CMA Music Festival 2014 feat. Lorrie Morgan w/Pam Tillis, Lee Greenwood, Gary Allan, The Band Perry, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley & Carrie UnderwoodCountry
Loretta Lynn "Lorrie" Morgan (born on June 27, 1959 in Nashville, Tennessee) is an American country music singer. The daughter of singer George Morgan, she made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry at age thirteen, performing Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses." Her father died when she was sixteen. When her father died in 1975, she took over his band and began leading the group through various club gigs.
Rhinestoned says it all.
No other word, real or invented for the occasion, sums up as well where Pam Tillis stands now. She is, after all, a superstar as well as a survivor. A child of Music City royalty and a former rebel, she was determined to find her own way as a singer and songwriter — and she succeeded. A CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, she has written songs for some of the top singers in and... beyond Nashville, including more than a few of her own hits.
She knows what it's like to break the platinum barrier, to top the singles charts time and again, to bask in an ovation at her induction as a member of the Opry or play in the intimate hush of the Bluebird Café. She has bathed in the lights of Broadway, posed for glamour magazine spreads, sung ballads in Bay Area bistros, batted wicked one-liners back to Tom Bergeron on Hollywood Squares, even made cameos in movies.
But no matter where she wandered, Pam Tillis never lost her connection to country music — even when country began to lose touch with itself. Trends came and went, and though she rolled easily with the tides and drew something from every new twist, she was aware that changes come with a cost, even as the business side of country flourished.
Her response was to insist on writing and cutting songs that spoke from the soul, rather than the boardrooms and focus groups of the country music industry. The results have been records that emanate an almost painful beauty, as did her 2002 release, the critically acclaimed It's All Relative (a tribute to her father, the great Mel Tillis).
"What I'm doing is country — but not necessarily the kind that you hear on the airwaves these days," Tillis explains, one drizzly afternoon over coffee, not far from Music Row. "Now, I admire a lot of this music; after all, I've sung rock, pop, R&B, and jazz, so I'm hardly a purist. But what I'm hearing now sounds often more like pop than country to me. And I just seriously felt called by that old different drummer to something a little bit more like the country I remember from my formative years, the country music of my youth." It's also something Tillis' fans and friends clamor for as she encounters them out on the road.
With It's All Relative, which she affectionately calls "the Dad album," Tillis produced one of the most memorable discs to have come out of Nashville in years, largely because of her refusal to conform to expectations. Combing through her father's catalog, she chose songs that had an especially timeless quality, with built-in resistance to the whims of the market. It was a bold statement; more than that, it set the stage for the even more assertive statement that Rhinestoned would make.
"Pam had reached a point where doing a record every year or two wasn't as important as taking the time to make something that had more meaning," says Matt Spicher, who co-produced Rhinestoned with Tillis and Gary Nicholson. "So she decided to embrace the momentum she had established with the Dad record."
"That was the first record I ever made where I wasn't concerned about having to come up with three singles," Pam points out.
"The labels understood that from the beginning," Matt says.
"They said they did," she clarifies.
And that's one reason why Rhinestoned marks the first album to be released on Stellar Cat, Pam's own imprint. With total creative control, she let her heart lead the way toward material that she could perform honestly and emotionally. "This is an A&R-free zone," she says, smiling. "But it is, first of all, real country. It's a bookend to the Dad album, except it has all new songs. It's like a bridge between the present and the past."
South Gate CA | Country
Lee Greenwood could easily talk about the accomplishments in his life, but this high energy entertainer prefers to continue writing and recording with the same passion and integrity that has always fueled his stellar career.
“I want my family to see what I do and not what I did,” he says of sharing his passion for music with his wife Kim and their two sons, Dalton and Parker. “I like the artistry of it. I could have been a carpenter or a farmer, but I love the spirit of the music. The creative ideas still flow and I am writing much more than I have in previous years. I always love to create something new.”
"I think the fans are gonna feel that this record is different," he says, "but the most important thing is that what I do is authentic. I've never pushed for a certain image. I've just always done my own thing."
This time around, Allan says, that includes letting listeners ride along through his personal landscape over the past year. "The record has taken about a year to make," he says, "and I think the whole thing reflects change. I think every record sort of reflects where I'm at, and I've made a ton of changes this year, just mentally and in how I'm approaching everything. "Oh," he adds with a grin, "and I think it's much more rockin' than anything I've done."
Allan decided to crank it up musically. "I just felt like I was growing so much and wanted the music to reflect that. I think the result has more of an edge." More edge, from the man who's already got a reputation as a bit of a Nashville outsider? "Hopefully country music feels like they need somebody like me in the fold just to shake things up," he laughs.
Not that this was all his idea - Allan feels some of the changes come from the fans themselves. "It's not like I was trying for a new direction, it's almost audience driven, too. l feel like I've got this young crowd with me now, I've got these rocker kids in my audience. And I grew up with that music, too," says the California-bred singer, "so to me that stuff is right alongside Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. The people really dictate the music, too. I feed off the audience, whatever they're really wanting is what they drag out of me. I've got the edgy side of the country crowd -- and I want to keep them."
No danger of losing them - "Living Hard" is an all-out rocker with a heavy Rolling Stones influence, and in "Like It's a Bad Thing" he lets it rip with a song that reads like a Gary Allan bad boy manifesto. "That song does sound like me, doesn't it" he says. "I think if anything that sort of renegade spirit is even more prevalent on this album. We've always danced to our own tune."
Allan, whose life is a whirlwind of hard-driving touring, also made a conscious decision to carve out more songwriting time for this album than ever before. "It's the most I've written on any album," he says. "I usually only write on my time off because I'm going so much that I hardly have time to ponder and sit around enough to want to write. Last year I sort of forced myself into it early so that I could write more for the record."
He was pleased with the result: "I'm usually more critical on my stuff," he says, "but I feel like I'm writing better, and obviously the more you've been through, the more you've got to say and the deeper you can express those emotions."
If you've been to his shows, Allan says, you know that when he sings about "baring my soul for the price of your ticket," he's not just blowing smoke. Since his last studio album, 2005's TOUGH ALL OVER, which drew on his experiences coping with the death-by-suicide of his wife, Angela, in 2004, Allan has become known for putting all his emotions on the line in his songs. "I'm exactly the same on the stage as I am off the stage," he says, "and what I found is, the bigger the arena, the more you're standing in the middle of those people, the more transparent you are. You can tell when somebody's not authentic or they're trying to be something they're not."
In songs like "Learning How to Bend," he admits he's still exploring some rough terrain as he makes his way back into everyday life and the possibility of a new relationship. "I think my favorite song that I wrote on this album is 'Learning How to Bend'," he says. "I woke up one day with that title. And it's me, you know -- I'm still learning, learning how to bend."
And in "We Touched the Sun" he moves forward while looking back at the beautiful times he shared with Angela. "There's a small circle of us that write songs together, and it's like group therapy," he says with a chuckle. "And the result is it's real. We rented a house in Costa Rica just to write, and 'We Touched the Sun' is one of the songs that came out of that session. It's a very reflective song, looking back at Angela. But it could be anybody you loved, just all the fond memories."
Thanks in part to all of that musical therapy, says Allan, these days "I'm in a good place, definitely happy."
And, he assures his fans, if you've been through tough times yourself, or you're just wondering how he's coping these days, all you have to do is listen to his music. "I don't really talk to people about my situation," he says, "but I feel like since I do write about my life and where I am, you can watch me heal through my music. It's lots easier on me, and I do hope that the music speaks to you."
With LIVING HARD, Allan is sure to find his music speaking to an ever-growing number of fans. "I want to reach even bigger audiences," he says. "I feel like I've got so much to say and so much to do right now and things are moving so fast. It's great to have something new to throw at people."
Most of all, he says, he just wants people to come along for the ride -- and hear the sounds of a life in progress. "It's a good listen, I think," he says. "I'm excited for people to hear it. It'll take you through a whole range of emotions, and I think it's going to take you on a journey. That's my goal."
The Band Perry
Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 2010, The Band Perry have ascended to dizzying heights. Fronted by Kimberly Perry and rounded out by her younger brothers Neil and Reid, the band has notched a string of hit singles, including the quadruple-platinum “If I Die Young” (which climbed to #1 on Billboard’s Country and AC charts), the platinum “You Lie,” and the gold-certified Country #1 “All Your Life.” They’ve also enjoyed sold-out tours and a showering of honors, including multiple ACM, CMA, and CMT Music awards, as well as Grammy, Teen Choice, AMA, ACA, and Billboard Music award nominations — all of which has cemented the sibling trio as one of the hottest acts in recent history.
But despite the validation that comes with such success, Kimberly, Reid, and Neil felt as if they were walking into the unknown when it came time to write and record their second album, which they’ve called Pioneer. “People hear the word ’pioneer’ and they think of covered wagons or astronauts on the moon, but to us the idea of a pioneer is very modern,” Reid says. “It reflects the idea of putting one foot in front of the other when you’re unsure how to get where you’re going. It’s about marching forward and making noise.”
“We had so many questions about our future, both personally and professionally,” Kimberly explains. “You can hear it in the lyrics to the song ’Pioneer,’ which asks, ’Where are we going?’ ’What will become of us?’ After writing those lines, the song became our guiding light throughout the process of recording the album, which is why we chose it as the title track. It’s truly about the last three years of our lives and trusting that the songs we wrote would lead us where we were supposed to go. We also had to let go of fear and trust the boldness that has always informed our creative decisions.”
The boldness is clearly evident in everything from Pioneer’s album cover — with its bright red, grey, and black color scheme and the band’s confident leaning-forward stance — to the album’s fiery, rock and roll-influenced country sound. It’s the first recording the trio feels truly captures the full-throttle intensity of The Band Perry’s live show, which they attribute to the input of the album’s producer Dann Huff. Huff, a Nashville veteran who was mentored by Mutt Lange and has worked with Faith Hill, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts, is the first producer who insisted on seeing them in the band in its live element.
“He was flabbergasted,” Kimberly recalls. “His mouth was hanging open. The first thing he said when we got off stage, was, ’Whoa, you guys have a rock and roll edge. This is what you do.’ He had never heard it represented in our recorded music and he opened up our minds to that in the studio. That led us to add more electric guitars and background vocals, which created more daring musical moments. Dann threw out the rulebook and let us go anywhere we wanted.”
The result is a collection of country-rock stompers like “DONE.” (an empowerment anthem “about how you feel when you’ve given the best of yourself and it’s still not good enough,” Kimberly explains), the blistering “Night Gone Wasted,” and the Queen-influenced, punk-poppish “Forever Mine Nevermind.” There are also vulnerable, thoughtful tunes like “Pioneer,” “Mother Like Mine,” (an emotional tribute to the siblings’ parents, especially their mother), “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “I Saw A Light,” and “End of Time,” a ballad that recalls the band’s Southern roots.
The trio’s love for Southern Gothic culture, including such authors as Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, is reflected on the platinum-selling first single “Better Dig Two” — a foreboding tale of a woman who makes a lifelong, somewhat unhinged commitment, while still wearing her heart on her sleeve. “The song expresses what we love about the deep South,” Kimberly says. “When you listen to the lullabies and fairy tales told in that part of the country, they feel a lot like the lyrics in this song.” (The platinum-selling “Better Dig Two,” which spent two consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Country chart, is The Band Perry’s fastest-rising single at radio ever, as well as their first No. 1 song in Canada.)
Then there’s “I’m A Keeper,” which Kimberly feels is very much her story. “I feel like I’m a free spirit first and foremost,” she says. “And the woman in this song has big plans, with or without a man. Maybe she’ll join the military, or maybe she’ll buy a house out on the prairie. All she knows is she has a big life ahead of her.”
One of the most meaningful songs to the band is “Back To Me Without You,” which was written in real time while Kimberly was dealing with the aftermath of a friendship that had imploded. “It was literally crashing and burning as we were writing the song,” Reid says. “She was heartbroken and had to take breaks from writing it in the front of the bus to go to the back of the bus to cry. Neil and I kept telling her, ’Get back to what you know’ and ’Get back to what you do,’ which ended up being lyrics in the song.” The track is just one example of how the band members raised the bar for themselves as songwriters on Pioneer. “We wrote every song on this album probably four times,” Neil explains. “Each time we’d finish, we’d ask ourselves, ’Is this song completely honest about where we are in life? Does it say everything we want it to say?’"
“Our first album was an honest representation of where we were at the time,” Kimberly says. “When we sat down to write songs, we had pictures in our head, and back then it was very romantic imagery, like Ferris wheels at the county fair. This time our inspirational images were of armies and marching bands moving forward. It was very militaristic, and I think you can hear that in the melodies and the lyrics.” Adds Neil: “We didn’t discuss the images we had in our heads with each other at first. It was just what we all felt and how we processed the meaning behind the music.”
Taken as a whole, Pioneer enables The Band Perry to accomplish one of its primary goals: to bring the romantic mystique of bands back to music — something they’ve dreamed of doing ever since forming the group in Mobile, Alabama, where the Perry kids moved with their parents after a childhood spent in Jackson, Mississippi. Kimberly started her first band at age 15, with ten-year-old Reid and eight-year-old Neil observing every rehearsal from the sidelines. “When the drummer and bassist would take a water break, they would jump on their instruments,” Kimberly recalls with a laugh. “They caught the fever immediately.” Reid and Neil started their own band, traveling with their family in a 36-foot motor home, playing modest shows in malls, campgrounds, and fairs.
“Sometimes there’d be more people onstage than there were in out in the crowd,” Kimberly says. “But our parents, who had no legitimate experience in the music industry, said, ’We’re not going to allow you to have a fallback plan. You were born to do music. We’ll support you, we’ll help you figure it out. This is what you need to do with your life.’ That was really the moment the three of us joined forces as The Band Perry. All the friends I had been playing with become interested in other things. I needed a band and Reid and Neil needed a lead singer.” Kimberly, Reid, and Neil spent the next ten years traveling, performing, and honing their skills before signing with Republic Nashville in 2009 and being catapulted into the spotlight with “If I Die Young.” To this day, they are most comfortable onstage. “Just learning that craft made us feel comfortable when we started to book shows at the big arenas that we’re now getting to play,” Neil says.
The songs on Pioneer are tailor-made for arena shows. “We needed songs that could fill large spaces,” Kimberly says. “Our show is very aggressive; there are a lot of electric guitars and hard-hitting drums, and the music on Pioneer captures that.” “Playing the new songs has given our live show a new burst of energy and the crowd feels it, too,” Neil adds. “They’re as excited to have new music as we are.”
Vero Beach FL | Country
When plans for a career as a professional golfer were derailed by injury, country singer/songwriter Jake Owen picked up a guitar and never looked back. A native of Vero Beach, FL, Jake and his fraternal twin, Jarrod, grew up in the Florida sun playing sports like baseball and football before Jake turned to golf and Jarrod to tennis. They continued their respective sports together as students at Florida State University, until a waterskiing accident resulted in reconstructive surgery for Jake. Off the golf team and depressed, he borrowed a neighbor's guitar and passed time teaching himself to play by listening to childhood favorites like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin, and Keith Whitley.
Ambitious but inexperienced, with good looks and a smooth baritone, Jake could next be found playing country covers in campus bars for free beer and a few bucks. Soon growing tired of covers, he began penning his own songs that were met with positive response. This motivated Jake even more to follow his new dream of becoming a singer, eventually causing him to skip out on his remaining college classes -- only nine credit hours remained on his English and political science degree -- and head to Nashville. He constantly wrote songs in his Bellevue apartment, and a chance lunch meeting had producer Jimmy Ritchey (Clay Walker, Mark Chesnutt) befriending the young musician. For over a year, the two wrote songs together, including a track called "Ghost" (also co-written by Chuck Jones) that Kenny Chesney almost wound up recording -- the track would later be included on Jake's own album. Eventually, his friendship with Ritchey led to a meeting with Sony/BMG Nashville and resulted in a record contract for the determined 24-year-old, who already had his album basically finished. His debut, Startin' with Me, appeared in summer 2006 on RCA, spearheaded by the single "Yee Haw." As the song climbed higher in the charts, Jake supported the record on the road opening for Kenny Chesney. - Corey Apar "All Music Guide"
Glen Dale WV | Country
A rock provides a major clue to the heartbeat of Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse.
The piece, a silhouette of Paisley's homestate West Virginia, is embedded in one of two stone walls of the drum room in his converted home studio. The state represents the place where he first acquired the skills that coalesced into one of contemporary country's most important careers. The studio itself is where he essentially started over, producing himself for the first time and figuratively rebooting a career that was already the envy of most of Paisley's peers.
The rock reminder of West Virginia definitely belongs on the Middle Tennessee property. Paisley can't escape his past – nor would he want to. The 21 #1s, the three awards from ASCAP as the Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year, the 14 Country Music Association awards (including a win as Entertainer of the Year) and the 14 Academy of Country Music awards provide evidence that he has figured out how to connect in a big way with both the public and the country music business.
But as much as his past informs who he is, Paisley was inspired in this album to take a flying leap off a creative cliff. The album is called Wheelhouse, in part, because of the first line in the first song, "Southern Comfort Zone." The studio is now christened the Wheelhouse because Paisley changed his own comfort zone while recording the album.
"Whatever we do here," Paisley says in the studio's piano room, "whatever ends up coming out of here on an album, must end up eventually being in my wheelhouse. Because I've done it."
Much of what ended up among the 17 tracks on Wheelhouse was a result of Paisley's dedication to challenge. He'd never been his own producer, never commissioned a studio, never recorded an album without falling back on some of Nashville's studio musicians and never tackled some of the difficult themes that are present in the album. Certainly not in the way that he approached them on Wheelhouse.
"Every song was meant to incorporate something new for me, and to take some sort of twist you don't expect," Paisley explains. "Whether that be the lyric or the loop or the guest, or a different format like rap, or getting a comedian like Eric Idle, it needed to spin your head around somewhere.
"It's like my dog when you say his name followed by a command he doesn't understand. He's like, "Huh?" And he turns his head a little sideways. That's what I wanted every song to do, in one way or another."
Paisley did that in a big way with the album's first song and lead single, "Southern Comfort Zone," which incorporated a bevy of unpredictable elements – the voice of his late friend, Andy Griffith; pieces of the Southern folk standard "Dixieland"; and the Brentwood Baptist Church Choir. All of that was paired with Paisley's familiar voice and stunning guitar shredding while he challenged listeners to get out of their own comfort zones by seeing as much of the world as possible.
Embracing the song was not a challenge. "Southern Comfort Zone" became just his latest #1 single even while Paisley continued an 11-month sojourn with the album, which he wrapped in January 2013, just weeks before it was due to ship.
"I wrote a bunch of songs that aren't comfortable," he says. "And that was the point, really – for them to be vocally, musically, lyrically, thematically uncomfortable – or at least new enough to me that I think I had to stretch."
He did that in the songwriting process, writing to a pre-existing loop for the first time when he penned "Beat That Summer," the album's second single, with frequent collaborator Chris DuBois ("Welcome To The Future," "Old Alabama") and in-demand songwriter Luke Laird ("Pontoon," "Undo It"). Paisley took another fresh approach in sampling a classic country song, incorporating Roger Miller's "Dang Me" in "Outstanding In Our Field." And Paisley challenged himself yet again by threading Monty Python icon Eric Idle into the tongue-in-cheek marital commentary of "Harvey Bodine," the story of a henpecked husband who finds new life by dying.
You want more challenges? How about incorporating rap for the first time with the recitations of AAA singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Daniels and iconic rapper LL Cool J?
But the biggest challenges might have come in Paisley's songwriting. The wit and thoughtfulness that have always been part of his work continue in Wheelhouse, but he pushes them to new extremes. The humor is particularly evident in "Death Of A Single Man" and the twisted "Karate," which manages to lighten two very heavy topics: domestic violence and karma. Even more challenging is Paisley's willingness to explore religious contradiction in "Those Crazy Christians" and the tragedy of discrimination in "Accidental Racist."
That song went through several incarnations before it finally found its properly sensitive voice. Paisley enlisted LL Cool J to write and deliver the song's counterpoint, sealing the deal as both of them stood on the stage of Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, gazing at the balcony, ironically named the Confederate Gallery.
"'Accidental Racist' needed to be collaborative because I have no authority in terms of the other perspective," Paisley says. "I can only speak as a white Southerner. One of the greatest moments of my songwriting life was taking him for a ride around town after touring the Ryman. I'm playing the song, and he's banging on the dashboard and saying, 'This is important. I'm in.' Then he wrote his entire part himself. And I told him, 'You can say whatever you want. You want to tell me I'm crazy? Tell me I'm crazy. There's nothing off limits for you. Whatever you want to say in this song, you say it.' And he did."
It is the single most uncomfortable topic on the album. And it's exactly why Paisley was adamant that it belonged on Wheelhouse.
"What kind of an artist am I if I let the fear of consequences for art be take away my willingness to speak about what I believe in?" he asks rhetorically. "I couldn't look myself in the eye in the mirror if I was willing to just say, 'I think it's important and people need to hear it, but that scares me because I don't know what that'll do to my career, so I just won't put it on there.' I couldn't do that."
The Wheelhouse, the site for all of Paisley's self-challenge, was borne of his personal past. The studio was built in the home he and his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, occupied for several years at the beginning of their marriage. Once they built a new place, it became a guest house, but Paisley began to envision it as more of a creative space. His old bedroom had odd angles in its ceiling and closets that created perfect acoustics for a studio environment. He turned the living room into an expansive location for the piano, and used a tiled downstairs bathroom as an echo chamber. He built the drum room – with its rock walls and dynamic sound – in just a couple weeks before recording commenced in the spring of 2012.
Paisley employed his road band as his studio ensemble, a rare move in mainstream country, and they typically worked after dark on the project, sometimes finishing a session at 4:30 or 5 a.m., just in time to catch the tour bus for a ride to a concert date.
Part of the challenge of Wheelhouse was to embrace the humanity of the musicians. Technology was embraced for capturing sound or enhancing it. But it was limited if the intent was to slice every imperfection out of the recordings.
"We didn't fix much on this whole album," Paisley notes. "When you hear the band, it's essentially them playing the best they can, it's not an engineer fixing anything. That was my rule. We could fix something if there was something glaringly bad, but as far as fixes for the sake of perfection or whatever, they are not there. We didn't do any of that."
Nor did Paisley do that with his vocals. Recording on his own property gave him the freedom to write and re-write new lyrics to his songs at the last minute, and to do his vocal tracks on days when he was particularly inspired. Some of the songs represent him singing a line for the very first time.
Because he took a leap in producing, he was forced to take even greater command as a singer. Over time, the process increased his confidence and his strength as a vocalist, evident in the elongated notes in "I Can't Change The World" and "Officially Alive," and in the expressiveness of "Tin Can On A String," sung in a vocal booth that was formerly his closet.
"It was a different feeling," Paisley says of the process. "When I hadn't produced my records, I always really leaned on Frank Rogers to get things out of me. It's almost like he would have to crack a whip and make me sing. But when you're doing it yourself, for me, I had so much to prove and say, it was really up to me to step up to the plate."
Paisley challenged himself in one other important way. The sampled sound of a human heartbeat is introduced in "Tin Can," the 11th of the 17 tracks, and it continues pulsing underneath the remainder of Wheelhouse through the end of the finale, "Officially Alive," which Paisley wrote on his own as a summation.
As he experienced a creative rebirth on Wheelhouse, he began to ponder: When does one truly start living? He realized one experiences life most in the midst of personal challenge.
"You're alive when that girl you thought you'd marry is driving away in the limousine with someone else," he says. "And you're alive when you're standing in Paris looking at the Eiffel Tower, and you know when you go back to Nashville, you'll never be the same. And you're alive when you stand up for something you believe in and aren't afraid to do that. And you're alive when your first child is born, and that love you feel is so much larger than you ever imagined possible. That's why I wrote that. That song was meant to be the exclamation point."
It's the final piece of his transition as Paisley moves into the next phase of his career. He cannot – and will not – let go of his past. But he's also excited about the uncertainty of the future. The West Virginia stone is a reminder of where he's been. The Wheelhouse and its namesake album are the starting point for the rest of Brad Paisley's creative journey.
Checotah OK | Country
With more than 15 million albums sold worldwide, 16 #1 singles, with seven as co-writes, five Grammys, and countless other accolades---all achieved with four albums in less than eight years---some artists might feel as though they’d earned the right to rest on their laurels, but not Carrie Underwood. Fueled by a restless creative spirit, good-natured competitive streak and abundance of God-given talent, Carrie unleashes her most ambitious project yet with Blown Away.
Teaming again with producer Mark Bright, Carrie delivers a 14-song collection that covers a particularly vast expanse of emotional territory. She celebrates the understated pleasures of small town living in “Thank God for Hometowns” and explores the exquisite fragility of life in “Forever Changed.” She’s not averse to tackling abuse and betrayal then doling out a little sweet revenge with such compelling tracks as “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs.” Musically the songs range from rollicking up-tempo anthems, such as the hit first single “Good Girl” to the island-flavored escape of “One Way Ticket” and the steel guitar-laced country lament of “Wine After Whiskey.”
Such musical and lyrical diversity is the foundation of Carrie’s artistry. After all, this is a young woman who has performed with Steven Tyler on a top-rated edition of CMT’s “Crossroads,” scored a No. 1 country hit with good friend Brad Paisley on “Remind Me,” and sang with the iconic Tony Bennett on the 2012 Grammy telecast, delivering the classic “It Had to be You,” their collaboration on Bennett’s Duets II album.
The Oklahoma native is a fan of all types of music, yet she’s purposefully planted herself in the country format, even while her eclectic tastes have influenced her creative output. She’s been careful to not get pigeonholed and prides herself on not being predictable. “I feel like I’ve taken all of my albums into as many different directions as possible while still keeping them cohesive,” she says. “I love this album from start to finish and love every song on it. There’s not one single song that’s like another song I’ve ever done. I think it’s my best album. I really do think there’s something for everyone.”
Her ability to be unique yet accessible has been crucial to Carrie’s career from the beginning. She became America’s sweetheart in 2005 when she won the fourth season of American Idol, a vehicle that transformed her from a shy Oklahoma girl with a great voice to a budding superstar. Since then she’s become the popular franchise’s most successful alumni.
She’s won a vast array of awards including three female vocalist awards from both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM). In 2010, when Carrie garnered her second win as ACM Entertainer of the Year, she became the first female artist to win the award twice, and only the 7th female to take the award in the 40-year history of the ACM category, among Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks. Carrie also received the ACM Triple Crown Award, thanks to her past wins for the categories of Entertainer of the Year, Top Female Vocalist and Top New Female Vocalist, which has been won by only one other female artist – Barbara Mandrell in 2004. In addition to the above, Carrie’s won 7 American Music Awards, 6 People’s Choice Awards, 9 CMT Music Awards, 9 American Country Awards, and 7 BMI Songwriter Awards. Carrie also received a Golden Globe nomination in 2010 for “Best Original Song” for “There’s A Place For Us” from Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader which she both recorded and co-wrote.
Carrie’s 2005 debut Some Hearts topped Billboard’s Country Albums chart for 27 weeks, has sold over 7 million copies, and was voted #1 Country Album of the Decade by Billboard. Both her 2007 sophomore album, Carnival Ride and 2009’s Play On debuted at No. 1. Her current album, Blown Away, debuted atop the all-genre Billboard 200 chart, where it held the No. 1 spot for two consecutive weeks. Over the course of four albums, she’s saturated country radio with such hits as “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” “So Small,” “Last Name,” “Just A Dream,” “Cowboy Casanova,” “Temporary Home,” “All-American Girl,” “Undo It,” “Mama’s Song,” “Good Girl,” and “Blown Away.”
Carrie’s highly acclaimed concert tours have further helped to establish her into the elite status of the country music community, or in any genre of music, with her stellar performances. In 2008, after wrapping her “Carnival Ride Tour” she became the top selling country female touring artist of the year selling out many of the 137 shows before 1.2 million fans. In that year, Carrie also became the most-heard artist at country radio and was named the #1 Hot Country Songs Artist by Billboard and #1 Top Country Artist by Radio & Records. In 2010, her next headline arena tour, the “Play On Tour,” played 108 shows with one million fans attending which resulted in Carrie being named again as the top-ranked female country touring artist of the year. Carrie is currently on her critically-acclaimed international “Blown Away Tour”, which began at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall, and continued throughout Australia, before launching in North America in September of 2012.
Carrie is a proud member of the Grand Ole Opry and expanded her resume making her acting debut in the 2011 film “Soul Surfer.” She can be seen in print and TV ads as the North American face of Olay beauty products, and has a long-running deal with vitaminwater®. One of Country Music’s most respected young ambassadors, Carrie has served as co-host of the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley the past five years.
Yet for those who think they know Carrie, Blown Away is likely to catch them by surprise, particularly the cinematic title track with its swirling, atmospheric production and intense lyric about abuse and revenge. “I got chills,” she says of the first time she heard the Josh Kear/Chris Tompkins penned stunner. “I remember where I was when I heard it and called my manager and said, ’Do not let anyone else have this song. It’s my song’ . . . It’s such a visual song. You listen to it and you can see everything that is happening. It’s so dramatic. I’m not a drama person, but when you can make a movie in song form in 3 ½ minutes, it’s surreal.”
“Blown Away” finds a daughter getting revenge on an abusive, alcoholic father and the next song, “Two Black Cadillacs,” also has a larger-than-life cinematic quality which makes both tunes feel like mini-movies set to music. “Two Black Cadillacs” relates the story of a wife and mistress who conspire to get even with the man who betrayed them both. “It’s just more drama,” says Carrie, who co-wrote the tune with Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey. “It was so much fun creating all this drama and singing about it. That’s the great thing about being an entertainer; you’re just a big actor. When we start sitting down and writing songs, you just never know what’s going to come out.”
Carrie co-wrote eight of the 14 songs on Blown Away, including the first single, Good Girl" which reached number 1 on the country airplay charts and is certified platinum. ’Good Girl’ was one of the last ones I wrote for the album,” she says of the tune she penned with Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gorley. “We wanted something a little more fun and up-tempo. Chris DeStefano is just a mad scientist with his Pro Tools and he can play every instrument. We walked out of that writing session with a demo. It sounded awesome. It was ready to go. We let everybody hear it and everybody was so excited.”
“Cupid’s Got a Shotgun” is another of the album’s high-energy tracks and it gets an extra kick from Paisley contributing his signature guitar licks. “Once we got into the studio, I was like Brad Paisley HAS to play on this. He’ll make the song,” Carrie says of the tune, she wrote with Kear and Tompkins. “We left so much space in the song for him to come in and play. He did his thing and sounded awesome. He added that last piece of the puzzle and it’s just so country. It’s really cool.”
In addition to being musically inventive, Carrie has long been known for delivering songs with substance, and the new album delivers its share of potent messages. “Nobody Ever Told You,” which Carrie wrote with Luke Laird and Hillary Lindsey, boasts an empowering lyric and a breezy, engaging melody. “People need to hear compliments more,” she says of the song’s life-affirming lyric. “People need to hear ’I love you’ more. People need to hear ’You are beautiful’ more.”
“Good in Goodbye,” co-written by Carrie, Lindsey and Ryan Tedder, is a bittersweet look at life beyond heartbreak that offers tender truth in the lines “As bad as it was/As bad as it hurt/I thank God I didn’t get what I thought I deserved.” On the other end of the emotional spectrum, “Thank God for Hometowns” is a sweet salute to small town life. “I heard that one when I was going back to my 10 year high school reunion,” the Checotah, OK native says. “I listened to the demo when I was driving in to go stay with my parents. It was just very fitting in my heart at that time.”
“Forever Changed” is a beautiful ballad that brings tears to Carrie’s eyes as she discusses it. “I had a hard time recording it and I still have a hard time listening to it,” she says of the Tom Douglas/Hillary Lindsey/James T. Slater penned ballad. “That is the most wonderfully well written song I’ve ever heard in my life. There’s this young girl meeting the love of her life, getting married and having a baby. It takes you back in time and there is something old fashioned about it. At the end, the mom’s obviously slipping a way a little bit. It is a sad song, but it’s not meant to be a sad song. It’s about love, being forever changed, forever loved.”
In a few short years, Carrie has seen the power music has to change lives---to incite dialog, to instill hope, and to simply entertain. She’s aware of the platform she’s been given. She respects it and appreciates every moment. “I’m very happy in my life and I count my blessings every day,” she says. “Seven years ago when I decided to try out for American Idol, my life changed completely in the blink of an eye. I went down a different train track and took off at about a million miles per hour. I feel like I’m still learning. In the beginning, it was like, ’Oh, I have a No. 1. That’s awesome!’ I didn’t really understand what that meant. ’Jesus, Take The Wheel’ and ’Before He Cheats’ were No. 1 for several weeks, and that doesn’t happen often, but I had no idea. I realize now what hard work it actually is and I feel like I can appreciate those victories even more. Touring is more fun because I know what it’s like to headline a tour. I feel like I’m able to be more and more creative all the time. I always feel like I’m taking steps forward.”