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‘Closer’ to his heart

Keith Urban is right at home in country spotlight

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / July 8, 2011
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Keith Urban is taking the title of his hit 2010 album, “Get Closer,’’ to heart on his current tour, which stops at the TD Garden tonight. The Grammy-winning country star - and husband to actress Nicole Kidman - has built a stage that allows him to walk right down into the first few rows of fans. (On the opening night of his tour he got a little too close when he took a tumble off the front, but the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised singer-songwriter remained unruffled.)

On the phone from a South Carolina tour stop we chatted recently with the man behind hits like “You Look Good in My Shirt,’’ “You’ll Think of Me,’’ and recent ballad “Without You’’ about songwriting, singing, and guitar-slinging.

Q. Along with contemporaries like Brad Paisley and Vince Gill, you have an ace up your sleeve with your guitar-playing. It helps set you apart, but how do you control your guitar hero impulses onstage?

A. The people that I was most drawn to when I was playing growing up were really more of the Mark Knopflers [of Dire Straits]. It wasn’t so much the big, peacock-strutting guitar playing, it was way more about the song driving the whole thing. It’s really where my long outros came from, songs like “Tunnel of Love’’ by Dire Straits, those sort of songs where there was almost like a part two, a little bit like [Derek and the Dominos’] “Layla.’’

Q. While you write many of your songs, you’re also a fan of other songwriters, including Stoughton’s own Lori McKenna, whose “The Luxury of Knowing’’ you cover on the (deluxe version) of “Get Closer.’’

A. What struck me about that the first time I heard it was I don’t recall hearing a song written quite from that perspective before. There’s certainly any amount of songs on less-than-loyal partners. Normally a song written from this place would have some kind of revenge or victimized angle, and instead what I loved was this unresolved suspicion that just simmers in paranoia. It wasn’t outright accusatory. What a magnificent, weird place to write a song from. It really resonated with me.

Q. There’s a real intensity to it, and if you’ve ever been in that position it perfectly captures that before-the-dam-bursts feeling.

A. And I have. It’s strange, actually. I was in a relationship like that in 1993 and it was a very strange place to be where this person knew they could trust me completely with everything but I couldn’t have that reciprocated. And I have also, unfortunately, been the person who was untrustworthy in that situation too, so I’ve been both people in that song.

Q. “Without You’’ also seems to speak perfectly to your life with your wife and daughters but was written by Joe West and Dave Pahanish.

A. They just really nailed that song beautifully.

Q. And you didn’t have to change a thing about it to make it work?

A. I didn’t, no. You would’ve thought at least they would’ve said “along comes a baby boy’’ or something but it was amazing, even the gender was right. (Laughs).

Q. You’ve been doing the big arenas for a couple of tours now. Are you fully acclimated?

A. Totally. It feels like a room. I walk out and it’s one roof and it’s one stage and it’s the audience. So for me, whether it’s 500 or 10,000, it feels like we can make this thing become one.

Q. As an arena concertgoer yourself were there any artists you took inspiration from?

A. I think Springsteen’s probably the benchmark for me. With the diversity of intimate, acoustic singer-songwriter songs and then just full-on, rock ’n’ roll assault, crowd-chanting singalong songs. He’s really the king of it for me. I’ve never seen anybody work an arena the way Bruce does, the athleticism, the passion, the ferocity.

Q. Some people are saying that about you now. How does that feel?

A. I love what I get to do. And I don’t know what else to say about that. (Laughs).

Q. Themes of bravery and vulnerability run throughout the album. Is that something that happens organically, or do you look back at old records and say, “Oh, I see what that was about now’’?

A. More often than not, I’ve learned more about what the record was saying after the fact. Certainly, recurring themes start to happen in the writing process, but I think it becomes more apparent when the songs get in the studio, and that’s a very organic process of seeing which ones just click. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence the ones that start to click will have a theme running through them. As I look back at all of my records, I don’t really cringe at them, even if they were recorded poorly or the singing was a little average, even if the songs were a little average. What I hear with all of them is authenticity in the sense that they really do capture where I was at, at that time in my life.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

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KEITH URBAN

With Jake Owen

At: TD Garden, tonight at 7:30. Tickets: $25-$75. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com