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Corbett's creative journey turns down a country road

This just might be the role actor John Corbett was born to play.

Known as the handsome non-Greek boyfriend in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Carrie's furniture-making hunk Aidan on Sex and the City and the philosophical radio DJ on Northern Exposure, Corbett has taken a hiatus from acting to launch a music career.

John Corbett, his debut album, which is a collection of country-rock songs penned and performed by some of Nashville's finest talents, comes out April 4 on his Fun Bone Records label.

"I think it's been a big shock to people," he said. "They didn't know I'd be any good at it. A lot of people think I just picked up a guitar, took some lessons and started singing. But I think I'm a better singer and guitar player than actor."

Corbett, 43, has been playing music since he was a kid in Wheeling, W.Va. Back then, he played bass and sang songs by KISS, Styx, Rush and Cheap Trick in garage bands.

He'd always been around country music (his uncle owned a club where Buck Owens once performed), but didn't start really listening to it until the late 1980s, when artists such as Dwight Yoakam and Travis Tritt were bringing a rock sensibility to the genre.

"It's pretty much all I've listened to since then," Corbett said.

A former steel factory worker, he got into acting on a whim after moving to California. He was attending college and decided to sit in on a friend's drama class. The experience led to college theater productions and TV commercials. He landed a guest spot in the popular series The Wonder Years and broke through with his role as the laid back, philosophy-spouting Chris Stevens in Northern Exposure in 1990.

He's appeared in many movies and TV shows since, but he thought he was getting typecast as the nice guy love interest and grew disenchanted with Hollywood. He reached a turning point in 2004 when he was invited to be a presenter at the Country Music Television awards in Nashville.

"I met people like Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Keith Urban," he said. "I love those guys. I had a connection to them that I never really had as an actor. On their downtime actors talk about somebody's great performance or some great play they had seen - theater talk. I'd listen, but I wanted to say, "You guys hear the new Travis Tritt record?'

"I can come (to Nashville) and say, "You hear the new Travis Tritt record?' and they know every cut and all the writers. I thought, "Where have you guys been all of my life?' "

Corbett decided to record an album. A couple of major labels expressed interest, but he didn't get the offer he wanted and ended up digging into his own pocket.

Many of the 12 songs - written by tunesmiths such as Hal Ketchum, Jon Randall, Darrell Scott, Tim Nichols, Rivers Rutherford and Mark Selby - have an earthy Southern rock feel with female backing vocals, harmonica and organ. Guests include Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman and former Wet Willie singer Jimmy Hall.

The first single, Good to Go, debuted at No. 48 on Billboard's country singles chart, the best showing by a new artist on an independent label in a long time.