CMA Music Festival 2013 feat. Gloriana, Randy Travis, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Kip Moore & Blake SheltonCountry
From the band's earliest days, the members of Gloriana have always known that good things take time. The country trio first came together in 2008 when brothers Tom and Mike Gossin moved into Rachel Reinert's Nashville apartment. Together they spent months in cramped quarters, surviving on Ramen Noodles while trying to shape their sound. "Gloriana are three people who have played music for their entire lives" says Mike. "But we never really caught a break until coming together. Tom and I played in bars for 10 years, but it wasn't until the three of us got together that we knew we had something special." That something special has held Tom, Mike, and Rachel together through all manner of personal and professional struggles over the past several years: from relationship upheavals, to the departure of band-mate Cheyenne Kimball, to long stretches away from loved ones on the road, to wondering whether their music would ever catch fire. Fortunately it did when Gloriana's 2009 self-titled debut album soared to No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart propelled by the gold-certified single "Wild At Heart". That same year, they spent two years on the road with Taylor Swift and won both an American Music Award for Breakthrough Artist and a coveted ACM Award for Top New Vocal Group in 2010.
Marshville NC | Country
Country superstar Randy Travis is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his award-studded career with a stellar cast of collaborators.
Joining him on his Anniversary Celebration CD are such members of the Country Music Hall of Fame as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Ray Price. Current Nashville hit makers Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Josh Turner and Brad Paisley are also singing with him on the collection. Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame member Don Henley is on board, as are such up-and-comers as country’s James Otto and Jamey Johnson, pop’s Kristin Chenoweth and Irish tenor Eamonn McCrystal.
Randy’s fellow country superstar Alan Jackson has written several songs with him, so his presence is a natural. Revered vocal stylists such as Shelby Lynne, John Anderson, Gene Watson and Joe Stampley participate, as do Randy’s fellow Grand Ole Opry cast members Lorrie Morgan and Connie Smith.
Lady Antebellum's platinum third disc "Own The Night" debuted at the No. one position on Billboard's Top 200 in Nov. and most recently earned the trophy for Best Country Album at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards. The disc has already spawned two No. one hits "We Owned The Night" and "Just A Kiss,"and its current single "Dancin'Away With My Heart" is currently climbing through the Top 10 on country radio charts. The new album also serves as inspiration for their current Own The Night 2012 World Tour, which continues to break venue attendance records across the country with upcoming dates also scheduled across Canada and Europe. The reigning ACM and CMA Vocal Group of the Year has sold over six million albums across the globe, spawned six No. one hits, scored seven GRAMMYs and over a dozen other award show trophies.
Little Big Town
It takes a perfect storm to make a great album – an audacious mix of tension and release, passion and calm, love and violence.
Hallmarks associated with all true forces of nature, these mighty attributes were exactly what Little Big Town had in their corner as they blew into the studio in late February for the whirlwind recording session that produced their strongest work yet, their aptly titled fifth album, Tornado.
LBT didn’t set out to break any land speed records in the studio. However, considering that the majority of Tornado took just seven days to record, that’s exactly what the recording process felt like to Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook, a group famous for their trademark four-part harmonies.
The elements that would produce Tornado started brewing earlier this year. After doing a bit of soul-searching, the band realized they were ready for a change. Despite a solid 13-year career during which they’ve sold 1.5 million records, racked up multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM nominations, and crafted Top 10 country hits (“Boondocks” and “Bring It On Home” from their platinum 2005 album The Road to Here, and “Little White Church” from their acclaimed 2010 release, The Reason Why), LBT was feeling a little too secure in their time-tested way of doing things in the studio.
They decided to shake things up a little.
The change started with the draft of producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Patty Griffin), who stood in for their longtime collaborator Wayne Kirkpatrick at the boards. “We adore Wayne: he really helped us in the early days when we were trying to define our sound,” Karen says, fondly. “And he’s part of the reason why we’re a band. We love our past records, and we wouldn’t change anything about how we made them, but we wanted to break up our routine for this one and get a little bit out of our comfort zone.”
LBT was already familiar with Joyce’s work, both as a producer and a performer: a noted guitarist, he had played with the band on The Reason Why. However, there’s a big difference between dropping by the studio for a few hours to gig on one track and masterminding an entire album.
If there were any lingering doubts that Joyce was a good fit for the project, they all fell away when the producer showed up to his first meeting with the band brandishing a plan for a recording experience that was unlike anything else they had ever done before.
“Jay was the only guy we talked to who said, ’I know what I would do with you guys. I’ve loved your other records, but I have some things I’d love to try,’” Karen recalls. “When he talked to us about what he wanted to do, there was no hesitation,” Jimi adds. “He was all there; in Jay’s mind, he had already started working.” The band quickly followed suit, launching into what would become a wonderful cyclone of a recording session. Rehearsals began in late February; a month later, they had recorded the entire album.
Adapting to this swift course of action was admittedly a bit of a shock to the band’s system. The week before entering the studio, LBT was on the road, removed from any kind of preproduction. “It was Sunday night, and we were going into the studio the next morning,” Karen says, “and there were still 25 potential songs that needed to be whittled down. And we needed to figure out who was gonna sing them, and in what key, with what arrangement … We panicked. But when I called Jay, he said, ’Don’t worry about it. Just show up here tomorrow and we’ll figure it out together.’”
Flying by the seat of their pants was an entirely new way of working for four avowed perfectionists accustomed to a much more conventional recording process. Joyce encouraged them to approach their work with feeling rather than reason. “He really pushed us,” says Kimberly. “We tend to toil over things; we like to rethink and discuss problems. Jay stopped us from doing that. Literally, we would be in the middle of talking something out, and he would tell us to stop thinking and start singing.”
“Less thinking, more singing” became LBT’s unofficial slogan as they followed Joyce’s plan of action, which was new to him as well. “The process wasn’t typical of how Jay works, either,” Jimi explains. “It was exciting to see what would happen. Because of that, there was a great energy all the time in the studio, and I think you can hear that on the record.”
If some of Joyce’s methods were foreign to the band, others were rooted in familiarity. For instance, the producer encouraged LBT to use their road band in the studio. “That ended up being a huge part of the energy and spontaneity that comes across on the album,” Kimberly says. “We have a natural chemistry with those guys,” Phillip adds. “We already loved playing with them on the road, so being with them in the studio made sense. It was amazing how great it felt.”
The team worked together, in one room, with Joyce taping everything, including four days of rehearsals. No recording was off-limits: some practice tracks ended up on the album. “Even if it was a loose version of what we going for, if it had the right vibe, it was used,” Karen says. Wishy-washiness was also stricken from the agenda, Phillip says: “If it didn’t come together fast, then it didn’t come together at all. We’d drop it.”
On the fifth day, the group headed to Nashville’s Sound Emporium to start recording. To keep the sessions feeling organic and relaxed, Joyce asked the band to pretend that they were on tour; each session was treated like a live show. “He told us to come in dressed to go on stage, and to do whatever we normally do before we play a show,” says Karen. “We’d go to dinner and come back laughing with some drinks in us, in a great mood,” Phillip remembers.” And it continued into the studio.
The first point of action was clocking the languid, sexy strains of “Pontoon,” the album’s first single. (“We did it first because we wanted to start out having fun,” Karen says. “There was a psychology to how we did things.”)
A buoyant, light-hearted sing-along, “Pontoon” was written by Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean. The song’s presence on the album is a direct result of the band’s conscious decision to include different writers in their process. “We always cut a few outside songs, but this time we wanted to really open it up and see what we could find, no matter where it comes from,” Karen says. Fun songs were a chief priority. “’Pontoon’ is crazy and silly, but sexy and smart, too. We’d never recorded anything like it.” The gamble paid off: released in April as the album’s first single, “Pontoon” is LBT’s first summertime party hit.
LBT eased through ten more songs during the session. “Front Porch Thing” is a happy anthem about proudly doing as little as humanly possible. “This song takes me back to my first love,” says Kimberly. “It’s playful and spirited and a big ol’ dose of feel-good. It’s so much fun to sing in the live show. We open it up with only vocals and it gets bigger and more rowdy as we go.”
The entire band shares co-writing credits with Lori McKenna on the yearning ballad “Your Side of the Bed,” an evocative inquiry into the mind of a distant lover. “I love that this lyric is so brutally honest,” Karen says. “There are times in a relationship when you allow things to come between you, so much so that it feels like an incredibly long way back to each other. It's a lonely place to be especially when you’re lying right next to someone you love.”
“Tornado” is a wicked threat from writers Natalie Hemby and Delta Maid that deftly compares a scorned woman to a force of nature that the band and its fellow Southerners know all too well. “Natalie played it for us one night and we were like, man, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a chick say, ’I’m a tornado,’” Karen says of the song, featuring an ominous chorus in which the singer threatens to destroy the house she shares with her wayward man, to “toss it in the air and put it in the ground/Make sure you’re never found.” “Yeah, it’s pretty badass,” Jimi agrees.
“Pavement Ends” and “On Fire Tonight,” which the band wrote with Laird, are balls-out party songs. “Can’t Go Back” sounds like a whispered prayer delivered by a quartet of kind kindred spirits. "The first time I heard it I knew I wanted it on this record,” Jimi says. “It has one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies I've ever heard - one of those songs that feels like it’s washing over you as you listen to it. It’s one of my favorite things we've ever cut."
The album ends with “Night Owl,” a soothing lullaby caringly penned by all four members of the group that promises comfort and love at the end of an oft-traveled road.
The cooing chorus of “Night Owl” was achieved by the band singing into an echo chamber. “ At the studio, there’s a little hole in the wall that you go through to the chamber, where there are microphones set up to catch the echo. We all got inside to sing the ’who-o-oohs,’” Phillip remembers. (Kimberly and Jimi used the space to create the spooky whistles on “Tornado.” “They had a duel – a whistle-off in the chamber,” Karen jokes.)
“Self Made,” written by Karen and Jimi with Natalie Hemby and Jedd Hughes, was intentionally the last song to be recorded. A forceful testament to the challenges LBT has faced as a band and as individuals – challenges they’ve ultimately transcended – it’s become the band’s working mantra, “so we thought it was a good way to finish,” Karen says.
By the time “Self Made” was recorded, everyone had let down their guard, not to mention their hair, which gives the track extra energy and a special sense of urgency that was felt by everyone involved. “During the session our guitarist Johnny (Duke) asked Jay what advice he had for him, because there’s some amazing guitar work on that song,” Karen remembers. “And Jay’s, like, ’Release your inner monkey, man!’ He was standing on top of the speakers wearing big Chanel sunglasses - I don’t know where he got them – holding a bullhorn. On the track that made the album, you can hear him counting off: ’One, two, three - get it, Johnny!’ Jay said his heart was racing when we finished.”
“We all came off that session with our hearts beating out of our chests,” Phillips says. “When Karen and Jimi first played us that song, I instantly gravitated towards it because I love what it said: ’Born a survivor, like father, like gun.’ It was just cool.”
Beyond being a solid song, Phillip says the creation of “Self Made’ also represented a change in how the band members went about their work: “We were allowing ourselves to be open and creative in the writing process and good stuff was happening. I think we found that we were stretching ourselves and not just doing the same old things we had done before.”
Fond memories of their brief time in the studio notwithstanding, each member of the band is thrilled with the final product. “I think ’edge’ is a word that gets overused,” Karen says. “But this record does have a raw edge to it.” “It has a really different vibe to it,” Jimi agrees “It doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now.”
“There’s a confidence that permeates this album,” says Phillip. “And that applies to the sound of the vocals and the performances; it applies to the lyrics and the ways we’re emoting. We weren’t scared to perform it or say it from our heart. There was no tiptoeing around about it. It was about speaking the message clearly and as loudly as you can.”
For a band of Little Big Town’s stature, experience and esteem, this level of transparency and the decision to take the road less traveled into the studio are bold moves - ones they’re proud to have taken. “I read a quote recently that said you should do something everyday that scares you – it’s good for you,” Phillip says. “Well, at the beginning we were scared and nervous. But we would have never dreamed that it would come together so beautifully.”
Indeed, both gorgeous and fearsome, Tornado is nothing short of a force of nature.
Tipton GA | Country
Singer-songwriter Kip Moore combines a raw and rustic voice with compelling lyrics of honesty to create a unique sound that’s simultaneously hypnotic and edgy. His voice is weathered by life’s detours and disappointments and strengthened by his dreams and determination. His music is infused with relentless intensity, both of passion and frustration.
The boy who grew up daydreaming about life outside of the small town of Tifton, Ga., became a man who has been continually inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Kris Kristofferson to paint vivid portraits with his lyrics.
“I am not drawn to the fairytale kind of love,” says Kip, who had a hand in writing every song on his debut album. “I am drawn to the real-life experiences between a woman and a man. I try to sing about the way it is, but yet at the same time, what you can hope for between a couple. I don’t intend to paint of picture of what it’s really not.”
His music powerfully captures some of the contradictions that he grapples with personally. Although he’s from a large family and enjoys musical collaborations and performing onstage, he’s an introvert who is often more comfortable being alone. “There’s a combativeness to the music too, a fight within,” he says. “With ’Faith When I Fall,’ I know how bad I need that spiritual realm, but yet I find myself on this other end a lot of times.”
Despite its edge, his music remains desperately optimistic. “I am hoping for what I have yet to become,” he says. “I feel like it’s hopeful for what I’ve yet reached, how I look forward to feeling, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
“I have truly lived my music to a sense, even the milestones I haven’t reached yet,” he says. “I have been in those moments. I’ve been at those crossroads with a girl: ’Are we going to take that next step?’ I look forward to taking that next step, but I haven’t wanted to yet. I look forward to being ready for that.”
He was born in Tifton, near the Florida line, and was one of six children, the youngest boy who had three younger sisters. “You had to make your own fun, for sure,” he says of Tifton. “I had a lot of time for daydreaming. It was a great town, but I dreamed about getting out. I do enjoy going back now.”
His father was a golf pro and his mother was a painter who used anything handy for a canvas, whether it was cake plates or baby crates. She also taught piano and played the church organ. “I can remember sleeping in the pews,” he recalls. “She would bring us blankets and give us a coloring book and we’d sit there while she played.”
Weekends were often spent driving to the beach with his father for fishing expeditions. “He would play a lot of Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen,” he says. “As early as I can remember, I always gravitated toward lyrics. Even when I hadn’t lived enough to understand then, they still shaped me. “
During high school, he secretly began playing his brother’s guitar because he was intimidated by the talent of his mother and older brother. “I would play when nobody was around, just figuring out stuff, watching his hands and trying to do the same thing.”
He played point guard for Wallace State’s basketball team and also played on its golf team in Hanceville, Ala., for two years and then transferred to Valdolsta State University on a golf scholarship. He wrote songs daily and joined a band that performed throughout the South, providing him with all of his income. “I was one of those kinds who didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. “I didn’t know music was an option. Maybe it was one of those things where I didn’t quite believe in myself enough.”
Although he devoted every free moment to music during college, his parents still didn’t know about his musical activities. “They were all shocked when they found out about it because they didn’t know I could sing or play,” he says.
After graduation and a short stint as a bartender on St. Simon’s Island, he moved to Hawaii on a whim with just a backpack, a surfboard and a friend. They slept on an airport bench the first night and then lucked into a hut that was $50 a month. They would walk or hitchhike the mile to the beach daily. After six months of this tropical paradise, Kip thought he had found his permanent home until his friend encouraged him to pursue songwriting as a living.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about the world of songwriting,” he says. “I just did it for my own enjoyment. We talked about Nashville and I ended up saying, ’I’m going to give it a shot.’ I flew back home and told my folks. They thought I was crazy. Now they’ll say different, that they knew all along.”
He drove to Nashville on Jan. 1, 2004 in an old black Nissan truck that contained one bag and his guitar. He immersed himself in the songwriting community, observing songwriters’ rounds for two years and honing his craft before gaining the confidence to join in. After four years of performing locally, he caught the attention of Creative Artist Agency’s Mark Dennis, who called Universal Music Group Nashville’s Joe Fisher. Not only did Joe’s encounter lead to his record deal with MCA Nashville, but it also brought about his introduction to songwriter Brett James, who produced Kip’s debut album.
“Brett gave me the freedom to find who I was as an artist, the freedom for writing a different kind of thing, a different kind of melody and lyric,” he says. “He gave me room to grow.”
He also found important relationships with songwriters Dan Couch, Scott Steppakoff, Westin Davis and Kiefer Thompson, two of whom didn’t have publishing deals when he began writing with them. “There was definitely a special thing when we got in the room together,” Kip says. “I got offers to write with a lot of the bigger guns in town, but I enjoyed what I was doing with them. They were open to my ideas of being different.”
And different his debut project is, as evidenced by the album’s first single, “Mary Was the Marrying Kind,” the story of the one who got away. The dreamy and spell-binding song is the true story of one of Kip’s friends, who returned to his hometown after about six years and saw the once tall, lanky girl who had since come into her own and become a model.
“It’s the story of what every man in this world goes through at some point,” he says. “It’s the story of the one that got away that you should have paid attention to. Every town, every city, everybody knows one. Every girl believes they are Mary.”
The anthemic “Drive Me Crazy” is the story of two troubled teens who find a safe harbor in each other, if only for a few fleeting moments. “They are the getaway car for each other from everyday life,” he says. “When they’re together, what they live in is in the rear-view mirror and it’s just one big infatuation love story that lasts for a very short time.
With its irresistible bass line and drums, “Up All Night” is about continuing to live life to its fullest. “’Up All Night’ is the story of not wanting to give into your age and how life is supposed to be lived once you reach a certain age,” he says.
When Kip plays shows, he’s often asked for advice by aspiring songwriters. “Everybody’s experience is different, but I do believe it has to be the only thing,” he says. “I don’t think it can be a gray line. Either you want it and there’s nothing else or it’s not going to happen.”
For instance, Kip was offered a sales position with an enticing salary, but it required working six days a week, leaving no time for creating music. “You come to the crossroads: do you really want this? Are you willing to sacrifice everything, including relationships? I can’t tell you how many relationships have been doomed from the get-go because of this.
“It only took me a few minutes to decline it. It’s such a risk and it’s an alone feeling – you feel like you’re on an island by yourself – but it’s worth every single minute. Had I taken that job, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
Few country artists have ever known the kind of success Blake Shelton has earned. Fewer still have done it with the openness and honesty he brings to the table.
"For the life of me," says Blake Shelton, "I'll never understand how you can be an artist but not want people to understand who you are as a person."
More than a decade into a career whose opening salvo was the chart-topping "Austin," that transparency has helped Blake become one of the best ambassadors the country music genre has ever had, in a league with Glen Campbell and Roger Miller. His wit, intelligence and, above all, his irreverent sense of fun have endeared him to his peers on NBC's megahit "The Voice" just as surely as it has to the millions of fans he is introducing to country music. He is, says wife Miranda Lambert, "the life of every party he goes to," and these days, the world is his party.
Careers have been known to founder when artists reach beyond their core strengths into uncharted territory, but Blake's has only strengthened, primarily because he has never lost focus on the basis of everything he does--the music.
"I've spent a lifetime in love with country music," he says. "I listened all the time as a kid and I was playing and singing before I was a teenager. I moved to Nashville at 17 to make music and since then I've put everything I have into doing it right."
The results of that approach speak for themselves. He is the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, three-time Male Vocalist of the Year and he and Miranda garnered Song of the Year honors for co-writing the platinum-selling chart-topper, "Over You." He has earned a host of other awards and nominations, including multiple Grammy nominations, six gold and platinum albums, and is the three-time host of the ACM Awards.
The most important statistic, though, is musical. He has had 12 No. 1 singles, including eight in a row, starting with "Hillbilly Bone." With songs like "All About Tonight," "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking," "Honey Bee," "God Gave Me You," "Drink on It" and "Over," he has proven his versatility and shown himself as one of the genre's strongest and most compelling vocalists. His live show--hit-filled, high-energy, unpredictable--has kept him among country's most popular touring acts.
Now, with the release of Based on a True Story... he takes the next big step forward. That he was able to follow so strongly an album with the success of the platinum selling, GRAMMY nominated album Red River Blue, which launched four No. 1 singles is further proof that he is still on the ascent as an artist.
"I really did believe that Red River Blue was the best that I could do and maybe someday I could tie it," he says, "but I think that just taking a simpler approach to making this album made it better because I wasn't comparing it to anything else. We put it together piece by piece, saying, 'Hey, man, I love that song. Let's cut that.' I was just recording things I loved and the next thing you know we had built something terrific. I'm really proud and excited about the songs on it."
The album relies on some of the country's top tunesmiths, including Rhett Akins, Rodney Clawson, Dallas Davidson, Dean Dillon, Michael Dulaney, Chris Tompkins and Craig Wiseman, with songs that are in general more upbeat than those on Red River Blue.
"You know, honestly, I'm in a good place in my life," he says. "I'm happy and I'm thankful and I want to sound like that in my record. I want to be that guy on my albums right now because I don't have that dark cloud I've had before and that we've all had in our lives. If you listen to this album, by the end you'll go, 'Man, this guy's pretty happy with his lot in life!' And I am."
That reality, he adds, accounts for the project's title.
"I was listening to the album and I thought, 'Man, every song on here is either "Been there, done that," or I'm doing it right now,' so It really is my true life."
Perhaps nowhere is that truer than in "Small Town Big Time," which talks about a city-dweller casting his thoughts back to the people and places back home. There is also "Doin' What She Likes" and "Lay Low," each of which, he says, deals with aspects of his relationship with Miranda, "Boys 'Round Here," a shout-out to country boys, "Country on the Radio," which touches on Blake's lifelong love of country radio, and "Granddaddy's Gun," an evocative and poignant song about the place of memory and heritage within families. The tone varies from "Do You Remember," a song that looks back on a relationship more in nostalgia than regret, to "I Still Got a Finger," perhaps this generation's "Take This Job and Shove it." The CD's first single, "Sure Be Cool If You Did," launched the project in style, heading straight to the top of the charts.
Sonically, Based On A True Story enters new territory for Blake.
"I'm a fan of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan and Miranda and Taylor and Carrie," he says, "and I get excited when I hear how they're pushing the boundaries with their records and I kinda felt like that's the one thing that I hadn't done, is really push it with sounds and things. And so that's one thing that I did want to do on this record. "Doing What She Likes" has a banjo intro, but the banjo's going through a wah pedal and I never heard anything like it. It just sounds so cool. And that was important to me to do things like that."
The result is a project that showcases Blake as one of the premiere artists of his generation. The journey that brought him to these heights from a childhood in Ada, Oklahoma, was a storied one. Two weeks out of high school, after encouragement from legendary songwriter ("Heartbreak Hotel") Mae Axton, he left for Nashville. He met and worked with another legend—Bobby Braddock ("He Stopped Loving Her Today")—and earned a deal on Giant Records. It would be several years before that led to a contract with Warner Bros. and "Austin," and a long journey from there to the heights he has scaled.
"I'm still learning, still reaching and growing," he says now, "and it's great to have more and more people along for the ride."
He is, this far along, looking to the future.
"I just want to do what George Strait has done and what Reba has done, to make great music year after year," he says. "I don't think there's a magic formula. I think you just go and make the best record you can make and give the best you have when you walk out on that stage."
With Based on a True Story..., Blake takes yet another long stride toward that legacy, a legacy his growing legions of fans view as already well under way.