bros. Records. He’ll finish it in the next six weeks, and will release a single for radio in late spring or early summer. Why now? The duo is fresh from a sold-out Canadian tour to support their third album, Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace. Doctors have ordered Rich’s partner, “Big Kenny” Alphin, off the road for 2008 so the musician can do extensive physical therapy, and possibly undergo another surgery. Alphin suffered a severe neck injury in 2002 when his vehicle was hit by a drunk driver. The recent tour was successful, but it took a toll on him. “When you look over at your partner, and he can’t even hold his arm up to play a song on the guitar for more than two minutes, it’s time to take some time off,” Rich says. “He has my full support, and I have his blessing. When Kenny and I go back on tour in 2009, hopefully it will just be bigger and better than it ever was.”

This will be the second solo effort for Rich. He recorded 2006’s Underneath the Same Moon in 1999, but it wasn’t released until after he made it big… and rich. The new album, Rich says, will be more country than the duo’s usual fare. “I’m a real country guy,” he says. It’ll be a slightly new sound for another obvious reason. “We both sing the whole time in Big & Rich, kinda like the Everly Brothers,” he says. “You’re gonna hear what I sound like when I’m just singing. It almost has a Roy Orbison thing to it.”

Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace featured appearances by John Legend and Wyclef Jean, and Rich is hoping for some intriguing guests for his solo album, too. “There’s one song that I want to record with Tony Bennett,” he says. “That, I think, would be pretty cool.”

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