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From 'Yellowstone' to a debut country album, Luke Grimes is ready to reintroduce himself

LOS ANGELES (AP) — There are countless reasons to self-title an album: it can be an introduction, an assertion of some definitive work, an easy avenue to labeling a collection of songs that feel otherwise impossible to classify. In the case of Luke Grimes, best-known for his portrayal of the complex cowboy character Kayce Dutton on the hit show “Yellowstone,” it is also an invaluable tool.

Grimes' debut country album, “Luke Grimes," out Friday, is a declaration that speaks volumes: Think you know him? Guess again.

From a studio in Nashville, the actor-musician told The Associated Press that he hopes his album establishes “who I am, and where this music is coming from — and I'm trying to be honest here, I'm trying to do this the right way.”

Country music is at its greatest, I think, when it’s really honest. So that was important to try to accomplish on this first album," he said.

That personal vulnerability differs from his job as an actor on “Yellowstone.”

“The other thing that I do is to very much not be myself," he says. "To do that correctly is to take on a different persona, a different name, to say someone else’s words, and in a lot of cases, someone else's clothes. The whole point is to escape who you really are and to make someone believe who you’re not.”

Though this is Grimes' debut album, he's no novice. Music has always been a part of his life — from listening to worship music and playing drums in church at age 11 to discovering the outlaw greats through his dad and on country radio, his first taste of secular music. (He links the two types of music: “People don't realize Hank Williams wrote, ‘I Saw the Light,’" he says.) Later, he'd play drums in a Wilco-inspired Americana band in Los Angeles, and in 2012, write a country song for the film “Outlaw Country,” which he also acted in.

“I’ve never not played music,” he says. “I always have a guitar. It keeps me inspired, too. And any time I’ve prepared to do anything creatively, music has been a huge part of that.”

Produced by the legendary Dave Cobb, “Luke Grimes” the album is diaristic at times, an open-book record with songs about love, loss, God and rural living, universal topics from an artist with a knack for articulating truths, warts and all. Take “Oh, Ohio," for example.

Grimes says there are a lot of songs about love, heartbreak and hometowns in country music, and “Oh Ohio” — with its textured riffs, pedal steel and late-breaking percussion — accomplishes all of that while flipping the common conceit on its head: it's not so flattering about where he comes from.

“I didn't maybe feel like I totally belonged there," he said of his home state. “I just hadn’t heard that in a lot of songs. Usually when you hear songs about people’s hometown, it’s kind of a love letter. And this was more of a breakup letter.”

As for those who might not consider Ohio a hotbed for country music: “People sometimes confused ‘country music’ with ‘Southern music,'" he says. “For me, country is rural... it's more roots, people of the land. And there's plenty of that in Ohio.”

Aaron Raitiere, a songwriter for Cobb who contributed to two songs on the album — the slow-burn highway ballad “South on 75” and the Western stomp “Ain't Dead Yet" — says Grimes is a “musician in his soul.”

“He may very well be one of the best songwriter/singer/performers of our generation, trapped in a superstar actor's body,” Raitiere said. “If you go get famous making ketchup, it’s hard to turn around and make mustard and have everybody take you seriously, you know? But he's great.”

On the upbeat “Ain't Dead Yet,” with its sing-along chorus ("I'm gonna love you ‘till I die/And I ain’t dead yet"), clap-a-long percussion, campfire harmonica and hazy guitar pedals, Grimes demonstrates a kind of creative range associated with artists in their veterancy.

“We were saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny to write a song, just as an exercise, if ( Nirvana frontman ) Kurt Cobain was country? Like, if he would have been born in a holler in Kentucky somewhere and hadn’t died early and lived to be an old man and had a wife and kids, like, what would those songs sound like? And that literally was how that idea started,” Grimes says. It's impossible not to hear the connection in the opening power chords.

Raitiere adds the Nirvana inspiration also comes from their desire to write a song anyone can play. “A lot of people learn to play an instrument on a Nirvana song,” he says, adding that “Polly” was the first he ever learned. “So, we went the ‘Nirvana Unplugged’ route and threw it down a country lane.”

“That's kind of the magical part of the whole process, that there are no rules,” says Grimes.

The other magic? Getting to reveal more about himself to his listeners — and, in the process, connect with them.

“Certain albums that have stuck with me through the years, it’s just kind of made me feel like there’s someone out there that I can relate to,” he says. “Whatever this feeling or emotion is that I don’t know how to articulate, someone else has articulated it really well and through music, and in a way that I feel like a connection to. And so, if I could just do that for some people, then I think that’d be mission accomplished.”