We're All for the HallCountry
In the midst of a multimillion-dollar expansion, now more than ever it is time for the Country Music Hall of Fame to hustle for donations. A varied cast of country’s biggest names are doing their part in tonight’s annual We’re All for the Hall benefit at Bridgestone Arena. Keith Urban and Vince Gill (the event’s founder) top tonight’s bill, which will also boast appearances from all-stars the likes of Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Tim McGraw, Rosanne Cash, Kid Rock, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert, Billy Joe Shaver, Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry and Hank Williams Jr.
2013 so far has been another spectacular year for Urban, who has already celebrated the success of a sold-out Australian Arena tour and received his first Golden Globe Award nomination for his song “For You”, his initial foray writing specifically for a motion picture. A performance with the Rolling Stones and at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Concerts, combined with Urban’s 4th annual “All 4 The Hall Benefit Concert” performing alongside “Rebels and Renegades” Willie Nelson, Kid Rock, Jason Aldean, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw and Eric Church, amongst others, has further solidified the respect that Urban has received as a musician and player.
In the Spring Keith released his first single in nearly two years, “Little Bit of Everything”, and wrapped Season 12 of FOX’s American Idol, on which he served as a judge.
In July, Urban launched the first outdoor Summer tour of his career, “Light The Fuse Tour 2013”, with Little Big Town and special guest Dustin Lynch. The tour moved into Arenas in October and will continue through December 2013. Urban’s eighth studio album is expected for release this Fall.
In 2001, the Country Music Association honored Keith Urban with its Horizon Award, designating him a talented artist with a bright future. He is the first Horizon Award winner in history to go on to win the CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year, a title he’s captured three times, and the coveted Entertainer of the Year. More than 15 million albums later, Keith is a four-time GRAMMY® Award winner who has also won a People’s Choice and American Music Award. He’s won five Academy of Country Music Awards, had 14 No. 1’s, including 28 Top 5 hits, and has had five consecutive platinum or multi-platinum albums. In 2012 he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Urban’s reputation as a songwriter, musician, vocalist and virtuoso guitarist is no more evident than when he is onstage. His electrifying concerts have played to sold-out venues from Australia to Germany, England to Canada and the United States. In fact, 2009’s Escape Together World Tour, as well as 2007’s Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy World Tour, were both, one of the top grossing tours for their respective years. As one journalist put it, “Urban is one of the best reasons in the world to attend a live concert.”
Norman OK | Country
"Vince Gill is quite simply a living prism refracting all that is good in country music. He uses the crystal planes of his songwriting, his playing, and his singing to give us a musical rainbow that embraces all men and spans all seasons." - Kyle Young/Country Music Foundation on Vince's induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Read more at http://www.VinceGill.com
Trace Adkins’ trademark baritone has powered countless hits to the top of the charts and turned albums into Platinum plaques, selling over 10 million albums, cumulatively. The Grammy-nominated member of the Grand Ole Opry is a television personality, actor, author, spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Program, the American Red Cross and has performed seven USO Tours.
In his 2007 autobiography, A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck, the 6’6” oil-rigger recounted his rise to fame, brushes with death and battles with personal demons. He also explains just how the world’s biggest alpha-male handles fatherhood with five daughters. In 2008, Trace’s integrity and wry humor served him well as a finalist on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice and prepared him for his return – on behalf of the American Red Cross – to NBC’s All-Star Celebrity Apprentice (Sundays, 9PM EST/PT).
Trace has played a tough as nails biker in The Lincoln Lawyer (starring Matthew McConaughey), he developed and hosted GAC’s “Great American Heroes” honoring every-day Americans doing great things and he has hosted the American Country Awards on FOX for three consecutive years.
Trace Adkins’ 11th studio album, Love Will… is all about the world’s greatest emotion and features collaborations with two-time Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Colbie Caillat, the esteemed Harlem Gospel Choir and Rock/Country veterans, Exile. Like any labor of love, Love Will… benefits from relationships built over time with an impressive list of producers like Tony Brown, Mark Wright, Frank Rogers, Kenny Beard and Mickey Cones.
The collection of sexy grooves, heart-wrenching ballads and up-tempo anthems are worthy additions to Adkins’ long list of career hits. The first single, “Watch The World End” featuring Colbie Caillat, speaks of the undying commitment between two people who wouldn’t be anywhere else, under any circumstances. The Harlem Gospel Choir backs Trace on the title track, “Love Will” in the Gospel tradition of spreading love and inspiration. Exile joined Trace on a new version of one of the biggest radio hits of all time, “Kiss You All Over.” Adkins’ rich baritone is well-matched with the suggestive lyrics and supported note for note by these power players.
Trace is known as a man of deep integrity with a deeply irreverent sense of humor. He’s made a career keeping fans on their toes, making them laugh (“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk), making their hearts swell (“Til The Last Shot’s Fired”), and making them weep (“You’re Gonna Miss This”, “Every Light In The House”).
“Now hold on one second!” says Trace. “This is an album of love songs but in my book, ’Hot Mama’ and ’Badonkadonk’ are love songs! So don’t start thinking these are all ’I’ll love you til the end of time’ ballads…but yeah, we’ve got those too.”
As Trace points out, the variety on Love Will…is layered. The album title itself is an open-ended question – love will build a bridge? Love will move mountains? Love will tear us apart? Any Country song can tell you that all of the above are true.
For anyone looking to brand Jason Aldean as part of a significant musical movement, good luck.
There’s a lot about the singer that’s become familiar during his five years as a country hitmaker, after all, he has spent more weeks at No. one on the radio charts than any other country artist in the last 12 months. But none of what he does comes out quite like anyone else. The blues-tinged licks at the end of his phrases—there’s a ring of familiarity about them, but you can’t really link them to another artist. The smoky guitar riffs that have become a signature—they’re built on sounds that have come before, but they don’t really belong to anyone else in the country genre, either. The small-town themes that pervade many of his songs—that’s all been done before, but not quite with the unwavering honesty that Aldean applies to the subject.
Since his 2005 debut with the scorching “Hicktown,” the singer has set himself apart from the pack as a truly unique artist. He addresses his Georgia-born brand of country music with a singular vision, and he intends to keep it that way.
“The whole thing about being creative is coming up with new things,” he says matter-of-factly in a converted barn on his Nashville-area farm. “What makes you different and more creative than the other guys is taking something to an extreme and making it better without ripping anybody else off. I think that’s the key. The great ones figure it out and are constantly evolving, and that’s what makes ’em great.”
With My Kinda Party, the Academy of Country Music’s former Top New Male Vocalist further cements his uniqueness with a robust15-track project that builds on his personal past while covering new territory. The first single—the muscular title track—fit very quickly into the jacked-up portion of his concert set list, which already boasts “She’s Country,” “Crazy Town” and “Johnny Cash.” But there’s other stylistic landscape to explore, too—his first full-fledged duet, with big-voiced pop singer Kelly Clarkson; and an almost rap segment in “Dirt Road Anthem” that suggests Aldean has listened to a little Snoop Dogg in his time.
That might come as a shock to non-country observers who think the genre belongs in its own self-imposed hay-bale ’hood, but Aldean gets around musically. He was the first country artist of any significance to incorporate Guns N’ Roses medleys into his live show—“You’re welcome” is his simple response—and his listening history includes such diverse talents as Aerosmith, the Oak Ridge Boys and even Tupac Shakur.
Like Aldean himself, all of those acts were founded on a distinct musical identity. They each incorporated their heroes’ influences into a sound that belonged to no one else. Aldean took his cues from them quite well.
“I grew up listenin’ to all kinds of music—rock and Southern rock and country and blues and rap stuff, too,” he says. “My cousin, who’s five months older than me, he went through his rap phase when we had 2Pac in the car all the time. Really, I’m a fan of all kinds of music.”
While critics will gravitate to the extremes on My Kinda Party, the essence of the album is simply the solidity of its material. By selling 3.5 million records in the first phase of his career, Aldean commanded the attention of Nashville’s songwriters as he put together music for the album. With volumes of Music Row’s best craftsmen and women writing for Aldean, he literally had the pick of the litter.
As a result, My Kinda Party is stocked with inviting melodies and intriguing storylines, many of them tugging on the small-town themes that have become the backbone of his persona. “Fly Over States,” “Church Pew” and “Tattoos On This Town” exemplify Aldean’s affection for the topic, though it’s often misunderstood.
While country has plenty of bumper-sticker anthems that celebrate small communities, Aldean is more than a simple cheerleader for rural values. He does indeed take on the role of heartland defender in “Fly Over States,” but other songs find him grappling with the heartbreak and limitations that accompany towns with three- and four-digit populations.
“I’m not like a pro-backwoods, flag-wavin’ kinda guy,” he says. “I mean, I grew up in the South, in the country, and I love that lifestyle. But I’m not one of those guys that insists that’s the only thing there is. Being from a small town, you can be a little misunderstood, and there are plenty of people tryin’ to get out of there because you’re put in a box a lot of times when you’re in a small town.”
Aldean knows that issue well. Born in Macon, Georgia, he was raised on the outskirts of town and devoted much of his youth to working and hanging out at his cousin’s 200-acre farm.
“I spent every weekend out there at his house riding four-wheelers and horses, bailin’ hay, going fishing and hunting—all that stuff,” Aldean reflects. “When I would go from my house to his house, it was a lot of farmland and dirt roads and huge potholes in the road.”
A high-school athlete, he made use of his environment by playing clubs, building his musical skills with an eye toward Nashville. Once he hit Music City in 1998, Aldean struggled rather famously, signing several recording contracts that eventually fell apart. He played countless label showcases and eventually drained his bank account.
As dramatic as it sounds, he was ready to pack it up and go back to Georgia when producer Michael Knox asked him to take one more crack at a showcase. Independent Broken Bow Records was interested, and Aldean—admittedly skeptical that a then-unproven company was going to make a difference in his life—took that shot.
Everything clicked at that show. Aldean got a deal that kept him in Nashville, and his life has never quite been the same. But his brush with permanent obscurity still fuels his creativity.
“I think about it every day,” he concedes. “When you read that I was this close to leaving, it sounds like something made up. But it was the truth. I had applied for jobs in Georgia, and I was trying to get hired down there. We were broke—just straight-up broke—and we were gonna move in with my mom so we could get on our feet and get straightened out…maybe get a club gig and try to build a local following.”
Instead, the Broken Bow deal allowed Aldean to stay in Nashville and build up a following on a national level. Establishing a mindset that he continues to carry, he tackled his opportunity on his own terms. He worked with his own producer, Michael Knox, and used his own band—guitarist Kurt Allison, bass player Tully Kennedy and drummer Rich Redmond—plus guitarist Adam Shoenfeld as his studio core.
Aldean’s ultra-Southern voicings give him an immediately identifiable sound. The band helps set him even further apart from other country stars.
“I don’t want to use who everybody else uses,” he insists. “And I don’t want my records to sound like everybody else’s records. The only way to do that is to cut it like we do. I cut the album with my band, I use an engineer that nobody else really uses in this town to cut major-label records, and Michael is starting to produce more things now, but when we first got started, it was me and that was about it.”
Even now, as Knox branches out to work with other well-known country artists—an opportunity that’s come directly from producing Aldean—Knox and Aldean have an understanding about protecting the sound they’ve achieved together.
“This is something that we’ve been working 10 years on. I’m not going to just hand it over and let anybody else’s stuff sound like mine. That’s what sets us apart.”
There’s no cockiness and no forcefulness in his stance. The name of the game is individuality, and Aldean is protecting it.
He also appreciates it in other artists. That same level of uniqueness is exactly what Aldean was looking for when he approached Clarkson as a duet partner on “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”
“Kelly has such a distinct voice,” he observes. “She’s got the most soulful voice there is right now. As soon as she opened her mouth and started singing in the studio, it was like, ’That is what this song is supposed to sound like!’”
The one-of-a-kind sound Clarkson brought to “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is representative of Aldean’s own artistry throughout My Kinda Party. There’s a cultural familiarity to the themes and the influences, but in practice, there’s not another act who sounds quite like Jason Aldean.
He’s not part of some musical wave. He is his own movement.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he shrugs, “knowing what it is that sets you apart from everybody else.”
New York NY | Country
Rosanne Cash keeps her head down and shows up for work.
She has recorded eleven No. 1 singles, blurring the genres of country, rock, roots, and pop. She has received one grammy and twelve grammy nominations, among other awards and accolades, including an honorary doctorate from Memphis College of Art. A prolific writer, she has authored Bodies of Water (Hyperion, 1996), Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale (Harper-Collins, 2006), edited the book Songs Without Rhyme (Hyperion, 2001), and recently penned her memoir Composed (Viking, 2010). Rosanne’s prose and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Oxford-American, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Martha Stewart Living and various other publications. Her last record album, The List, won the Americana Music award for Best Album of the year and was a critical and commercial success.
She is currently writing an album of songs about Southern people, places and themes with her longtime life partner and musical collaborator, John Leventhal. She lives in New York City.
Revolution has cast a spark in mainstream country music, and outlaw rebel Eric Church is to blame. Since the release of his first album, Sinners Like Me (2006), Church has led his pack one-by-one through retrospective songwriting, invigorating live shows, and a hard-boiled attitude soaked in blood and sweat, and ice cold beers. Perhaps that’s why his recent No. 1 singles “Drink In My Hand” and “Springsteen” have accomplished RIAA Gold and Platinum certification, respectively, and his first headlining arena tour, aptly titled Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour, is experiencing record-breaking sales and prompting rave critical reviews. Moreover, there’s no doubt since the release of his ground-breaking RIAA Certified Platinum third album CHIEF, his tenacious tribe of disciples is demanding the world’s help in catapulting their ’chief’ of country music from smoky barroom songster to headlining arena superstar.
On board with the upheaval in naming CHIEF one of NPR’s Top Albums of The Year, renowned critic Ann Powers writes:
“Mainstream music is full of macho dudes in faded designer jeans, but it’s rare to find an artist with enough sophistication and self-awareness to make the outlaw persona feel genuine. Enter Eric Church: The North Carolina native honky-tonker who fully embraces country clichés, but sharpens them with wit, chronicling wild nights and epic hangovers with just the right amount of critical distance, and single with the cool world-weariness of someone who’s lost a few lovers and parking-lot fights.”
Rolling Stone, SPIN, iTunes, and the Los Angeles Times also joined the crusade in granting Church coveted end-of-the-year ’top album’ accolades, and the release of CHIEF earned RIAA Gold Certified sales in only six weeks, helping to launch fan-favorite party anthem and third single release “Drink In My Hand,” to No. 1 on the country radio charts. Furthermore, positioned at the apex of life-long achievements for Church, he experienced the exhilaration of his first-ever GRAMMY nomination with CHIEF for Best Country Album and ACM nominations for Album of the Year and Video of the Year for “Homeboy.”
Having kicked off Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour on January 19 in Fort Smith, AR, Church is bringing his raucous live show to arena-filled venues from New York, NY to Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Nashville, TN and everywhere in between in 2012.
"Normally, you have No. 1 singles before you have No. 1 albums and arena tours, but for us, it was the other way," says Church who began planning the arena tour months before ever reaching the singles summit with “Drink In My Hand" and the two-week No. 1, “Springsteen” – both Church personally co-wrote. Cultivating a devoted fan base without sacrificing musical integrity and self-expression, Church has built up his following slowly, but the hard work is finally proving to have paid off.
Reflecting on his creative process when crafting the game-changing album CHIEF, Church used his opportunity to make a new record provided by his success to push his creativity and live show even further. “I have a theory that all of us only get a small window of time to make records when people will really listen and care,” he says. “It's up to us to move the needle. People like Waylon and Cash or Garth and Strait - they all took the format and said ’We're going over here,’ and they all changed the direction of the music a little bit.”
Although his debut album, Sinners Like Me, established him as one of the most acclaimed new songwriters in country music; and the follow-up, 2009’s RIAA Gold Certified Carolina, produced the singles “Love Your Love the Most” and “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which—along with the continually escalating popularity of his hard-charging live show—elevated Church to the top ranks of today’s country stars in early 2011 at which point Church decided to take a step back to give some thought to his next creative direction.
“I took about a month off and went to a cabin in North Carolina,” he says. “We’ve always blazed our own trail and I was trying to figure out where it needed to go and, honestly, I wasn't sure. So, I didn't go anywhere for a month. Writers came out and we just wrote songs all day and all night. That really stoked the creative flame. Then, I spent the next six months on tour writing whenever I could.”
The songs that resulted illustrate Church’s impressive range. Some of the titles like his first career No. 1 Billboard single “Drink in My Hand” or “Hungover and Hard Up,” instantly show that he’s still comfortable with the expectations of his rowdy live audience. “You’ve got to know what's going to fire them up,” he says, “but, you also need to give them a twist, something they can't just go back and get from the other two records.” Other songs, like the ambitious third single and second No. 1 “Springsteen” or “Like Jesus Does,” reveal complicated emotions and sophisticated song structures.
Church’s fourth single release from the record, “Creepin’,” kicks-off CHIEF.“It’s interesting how sonically it matches the lyrics, then, it gets full-blown and tries to creep out. I love the Roger Miller ’bow-ba-bow’ vocal—that wasn’t planned, it was just a product of being in the room and being involved in the magic.” It’s that fearlessness both on stage and in the studio that continually sets Church apart--earning him performances on stages opening for Metallica at Orion Festival and alongside top names at CMA Music Festival’s LP Field.
Perhaps the bravest track on CHIEF is the first single, “Homeboy,” a provocative appeal from one brother to another to get back on track and make peace with his family that was recently RIAA Gold Certified.
“’Homeboy’ deals with social issues and with everyday life,” says Church. “It was pretty challenging for me to take that term ’homeboy’ and use it as slang, as a destination, and then at the end, as a spiritual place. Sonically, it's like three or four different songs. It’s not something people are used to,” he continues, “and there can be a price to pay for that. I’ve had people say ’that's strange,’ ’it's odd’—things that some people might run from but, I think it's fantastic.”
When it came time to record the album, Church had a sound in mind that felt different from his first two releases. “This record, more than anything else I've done, is breathing and alive,” he says. “There’s a wildness to it. It’s untamed and not very harnessed.”
This energy started with the singer’s own role in the sessions. Much of CHIEF was cut live in the studio. Church played guitar with the band (and for the first time on record, electric guitar on “Like Jesus Does”) and some of the final versions even use the original tracking vocal.
Church gives credit to producer Jay Joyce, with whom he has made all three of his albums, for helping to bring this excitement out on the tracks. “There’s just a comfort level with Jay,” he says. “We’ve both learned to sit back and let each other try different paths and get farther out there. A lot of stuff we just tried, like the handclap loop on ’Homeboy,’ just because we weren’t afraid. We never thought there was anything we couldn’t do. I think it’s the most aggressive record I’ve made because of that.”
Though Church’s focus on CHIEF is on looking forward rather than looking back, he does acknowledge that the surprising success of chart-topping single release “Smoke a Little Smoke” allowed him to explore and experiment with his new songs. Church explains, “This was the first time I picked a single because of the reaction on the road and it paid off.” And his desire to capture the intensity of his live show on record is indicated right in the title of the new album. "’Chief' is my nickname on the road," Church reveals. "When it's show time, I put on the sunglasses and the hat, and that's how people know it's game time. This album was made from a live place; we recorded it with the live show in mind, so it just seemed right to make that the title."
If there is one thing country music needs more of, it’s the attitude that is driving Eric Church, the approach behind every song on CHIEF, the fearlessness that lets an artist swing for the fences and attempt to change the musical landscape. “There were safer choices I could have made for sure, but I just can't feel that helps anybody,” he says. “If you have any respect for the music, you'll use each chance you get to try to be one of the ones who moves the flag.”
Jefferson GA | Country
Brantley Gilbert knows that tomorrow is no guarantee. Just over five years ago the talented singer/songwriter was ignoring his deepest ambition of becoming a country singer and was just going through the motions of everyday life. It wasnt until a nearly-fatal car accident that Brantley opened his eyes, realized the importance of living each day to the fullest, and decided to pursue his love for music as a career.
Brantley was born and raised in the small town of Jefferson, Georgia, just outside the Athens city limits. It is that upbringing and small town influence Brantley credits toward allowing him to cultivate his unique sound. With well-known rock bands REM and the B-52s having roots nearby, Brantleys taste in music always swayed toward a rock feel, but his true-to-life testimony of heartache, trials, triumph, and success found a home in country music.
Brownsville TX | Country
After 7 years in the ever-changing, ever-challenging music business and with 49 titles under their belt - ranging from French provocateur #1 Serge Gainsbourg to US via Germany genre godfathers The Monks - how does Light In The Attic celebrate its 50th release? By bringing you their pinnacle album to date…
Over 5 years in the making, and with all the attention to detail and elaborate packaging the label is known for, LITA 050 is none other than the never-before-released 1968-1972 demos of Texas-born Renaissance man and maverick songwriting pioneer, Kris Kristofferson. With the outlaw Highwayman's full blessing, Light In The Attic is proud and honored to present Kristofferson’s honest and upfront formative takes on the tunes that would eventually become part of the great American songbook.
Since penning these numbers (many of which were written during the mid-to-late 60s while working as a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville) over 500 artists including patron saint Johnny Cash, one-time lover Janis Joplin, and co-actor Bob Dylan (to name but three), have covered Kristofferson’s material. While we shouldn't forget his vast commercial accomplishments as an award-winning recording artist and actor in more than 70 films (working under master directors like Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah), it's these soul-stirring demos that laid the groundwork for his rough and tumble creative journey. Drop the needle and be transported into the intimate candlelit studio session like a fly on the wall.
Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends: The Demos 1968-72 features comprehensive liner notes by Michael Simmons (MOJO, LA Weekly), including interviews with Kristofferson, the musicians, and other related-folks from these landmark sessions. With full lyrics housed in a massive booklet featuring unseen photos and archival material, plus a gloriously mastered audio soundtrack (LP/CD/digital formats), you'd best crack open a bottle of your favorite trouble, sit back, and listen closely as Kristofferson relates his humanist vision in that down-home style – it’s full-blown poetry for the people.
And when none other than fellow troubadour Willie Nelson says that Kristofferson, "Brought us out of the Dark Ages," with his contributions to country music, we all better listen, and listen good, ’cause this is the real deal.
Hurricane Mills TN | Country
For fifty years now, Loretta has fashioned a body of work as artistically and commercially successful—and as culturally significant—as any female performer you’d care to name. Her music has confronted many of the major social issues of her time, and her life story is a rags-to-riches tale familiar to pop, rock and country fans alike. The Coal Miner’s Daughter—the tag refers to a hit single, an album, a best-selling autobiography, an Oscar-winning film, and to Lynn herself—has journeyed from the poverty of the Kentucky hills to Nashville superstardom to her current status as an honest-to-goodness American icon.
McGraw's latest album, TWO LANES OF FREEDOM, debuted at No. one on the Billboard Country Albums chart marking his 14th career No. one debut. Since the release of his first album in 1993, McGraw has sold over 40 million albums, dominated the charts with 33 No. one singles, won three GRAMMY’s, 14 ACM Awards, 12 CMA Awards and 10 AMA’s, while simultaneously maintaining a parallel career as a successful actor in such films as the Oscar nominated The Blind Side, Country Strong, and Friday Night Lights—as well as hosting Saturday Night Live, a rare honor for a singer in any genre. Nielsen-BDS recently certified McGraw as the most-played Country artist of the past 20 years (1992-2012) with more than 10 million spins detected and Mediabase recognized him as the most-played Country artist in the history of their tracking service.
Montgomery Gentry is back and kickin’ ass.
With a new album, a new label and a renewed sense of musical purpose, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry are poised to stake their claim as one of country music’s all-time greatest duos.
When the two Kentucky boys—Eddie, is from Lancaster and Troy is from Lexington—first busted onto the national scene in 1999 with the defiant “Hillbilly Shoes” notice was served—country music had never seen a hard driving duo like this.
The duo’s new collection, the aptly titled Rebels On The Run, brings Montgomery Gentry fans back to the beginning, but with a fresh attitude. Produced by Michael Knox, who has helped build Jason Aldean to superstar status, Eddie and Troy’s latest effort will likely be remembered as their best album thus far in their decade-plus history.
Despite the millions of albums sold, the sold out shows and the scores of awards and accolades, Montgomery Gentry remains in touch with its working class roots. “We are blue collar workers and we lived the songs that we sing,” says Troy. “Because of that, our fans are able to make the connection and when they hear our songs, they know we are singing with passion and we know what we are talking about.”
“People are going to be able to touch on each one of our songs and say. ’Yeah man, that song is a little bit about me,’ or ’I know a person that lives next door to me that’s been through what you just got done singing about,’” Troy continues. “People can associate themselves with ours songs.”
“With us is what you see is what you get,” Eddie says of the duo’s down-to-earth demeanor. “We don’t act like we don’t drink or cuss. We have faults like everybody else and that’s who we are.”
Who they are is a duo with fourteen Top 10 singles, including five No. 1s, “Something To Be Proud Of,” “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” Lucky Man,” “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me.”
Their latest album is certain to add to that total.
Hometown proud first single, “Where I Come From,” continues the thread of the duo’s Top Five anthem “My Town.” The party hearty “Ain’t No Law,” co-written by Eddie and which includes the lyrics, live as fast as you can, cuz you can’t get it back is classic Montgomery Gentry. The vulnerable “Empty,” with powerful vocals by Eddie, drips with raw emotion and pain.
Meanwhile, the album’s title cut is a relatable tune sure to hit close to home to anyone who has been a teenager, which is to say, everyone. “Work Hard, Play Harder,” which Troy co-wrote with hit songwriters Jim Collins and Rivers Rutherford, is destined to be a blue-collar anthem
The Southern rock guitar-infused “So Called Life” is a raucous testament to hard working people everywhere. Legends Charlie Daniels and Alabama’s Randy Owen guest on “I Like Those People,” a blood-is-thicker-than-water testament to the things that really matter.
Now signed with powerhouse independent label Average Joes Entertainment, Montgomery Gentry has found the freedom the duo needs to move to the next level of their career. “It just seems like over the last couple of records there was so much going on at our old record company that we kind of got away from what Montgomery Gentry was about,” Troy says. “Rebels On The Run has a little bit of a newer sound, but it still has that edginess like the first two or three records we put out.
“We were able to go into the studio fresh, without our hands tied, and we were able to get the stuff done that we wanted to do and produce what we think is our best work to date,” Troy continues.
“It’s just so unreal when you get a fresh start and everybody is on the same page,” Eddie chimes in.
Average Joes, yes, but Montgomery Gentry is a superstar duo nonetheless. Whether it’s headlining tours, scoring a Grammy nomination, winning Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards, garnering critical acclaim or simply earning the admiration of their millions of fans, Eddie and Troy have met the criteria reserved for but a few in country music history.
But awards and accolades aside, it’s Eddie and Troy’s induction into the venerable Grand Ole Opry in 2009 that means the most to them.
“Unlike other awards, becoming members of the Grand Ole Opry is something people can’t take away from you,” Troy says. “Other awards come and go, but once you become a member of the Opry, you are a member for life—that’s something that Eddie and I are very proud to be a part of.”
There’s no doubt that they’re hard-running honky tonkers, but Eddie and Troy are also empathetic citizens of the world. Acknowledged by the Academy of Country Music as the 2010 winners of its Humanitarian Award, they devote their time and energy into making the needs of others a priority. They are active participants in many charitable organizations, including the U.S. military and numerous charitable organizations such as the TJ Martell Foundation, Camp Horsin' Around and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee, among numerous others.
Make no mistake about it: with Rebels On The Run, Montgomery Gentry has secured a place in musical history with a unique blend of country, southern rock and Everly Brothers-like harmonies combined with relatable lyrics.
“We grew up on Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard,” Eddie says with conviction. “That’s who we are. We cut our teeth in the honky tonks and no matter what you try to do, we have to be us or it just doesn’t sound right.”
Austin TX | Country
The title of Willie Nelson’s solo debut on Blue Note Records, American Classic, refers as much to the man himself as to the storied Tin Pan Alley repertoire he explores on this elegant new set. While it’s common now for mature pop artists to attempt to put their own stamp on the American Songbook, Nelson practically invented the approach. He set the standard for, well, playing the standards more than thirty years ago with Stardust, perhaps this “outlaw” entertainer’s most daring move, an album that many industry pundits thought would get him laughed off the charts and out of the biz.
Instead, the Booker T. Jones-produced Stardust—which showcased material from the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael and Kurt Weill, among others, in spare, easy-going arrangements—became the most successful album of his career thus far. It reached #1 on the Billboard’s Country Albums chart; racked up more than five million in sales; earned Nelson a Country Male Vocal Performance Grammy; and, most significantly, helped to transform a colorful, middle-aged cult figure into a mainstream star. Encouraging Nelson to record Stardust was Bruce Lundvall, now Blue Note’s head, who had the prescience to sign Nelson to Columbia in the ’70s and, thirty years later, offer him a home at Blue Note. Nelson’s first effort for the label was his acclaimed 2008 collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With the Blues, a spirited live set that debuted at #20 on the Billboard pop chart (Nelson’s highest charting since Always On My Mind hit #2 in 1982).
Fans around the world know that the adventurous Nelson can sing just about anything—and with just about anyone he pleases. As he sees it, “The more songs you know, the more musicians you listen to, the more writers you hear, the better equipped you are to decide where you want to go next. That’s why I want to listen to everyone and everything and then decide which way I want to go. Then, of course, I might change my mind and go in an entirely different direction. But at least I have all these options.”
On American Classic, he’s joined, on vocals and piano, by Diana Krall in an intimate rendition of “If I Had You” that feels more like pillow talk than mere wishful thinking. (“It came off so well—she’s so smooth and her piano playing is the best,” praises Nelson.) He also duets with Norah Jones, countering playful protestations with romantic persuasion on Frank Loesser’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” (“That particular song has a lot of meaning for me,” Nelson admits, “and it’s obvious that I enjoy singing with her.”) Backing musicians include such notable jazzmen as pianist Joe Sample, bassist Christian McBride, Krall guitarist Anthony Wilson, and drummer Lewis Nash; Nelson’s longtime sidekick Mickey Raphael, his memorable co-star on Two Men with the Blues, plays harmonica, adding evocative, bluesy inflections to “Angel Eyes” and “Since I Fell For You.”
American Classic represents old-school record-making at its most sumptuously swinging, with a lighthearted yet sophisticated jazz feel. Three-time Grammy Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma—known for his best-selling work with Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Anita Baker, Michael Buble and Krall, among others—helmed the sessions, joined by his veteran engineer-mixer colleague, Al Schmitt. Legendary composer-arranger Johnny Mandel contributed orchestral charts.
When Blue Note chief Lundvall floated the idea of a standards album à la Stardust to LiPuma, the producer recalls, “I said, ’Man, are you kidding?’ I love Willie and, on top of that, Stardust is my favorite album. Joe Sample and I work a lot together, so I thought I would use Joe to do the rhythm charts and set things up. Joe lives in Houston, and it’s just a drive to Austin for him. We both visited Willie and went over numerous songs with him, maybe 30 to 40 songs.”
Much of the repertoire, Nelson explains, “was picked by Tommy and Joe. They came to the house and we sat around and talked about songs, like ’The Nearness of You’ and ’Angel Eyes,’ which is one of my favorite jazz standards. We talked about a lot of great standards.” The vintage tunes they chose, says Nelson, “are of the same quality as Stardust, but we did them a little differently. Tommy put together the band, with guys like Joe, who’s an incredible musician and arranger. Stardust was recorded with my band, but this was done with musicians who were coming, musically, from another place. You can’t beat the players you have on this one, they’re as good as they get.”
The key to the project, notes LiPuma, “was that we all realized how much we loved Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. That brought us all together. I was a big fan of Wills, as was Joe; Willie, of course, was a huge fan, as well as a huge fan of Django Reinhardt. So after we chose the songs and got the keys and all that stuff, we left a day or so to figure out what made the most sense as far as Willie was concerned, what Willie felt the most comfortable with. We ended up with a Django/Bob Wills feel to the arrangements and Willie fell right into it. ’The Nearness of You’ was one of the first things that jumped right out, and from there we ended up doing about 16 or 17 tracks, then knocking it down to the ones we put on the album. “
Nelson and LiPuma spent four days in December ’08 at Legacy Studios in Manhattan, and then reconvened in February at the storied Capital Studio A in Los Angeles, where Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole cut many of their best-known sides, to work with Diana Krall. Throughout the sessions, Nelson’s singing retained its easygoing charm. There’s warmth and humor in his delivery, along with some twinkle-in-the-eye sex appeal. Just check out his rendition of “On the Street Where You Live”—you can feel the eternal spring in his step.
Remarks LiPuma, “Willie is just the best to work with. He’s a very sweet cat. You just go in there and if you get something and it feels right, it’s right. You don’t belabor it. That’s the way I like to work, too. And that’s basically how it was—we went into Legacy and within four days we got all 17 tracks. We did the Diana Krall duet in L.A. One take and boom, we were finished. Twenty minutes. That was it. The rhythm section really had a sense as to what Willie was all about. All these guys were just so respectful of the guy and what he did. They’re great musicians in their own right but they all had huge respect for him and gave him all the room in the world.”
As a Nashville artist in the ’60s, Nelson himself penned more than a few tunes that have arguably become American classics themselves, including “Crazy,” “Night Life” and the sublime “Funny How Time Slips Away.” But that was just the prologue for the iconoclastic singer-songwriter, who would redraw the borders of country music in the ’70s after moving back to Texas and settling in the musical melting pot of Austin. Along with fellow traveler Waylon Jennings, Nelson was labeled the outlaw of the genre, but he was more visionary than rebel, especially with the way he attracted rock fans to take a closer look at country. He was celebrated for his work with buddies like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, but scaled even greater chart heights by singing, improbably enough, with Julio Iglesias (“To All the Girls I Loved Before”). Along with Marsalis, recent cohorts have included Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel and reggae icon Ziggy Marley.
Nelson ends the album with a re-interpretation of “You Were Always On My Mind,” the one-time Elvis Presley hit that Nelson took to #1 on the country chart and to Top Five on the pop chart in the early eighties. Looking back for a moment, Nelson decides, “Hopefully, I’m a better singer. Hopefully, I’m a better guitar player—you’re either going to get better or worse, you can’t stay in one spot. I like to think that the band and I have progressed a lot and learned a lot from doing these songs. There is truth in the statement that you learn by doing, so the more you do ’em, the better you get.”
American Classic, then, is clearly Nelson at his best.
Billy Joe Shaver
Waco TX | Country
Billy Joe Shaver is an American country music singer/songwriter. He was born August 16, 1939 in Corsicana, Texas. Shaver's 1973 album Old Five and Dimers Like Me is a classic in the outlaw country genre. Shaver was raised by his mother, Victory Watson Shaver, after his father Virgil left the family before he was born. Until he was 12, he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in Waco, Texas so that his mother could work. He sometimes accompanied his mother to her job at a local nightclub, where he began to be exposed to country music.
Hank Williams Jr.
Missoula MT | Country
Randall Hank Williams (born May 26, 1949), better known as Hank Williams, Jr. and Bocephus, is an American country singer-songwriter and musician. His musical style is often considered a blend of Southern rock, blues, and traditional country. He is the son of country music pioneer Hank Williams and the father of Hank Williams III, Holly Williams, Hilary Williams, Samuel Williams, and Katie Williams. Williams began his career by following in his famed father's footsteps; singing his father's songs and imitating his father's style. Williams's own style slowly evolved as he struggled to find his own voice and place within the country music industry. This trend was interrupted by a near fatal fall off the side of Ajax Mountain in Montana on August 8, 1975. After an extended recovery he challenged the country music establishment with a blend of country, rock, and blues. Williams enjoyed much success in the 1980s from which he earned considerable recognition and popularity both inside and outside the country music industry. As a multi-instrumentalist, Williams's repertoire of skills include guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums
Detroit MI | Rock
"Where I'm going's where I'm at."
So says Kid Rock on the title track of his 9th studio album. And considering everywhere Rock has gone during the past 22 years, we can have faith that we're headed for another fascinating, fornicating, galvanizing, eyebrow-raising, endlessly surprising --- at the very least interesting -- trip on the 14 tracks of REBEL SOUL.
He has, after all, been our Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp, the Devil Without a Cause, the Cowboy, the Bullgod, the Rock N Roll Jesus, the American Bad Ass and, lest we forget, a proud Son Of Detroit -- all while eating some Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast, doing a bit of Yo-Da-Lin In The Valley and getting 3 Sheets To The Wind. Rock has taken us out to the party and into the bedroom, and on contemplative trips through the Midwestern American spirit. Where he's going tends to be a lot of places.
And Rock jots them all on REBEL SOUL, the follow-up to 2010's platinum BORN FREE and the finest, fiercest and funkiest embodiment to date of the punk rock/hip-hop/Southern rock synthesis he described on his 2001 hit "Forever." It is, in his own words, "a greatest hits with all new songs and everything I've touched on in my career at this point -- whether it's the writing style, the singing style, the attitude, the playing...It's all the things I've learned for so many years, on my own and from so many of the people that influenced me.”
"I was talking to somebody the other day, trying to explain the record," he adds, pausing before he lets out a laugh. "I said 'It's really confusing -- so it's a perfect Kid Rock record!"
REBEL SOUL also represents one of the "easiest" albums Rock has made to this point, a mark of the confidence, assuredness and -- dare we say it -- maturity he and his team have developed over time. The evolution has been genuine and organic, over the course of 26 million record sales and a slew of hits -- from "Bawitdaba" to "Born Free" -- that have criss-crossed the rock, pop and country charts. And let's not discount the impact made by his pair of studio facilities, The Warehouse and the Allen Roadhouse, in the Detroit exurbs, which contributed significantly to the almost offhanded manner by which REBEL SOUL came to be earlier this year.
"We had a bunch of songs written and were just learning them to see how they felt," Rock recalls. "Everyone was playing really well, so I said, 'Let's hook this [recording gear] up and take a crack at it. If we don't use it we don't use it, but we're gonna learn something about all these songs as we play 'em. And lo and behold, we got started and just kept going and made a record."
Working with the members of his crack Twisted Brown Trucker band and sprinkling in some choice guests -- guitarists Blake Mills (Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple), Audley Freed (the Black Crowes, the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan), Keith Gattis (Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, Eli Young Band) and Sponge's Vinnie Dombroski -- and with old friend and former TBT member Uncle Kracker co-writing three tracks, Rock says a balance of feel and arrangement was his musical focus for REBEL SOUL. "I wanted to let people get in there and play and not give them too much direction or try to make it too perfect," he explains.
"But then I took it and added some more parts afterwards. I look at Eagles records and things like that where they have these great guitar lines and great parts, whether it's a keyboard riff or something else. But I was careful not to change the feel."
Rock also deliberately took REBEL SOUL all over the musical map. The gleeful "Chickens In The Pen" kicks things off with Southern grit and tribal vocals, while "Let's Ride," REBEL SOUL's first single and Rock's tribute to troops in service overseas, is heavy, guitar-drenched riff rock. A roadhouse-style blues shuffle drives the politically tinged "3 CATT Boogie," while his Dixie inclinations fortify the title track “Rebel Soul,” "Redneck Paradise," the John Eddie co-write "Happy New Year" and the mournful "Cocaine and Gin." "God Save Rock n Roll," meanwhile, is Rock's version of the classic rise and fall tale that's a kindred spirit to the likes of Bad Company's "Shooting Star" and Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero." "Detroit, Michigan" offers a joyous, Motown-spirited shout out to Rock's beloved home town, while "Celebrate" is a vintage slice of soul-rock that nods to Nutbush, Tenn.
Rock also gets deep into some characters on REBEL SOUL, starting with "Mr. Rock n Roll," a dynamic production piece that doubles as a history lesson, or what Rock calls "a journey through music." "It's just saying how soulless records are now, so how about this -- right in your face," Rock explains. "This guy's dad was a roadie for REO Speedwagon in the 70s and his mom was a high-priced call girl in Hollywood, and he was a product of that. That's why he's got eyeliner on and a big sequined suit. It's a Captain Fantastic, Ziggy Stardust kind of thing." Then there's "Cucci Galore," a return to rap-rock roots with hot tubs, leopard-skinned Lamborghinis, edible bikinis, a slinky guitar line, Public Enemy's Flavor Flav on board for quality control -- and yet another Rock persona, Bobby Shazam.
"I thought there should be this other dude in the song, who's just way out of his fucking gourd," Rock says. "He's that rock 'n' roll who's beyond the 'I don't give a fuck attitude.' I love to get into characters like that and just have fun with them."
Fun, in fact, was crucial for REBEL SOUL, especially after the rich earnestness heard on BORN FREE. "Yeah, it's a fun record," Rock says. You've got a lot of total Kid Rock songs. A lot of this stuff I could just feel how it's going to be when we do it live."
REBEL SOUL packs plenty of gravitas, too. "The Mirror," for instance, is as dark and heart-wrenching a song as Rock has ever put on album, with Auto Tune-laced vocals that give the lyrics an eerie, spectral feel. "Let's Ride" was written as "a theme song for the kids that have to go into the shit and fight," many of whom Rock has met during his many trips into the battle theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. And the album-closing "Midnight Ferry" is a rootsy, funereal reflection that resolves into handclapping "Hallelujah!" celebration.
"You kind of go in and out of those moods at times -- you dive into them and come out of it," Rock notes. "Sometimes you're sitting around and feeling reflective and thinking about things, and other times you're like, 'Let's get this fuckin' party started!' But they're all human emotions. We all have all of them, and it wouldn't be honest not to reflect them."
The full breadth of the human experience is Rock's palette, of course -- in his music and also beyond. He's become active in humanitarian and philanthropic concerts, working with organizations such as Operation Finally Home, which builds houses for disabled returning veterans, establishing the Kid Rock Foundation to help fund various projects and initiatives around the country, and raising $1 million for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. There was also his pre-election "Americans" video with actor Sean Penn, which delivered the message "Don't let politics divide us. Thinking differently. It's what made this country great."
"I'm fortunate; I have the means and the resources to go beyond the music and all the rock 'n' roll hype and everything and do some good work," Rock notes. "I want to do stuff that does fit me, and I want to do stuff that absolutely doesn't fit -- just do stuff that's different, with the music and with everything that comes along with it."