Old Crow Medicine Show, Dierks Bentley, Hunter Hayes, Dustin Lynch, Diamond Rio, Eric Paslay, The Del McCoury Band, & moreCountry
Old Crow Medicine Show
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) have come full circle playing their own brand of American roots music with a rock and roll attitude. They met in New York in 1998 and hit the road, traveling city to city in a van and busking in the streets. They eventually settled for a year in North Carolina, where they ran into a bit of good fortune while playing in front of a local pharmacy to an impressed Doc Watson; the folk icon promptly scheduled the band to play at his MerleFest.
Soon after, OCMS relocated to Nashville and found themselves gracing the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, touring with Merle Haggard and regularly appearing on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion. OCMS can attribute much of their success to their relentless touring schedule. Between headlining shows and countless festivals, the band is constantly on the road and thrives off of their fans and live shows. They have made a name for themselves as energetic performers with an unbridled spirit. Combined, their albums have gone on to sell over 500,000 units.
In the Fall of 2010, Dierks Bentley played four shows in four nights in New York City that illustrate just how unique he is among contemporary country music artists. First, Dierks the multi-platinum arena headliner played his hits at the Bowery Ballroom. Then Dierks the bluegrass student and devotee performed with the Del McCoury Band, and after that it was a songwriter’s night with fellow Music Row tunesmiths and a show with Chris Thile’s experimental Punch Brothers.
Probably no other artist on country radio in the past ten years could manage this kind of range and versatility. Especially when one considers the broader record. He’s had eight No. 1 singles and written every one of them. He’s performed at Lollapalooza, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Bonnaroo and the CMA Music Festival, tailoring his sets to each. His instantly recognizable voice and acoustic/electric hybrid sound have propelled him to membership in the Grand Ole Opry and, in 2011, a performance for the President at the White House. All made possible by his devotion to developing all sides of his musicianship.
Dierks has embraced musical diversity in his recording career as well, as his new album Home demonstrates. The project plunges him back into the country mainstream after a successful sojourn in bluegrass and roots music with the acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Up On The Ridge album. Moreover, working with some of Nashville’s most innovative studio musicians, Home finds Dierks singing over some new sonic textures and, for the first time, interpreting a few songs that he didn’t write himself.
“I definitely stepped away from the commercial country world for a little while,” says Dierks, noting that his last such album, Feel That Fire, album came out in early 2009. “That seems like a really long time ago. So this record feels fresh. It doesn’t feel like a continuation of any other project or series of recordings.”
But if there’s newness, there’s also a distinct familiarity about how Dierks and his music are connecting with fans. This sixth album of his Capitol Records Nashville career produced a No. 1 hit even before its release. That album-opening song, “Am I The Only One,” is a rallying cry to the fun-loving Dierks army. And it sets a tone - a good-time song kicking off a good-time record. Fans have already been enjoying tunes like “5-1-5-0” and “Diamonds Make Babies” in shows. The recorded versions will no doubt be spilling out of car windows as the weather warms up in 2012.
Home’s title track gives the mostly light-hearted album a vital, spiritual anchor. The song expresses pride and patriotism without sentimentality or illusions. It unflinchingly speaks of America’s “scars” and her tensions while illuminating those as sources of strength. The writing session took place just four days after the shooting in Tucson, AZ (Dierks’s home state), which took six lives and injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. That tragedy did not inspire the song by any means, but it did cast a shadow and influence Dierks and his co-writers, once some opening lines popped out that seemed to speak to the vitality of being an American in these challenging times.
“It’s really hard to write a patriotic song,” confesses Dierks. “But you want to. It’s something I think about all the time. I love the history of country music and I love the history of our country.” He seems to have pulled it off. The song impressed critics and earned a call from National Public Radio. Dierks was able to tell that audience that the aim was “to be inspiring and hopeful, but also address the realities of what's going on.” Elsewhere on radio, country stations embraced the risky single, despite its departures from any flag-waving formula.
The rest of the project is divided evenly between songs Dierks co-wrote and those he found on an unprecedented song hunt. From the former category we hear “The Woods,” an homage to another side of home, the privacy afforded by those little-known and mysterious backroads and fire circles where friends gather and rites of passage take place. Dierks also co-wrote “Breathe You In,” a pure act of romance and sonic seduction that continues the tone set by the multi-week chartopper “Come A Little Closer” a few years ago. And closing the album, Dierks and Jim Beavers conceived “Thinking Of You,” a connecting, reassuring song that comes honestly from a man who’s away from his family more than he’d like. Daughter Evie makes a brief guest appearance at the end, singing the record’s appropriate final words: “Daddy’s home.”
On the song scouting side, Dierks “reached out to the publishers and let it be known that we were looking for great songs. It didn’t matter where it came from and who wrote it – how big the name or little the name. We were just searching for as many songs to listen to as possible,” he says.
The results are rich. “Diamonds Make Babies” is a country cranker, bristling with electric guitar and a great beat. But the true hook is the lyric, a wry and worldly-wise bit of advice to an eager suitor who thinks he’s ready to get down on one knee and offer the stone. Dierks also throws his vocal power up to “In My Head,” which explores the fine line between love and obsession against a driving, pulsing track. And Dierks reaches back to the influence of one of his favorite musicians – Jamie Hartford – in recording “When You Gonna Come Around.” The slow-dance of a song is a duet with the wonderful Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town and offers some of the most organic textures and honest vocals on the album.
Dierks Bentley’s career in country music could be taught in music business classes because of its rare balance of commercial success and artistic breadth. Most young Nashville newcomers who gravitate to the Station Inn and the city’s bluegrass heritage are not the ones who wind up on arena stages. The city’s not programmed that way, even if it should be. But Dierks made some savvy choices, soaking up sound and wisdom on Tuesday night bluegrass shows and on Wednesday nights on Lower Broadway with the twanging, electrifying Jamie Hartford Band. In those same days, his day job at The Nashville Network’s tape vault gave him access to a library of classic country music performances, which he soaked up like a sponge.
Under these many influences, he wrote and recorded songs that honored the past and the heritage while saying something fresh. Early songs like “I Wish It Would Break” and “Bartenders, Barstools and Barmaids” suggested this was a writer/artist who could add something to the country tradition while speaking a contemporary language. That promise was fulfilled upon teaming up with Capitol with the shocking No. 1 debut “What Was I Thinkin’?” It continued with indelible hits, including “Settle For A Slowdown” and “Every Mile A Memory.”
The tone for Dierks’s career was truly set in 2005. He won the CMA’s Horizon Award for most exceptional emerging artist. And his passion for and stewardship of classic country music earned him membership in the Grand Ole Opry, where he was the third youngest artist ever to be inducted. The first Grammy Award nominations came in 2007 and they quickly became routine. Through the critically acclaimed Up On The Ridge album, he’s earned ten Grammy nods. And throughout, Dierks has pursued a broad-based strategy on the road, juggling arena dates supporting George Strait with club and college shows and now balancing headliner status in country music settings with gritty, jammy tours of rock venues.
“I walk a different path,” Dierks says. “Because of my love of acoustic music, I have opportunities to do different musical things. It’s not just one type of show, which I really think would be a lot easier!” Reflecting on a career that’s sent him from the bars of Lower Broadway to the top of country music, Dierks is a mix of amazement, gratitude and determination. “I don’t know what the next ten years holds but I think I’ve put myself in a position where I can satisfy all of the different things that I love about music.”
Throughout this journey (and critical to it), Dierks has sought out and made use of technologies that could help erase the distance between himself and his fans. The website that went up before the release of Home is perhaps the most audacious expression of that yet. The album’s cover is rendered as a mosaic of miniscule images farmed form Dierks’s nearly 200,000 Twitter followers. Drag over it, and the faces pop out in a magnifier. Click on any tile, and up pops what they’ve been saying – to Dierks and each other. It’s like a microcosm of everything Dierks has cultivated in his fan base: connectivity and immediacy.
He’s done things his own way, satisfied his own muses and done all he can do to bring all kinds of fans along with him. There’s every reason to think they’ll follow him Home too.
Tullahoma TN | Country
“Shhh!” The note on the Bluebird Café’s Facebook page says it all: customers who visit the Nashville songwriters club – instrumental in the development of Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Kathy Mattea – are expected to keep quiet and listen to the words from some of Music City’s most influential composers.
Listening has an added benefit – it gives the listener a chance to learn.
That’s how singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch used the Bluebird. And he used it intensely. He rented an apartment behind the venue’s back parking lot and literally walked to the Bluebird several times a week to listen and learn about the mysterious art of creating songs from some of Nashville’s most important writers. Don Schlitz (“The Gambler”), Tony Arata (“The Dance”), Paul Overstreet (“Forever And Ever, Amen”) – all are mainstays of the Bluebird legend, and it was at their proverbial feet that he picked up key insights about the writing process.
“I was soaking it in, trying to be a sponge,” Lynch says. “I was mainly trying to hear the story behind the song, how it came about, what it’s really about. There’s something about understanding the songwriter’s realm. You get a little more grip on the way it was written and why it was written and how they got to the finished product.”
That education paid off in a big way for Lynch. He signed with Broken Bow Records – the home of Jason Aldean and sister label to Stoney Creek Records (home to Thompson Square) – and is working with producer Brett Beavers (known for his work with Dierks Bentley) and engineer Luke Wooten (Brad Paisley, Sunny Sweeney) on his debut album with a backlog of his own songs. He’s written that material with a bundle of Music City’s top writers – Dallas Davidson (“Just A Kiss”), Tim Nichols (“Live Like You Were Dying”), Casey Beathard (“Don’t Blink”), Phil O’Donnell (“Back When I Knew It All”) and Steve Bogard (“Prayin’ For Daylight”), to name a few.
But it all goes back to the Bluebird for Lynch, a native of Tullahoma, Tennessee. Influenced in his youth by such stalwart country singers as Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Clint Black, Lynch knew the importance of the Bluebird, and he chose his college – David Lipscomb University – in part because it was less than two miles from the club, which proved immensely important in his development.
Lynch auditioned on a Saturday morning for a chance to play its open-mic night the following day. He passed the audition and impressed host Barbara Cloyd so much that she chased him into the parking lot and offered to help him get some footing in the community.
As he began to establish himself at the Bluebird, Lynch got a call from Pete Hartung – manager for singer-songwriter Justin Moore – who had found Dustin’s MySpace page and wanted to get involved. Within weeks, Lynch had a publishing deal, and he made the most of it, writing a staggering 200+ songs in less than two years.
“I’m a workaholic,” he says. “I was getting paid to write songs, so that’s what I did. That’s just the guy I am, if I’m not doing something I get bored, so I was trying to write the best record possible and decided to just get after it as hard as I can.”
Even as a Bluebird visitor, Lynch had made an impression. After he signed his publishing deal, one of the company’s executives persuaded Phil O’Donnell and Casey Beathard to book a co-writing session with the new writer, even though they’d never even heard his name. As soon as he walked through the door, they exploded: “Holy crap, Dustin! We know you!”
But it’s not just physical recognition that Lynch has achieved with his studious approach to songwriting. He combined his fascination with words and melodies with concert skills he developed in high-school bands and playing the southeastern club circuit. That combination has made him one of country’s artists to watch, a performer who’s written his own mix of party songs and ballads with a unique perspective. It’s his own viewpoint, honed from watching the world, and watching the experts.
It’s all there, waiting for anyone else willing to…
Diamond Rio recently took home their first Grammy Award for The Reason. Named Grand Ole Opry members in 1998, Diamond Rio has had an illustrious career that includes over 10 million album sales, nine #1 singles, six Vocal Group of the Year awards (Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music) and 14 Grammy nominations. The band is highly regarded for their charitable contributions as the longtime National Spokespersons for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and was further honored with the prestigious Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award in 2004.
Honesty is a powerful magnet that always draws an eager audience and it has proven to be a potent tool in Eric Paslay’s creative arsenal. Sometimes playful, often poignant and always thoroughly entertaining, the 6’ 4” singer/songwriter with the fiery red hair and easy smile has quickly earned a reputation as an artist that knows how to capture the attention of an audience and hold them in the palm of his hands.
All it takes is seeing Paslay perform once to become hooked, a fact that has become obvious as he’s toured the country, opening for Little Big Town, The Eli Young Band, Jake Owen and others. Prior to the release of his EMI Nashville debut album, fans have been able to purchase a five-song sampler at Paslay’s shows. “The very first night we got to sell them I gave the merch guy two boxes and he sold out,” Paslay says in a tone that exudes a mixture of humility and awe. After Paslay did the math, he realized that one in 12 attendees went home with his CD. “I’m just excited that I made some fans and they got to take me with them. I’m excited that my music is out there.”
When country music fans see Paslay perform, they want to take his music home and make his songs the soundtrack of their lives. Whether he’s performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or taking his place this summer on the Country Throwdown Tour sharing his new hit, “If the Fish Don’t Bite,” Paslay always knows how to reel a crowd in.
His music has substance and depth, but his debut album is every bit as entertaining and accessible as it is meaningful, and therein lies Paslay’s charm. “It’s hopeful music,” he says describing his style. “There’s only one sad song on the whole record and that’s ’Amarillo Rain,’ but there’s still a beauty behind it that makes people feel alive somehow.”
Paslay has the ability to paint vivid portraits in his songs and he does just that with his new single, “If The Fish Don’t Bite,” a sly, sexy romp about a guy who has plans for his girl beyond casting a line in the water. “A lot of guys are annoyed by chicks coming to fish when it can be a lot of fun,” he says with a smile. “If the fish aren’t biting, why not cuddle up a little closer?”
Whether he’s serving up a light-hearted up tempo tune like “If The Fish Don’t Bite” or delivering an emotionally riveting song like “Deep As It Is Wide,” Paslay proves to be a compelling storyteller and versatile performer. It’s a gift he comes by honestly. “My granddad was a musician,” says Paslay, a native Texan, who was born in Abilene and raised in Waco and Temple. “Granddad and his brothers had a band called Arnold Schiller and the Moonlight Serenaders. My grandfather was Arnold, and they played at dance halls. I was two and a half when he died. It’s interesting how it rubbed off even though I didn’t really know him very well. He had red hair and it’s kind of funny because I like all the things he liked.”
Paslay says his family never pushed him to play music, but supported his interest when he began playing guitar at 15. “I love melodies,” he says. “My dad always had oldies on, and listening to that music growing up influenced me. There’s so many cool melodies and it was great ear candy. It still resonates with every teenager, every grown up, every grandmother because it’s human. That type of music really stays with you.”
By the time he began performing around Texas, Paslay had studied some of the great singer/songwriters and learned how to make a song memorable. “I was influenced by Rich Mullins,” Paslay says. “He was one of those guys I really listened to because he was real. He was a Christian artist, but it was cool to hear someone mix their beliefs with real life. He was honest and it was almost scary honest. I’d listen to his songs and think, ’Did you really mean to say that?’ It was cool. Then there was Rodney Crowell. I love Rodney Crowell. Johnny Cash has influenced me from his storytelling. He was such a cool storyteller and you really believed him.”
He also studied what made an artist command a crowd’s attention while they were on stage. “I watched Austin City Limits and the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “I was into everything from country artists to rock artists to Southern rock artists to jazz players. In high school I definitely went and saw quite a few Dave Matthews Band shows and that was always an experience.”
Though most aspiring artists playing clubs routinely perform cover tunes, Paslay learned to lead with his strengths and played his original songs. Even though he was building a reputation for his live show, like most artists, he briefly flirted with a more stable career and during his early days in college, he planned on becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. “I had diabetes and I thought I could help kids with diabetes because I could relate to them and talk to them,” he says.
However, music was too strong a passion to be ignored and following a friend’s advice, he moved to Nashville. Paslay attended Middle Tennessee State University. He also volunteered for anything just to get his foot in a door on Nashville’s famed Music Row. He did everything from help out at a charity golf tournament to change light bulbs in the NARAS office, a feat made easier because of his height. “I’d just go help anywhere I could because I thought if you have a job to do and you do it well, then if they let you be creative and make a record, at least they know you’re going to do it well,” Paslay says. “They’ll know you are going to put all your mind, strength and skill into doing whatever job they give you.”
Paslay landed a deal at Cal IV Publishing. His songwriting credits include Jake Owen’s hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” as well as the title track for Donny and Marie Osmond’s country set “The Good Life” and cuts by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band. Though appreciative of the songs that others have recorded, Paslay will be the first to admit he didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter, but to be an artist.
He has a passion for using his voice to connect with an audience, and there’s a warm, earnest quality that commands attention, particularly on potent anthems such as “Deep As It is Wide.” “It’s about the hope that there is something bigger and better than us,” he says. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and there’s something out there. When I finished this song I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect between each verse, so I went down the street to play it for a friend. The way I was sitting, I couldn’t see her while I was playing. When I was finished singing, I turned around and she was crying, so I figured I was done.”
“Less Than Whole” is a thoughtful treatise on grace and forgiveness Paslay co-wrote with Big Kenny that Kenny included on his 2010 solo album. “Sweet By and By” is an infectious number Paslay penned with his friend Sarah Buxton. “That was the first song we ever wrote together,” he says. “I saw her the other night and she didn’t even know it was on the record. She started crying and saying, ’I’m so happy it made the record!’”
Though Paslay enjoyed recording the album and has an affinity for the studio, his true love is the stage. “I turn it on when I get on stage. I love to entertain,” says Paslay, who has opened for Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town, among others. “The songs on this record are the ones that really connect when I played them live. When I write, I’d rather there be a little bit of hope in every song, even in the sad songs. There’s still hope in there. With all the negativity everywhere these days, I’d like the positive to come out. A song can give you a little boost in confidence or make you fall in love deeper or dream higher. I’m not writing and singing this stuff to be cool. I was never the cool kid. I was the kid standing in the back of the room watching.”
Off stage, Paslay has a gentle, everyman quality that endears him to all who meet him. He loves performing, but is just as comfortable remodeling a bathroom or getting in the kitchen with his mom, Donna, and making kolaches, a pastry that is a favorite among Texans. Most of all, Eric Paslay loves forging that special connection with people that can only be made with a song. “I just love making music. I love how much you can say to someone in a song,” he says. “I want to be a part of the soundtrack of people’s lives.”