Jerrod Niemann, Jeannie Seely, Ashley Monroe, Sam Bush, Bill Anderson, BJ Thomas, Delta Rae, Jim Ed Brown, Riders In the Sky, Craig Campbell, Mike SniderCountry
While writing and recording his new album, Jerrod Niemann immersed himself in the history of country music. A student of music theory and production—he majored in Performance Art Technology at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas—Jerrod pondered a question that is heard more and more frequently these days: Just what exactly constitutes country?
His answer to that query can be found in the musically and technically groundbreaking Free The Music. “This album is my interpretation of how I feel about country right now,” Jerrod says.
The follow-up to his Sea Gayle Records/Arista Nashville debut Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury, which debuted at No. 1 and yielded the No. 1 hit “Lover, Lover” and the Top 5 single “What Do You Want,” Jerrod’s sophomore album emphasizes the early instruments that have shaped the genre: acoustic guitars and bass, fiddles, and even horns.
“The pedal steel guitar has come to define country music, but there were years and years of country being made before that instrument was even invented. Horns have been in country going back to the 1920s. And fiddles and other string instruments date back even further. I took all those things and put them on Free The Music,” Jerrod explains. “I made this record in an effort to try and mix 1927 with 2027, but I didn’t want to disregard 100 years of what people have already done musically. Instead, I wanted to take that and do it in a way that is also representative of the future.”
The result is an adventurous release that redefines the listening experience. A “headphones album” if ever there was one, Free The Music is a sonic journey through a multitude of styles, including country, rock, honky-tonk, Dixieland jazz and reggae.
While exploring these sounds, the Kansas native says he sought inspiration in the outside-the-lines approach of two seminal outlaws. “Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were very progressive in their day, and they were getting harassed by people who said, ’Hey, that’s not country.’ But the mistake many artists make when they first come to Nashville is that they want to be those guys so badly that they get stuck in time. It’s our duty to have our own voice and come up with our own way of saying something,” Jerrod stresses. “Icons like Alabama and Ronnie Milsap did that by using pop melodies. But when you hear their songs today, they’ve become country classics. Those artists stepped out, and I hope fans will understand that that was my goal too. I want the album to push you out of any musical comfort zone.”
Jerrod took each of those big steps with great care, painstakingly fine-tuning every song on Free The Music with his visionary co-producer Dave Brainard. Together, the pair cut a new technological path in Dave’s studio, using a one-of-a-kind analog-to-digital recording process to give the record a rich, organic feel. “Knowing that analog was going to be our foundation—and that we’d have the ability to easily record and re-record digitally—gave us the confidence to take more chances. For instance, we used an acoustic bass on the entire record and put horns on every song. By doing so, we got a lot of organic sounds,” Jerrod shares. “I want people to realize the time and effort that we put into this album, from the beginning of the first song to the very last note.”
Such exquisite attention to detail is evident throughout the 12 songs that make up Free The Music, all of them written or co-written by Jerrod. From the funky opening title track to sun-drenched first single “Shinin’ on Me,” the songs represent an artist committed to stretching musical boundaries while simultaneously honoring country’s past.
The empowering “Get on Up” employs a unique ascending-and-descending guitar riff and a surprisingly well-fitting Mellotron. “Real Women Drink Beer,” cleverly combining elements of reggae with the Bakersfield Sound, would sit nicely on a Dwight Yoakam album. “Honky Tonk Fever” has prominent jazz horns and remarkably different tempos. And “I’m All About You,” featuring Grammy-winning vocalist Colbie Caillat, is a piano-driven, laid-back love song.
But it is the knockout ballad “Only God Could Love You More” that, for the first time, truly showcases Jerrod’s voice as the nuanced instrument it is.
“Some people sound the same on every song, but I like to be a chameleon, like an actor in a role. For ’Only God Could Love You More,’ we didn’t put any harmonies on it and used my original tracking vocal. ’Lover, Lover’ had a bunch of harmony parts, so I thought it’d be interesting to have zero here, especially with the French horns and the other orchestral things we have going on,” Jerrod says. “Some songs just work better with one vocal. If you listen to Garth Brooks’ ’The Dance,’ that doesn’t have any harmonies on it either. Not that I’m comparing myself to Garth by any means.”
Still, the allusion to the 1990s superstar isn’t out of bounds. Jerrod co-wrote one of Garth’s biggest hits, “Good Ride Cowboy,” and penned two others for the Country Music Hall of Famer, along with songs for Blake Shelton, Lee Brice, John Anderson and Jamey Johnson.
“The most important thing to me is songwriting. But no one can ever hear a song without a vehicle, whether it’s me or somebody else singing it,” admits Jerrod, who, as a writer, has more than 10 million albums sold to his credit. “If someone told me I couldn’t write a song ever again, or had to choose between playing and writing, I don’t know what I’d choose.”
Fortunately, no one is forcing him to. Jerrod is free to pursue both of his passions on stage and in the writing room, using his gift with a lyric and melody to free the music, expand people’s minds, and deliver an album that, while occasionally unconventional, is undeniably country.
“For me, it’s all about the song. You can put all the bells and whistles on an album that you want, but if the songs aren’t there, it’s not going to work,” Jerrod says, discussing the versatility of country music. “You can take all of these songs, go into a studio and record them with Nashville’s amazing studio musicians, and Free The Music would sound just like a modern-country record. And that’s fine. But I like to experiment.”
Jerrod cracks a wry grin at this admission. Clearly, he’s comfortable with his role as a musical scientist--an artist who absorbs all styles and sounds, and forms them into his own creation.
“When your ears are always on, everything seeps into your brain,” he says with a laugh. “And my ears are always on.”
Titusville PA | Country
Along with many accolades including awards from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World, country music legend Jeannie Seely has achieved No. 1 songs as a solo artist, as a duet partner and as a songwriter. Her deeply moving vocals earned her the nickname of "Miss Country Soul".
Jeannie’s recording of "Don’t Touch Me" not only topped the charts, but also earned her a Grammy Award for the "Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female". It is ranked at No. 97 in the book "Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles" published by the Country Music Foundation, and also included in "The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs".
Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and raised on a farm outside of nearby Townville, Jeannie was singing on Meadville radio station WMGW at age 11, and by 16 was performing on TV station WICU in Erie. When she moved to Nashville upon the encouragement of friend Dottie West, Jeannie only had $50 and a Ford Falcon to her name, but within a month Porter Wagoner hired her as the female singer for his road and television series.
Country singer Ashley Monroe was already a seasoned show business veteran when she released her self-titled album in 2007 at the tender age of 19. Born in Knoxville, TN, Monroe was born into a family with a great love for country music -- she's kin to Carl Smith and members of the Carter Family on her father's side -- and she developed a passion for music at an early age, taking her first piano lessons when she was only seven. At age 11, Monroe won a talent contest in Pigeon Forge, TN (home to Dolly Parton's resort Dollywood), singing Patsy Montana's western classic "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart"; she brought home a $100 prize, and she was soon a regular performer at a theater in Pigeon Forge. However, Monroe's world was turned upside down when her father died in early 2000, and 13-year-old Ashley began writing songs to help her deal with the tragedy. A few years later, Monroe began making trips to Nashville to perform her music in clubs along the fabled Lower Broadway district, and before long she pulled up stakes and moved to Music City. While Monroe's youth led to a certain degree of resistance at record labels and publishing houses in Nashville, her music impressed manager Clarence Spalding, who signed her as a client and began shopping her talents around town. While an initial major-label development deal went sour, in 2006 Monroe's music found an appreciative ear at Columbia Records, and she teamed up with producer Mark Wright (whose clients include Clint Black, Gretchen Wilson, and Los Lonely Boys) to record her first album. An advance single from the album, "Satisfied," didn't perform well on country radio, nor did a second single. Monroe's album--also called Satisfied--appeared briefly as a digital release to little attention and all plans for a physical release were scrapped.
All the problems with Satisfied lead to Monroe and Columbia separating in 2007. Over the next few years, Monroe worked behind the scenes as both a songwriter and singer, having tunes appear on albums by Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert while often singing sessions at Jack White's Third Man Records. Lambert turned out to be a pivotal connection for Monroe. The two became friends and, along with Angaleena Presley, formed Pistol Annies, whose 2011 eponymous debut became a significant hit. The success of Pistol Annies revived Monroe's solo career. She signed with Warner, teamed with producer Vince Gill and released the album Like A Rose in March of 2013.
~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn't seem old enough to be a musical legend. And he's not. But he is.
Alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, Bush has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
"It's overwhelming and humbling," Bush says of his lifetime achievement award from the AMA. "It goes along with the title cut of my new album, Circles Around Me, which basically says, how in the hell did we get this far? In my brain I'm still 17, but I look in the mirror and I'm 57."
But honors are not what drive him. "I didn't get into music to win awards," he says. "I'm just now starting to get somewhere. I love to play and the older I get the more I love it. And I love new things."
Among those new things are the growing group of mandolin players that identify Bush as their musical role model in much the same way he idolized Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns.
"If I've been cited as an influence, then I'm really flattered because I still have my influences that I look up to," Bush says. "I'm glad that I'm in there somewhere."
He's being humble, of course. Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. He's the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks.
And though Bush is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, he is also a three time national junior fiddle champion and Grammy award winning vocalist.
"In the acoustic world, I've been pretty lucky to play with almost every one of my heroes. I've gotten to play with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, I've been to the mountain," says Bush with a smile.
But his greatest contribution may be his impact on the future. "I'm secure with what I can do and I know what I can't do," he says. "You just have to stand there and applaud the great young talent.
"Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Marshall—they play in ways that I can't play," he says of today's younger generation of mandolin players. "I'm hoping to be around for is the next generation that comes along after that group. That's going to be something. The music keeps evolving.
Circles Around Me, Bush's seventh solo album and sixth with Sugar Hill, is an aurally inspiring mix of bluegrass favorites and complementary new songs. "I don't know why, but it felt right at this moment in my life to go back and revisit some things that I've loved all my life, which is bluegrass and, unapologetically, newgrass," says Bush. "After all these years of experimenting —and there's experimentation on this record too —I've come full circle."
Produced by Bush, the 14-song set includes appearances by Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson (posthumously). The album also employs the phenomenal talent of Bush's band: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown.
"I get to play every show with my favorite musicians and I feel real fortunate," Bush says of his band. "I love playing with them. I feel like this group is limitless and they proved it again on this record."
The title cut, which Bush co-wrote with Jeff Black, "is about being thankful that you're still here, that you're still alive walking around," Bush explains. "Why are we the ones still here when we've had fallen comrades and loved ones?"
"The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle," which Bush co-wrote with Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson, is the haunting real-life story of the 1973 murder of Grand Ole Opry star David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife.
Bush and Courtney Johnson, who died in 1996, were reunited thanks to New Grass Revival producer Garth Fundis, who found a previously unreleased recording with Bush and Johnson's fiddle and banjo pairing on "Apple Blossom" from 1976. "It's pretty special and means a lot to me."
Meanwhile, "Souvenir Bottles" and "Whisper My Name" are fine updates of songs Bush first recorded in his New Grass Revival days. "I guess I'm proud that I can still sing it in the key that we first cut it in," Bush says of "Whisper," which was on New Grass Revival's 1972 debut album.
Del McCoury, whom Bush first met in 1970, guests on two Bill Monroe songs, "Roll On Buddy, Roll On" and "Midnight On The Stormy Deep." "Del always encouraged me to sing," Bush says. "So I wanted to do these songs with him. 'Roll On' is one of the few songs Del ever recorded with Bill."
Songs such as "Diamond Joe" and "You Left Me Alone" have roots in Bush's youth. The latter was on an album by the Country Gentlemen that Bush bought in the '60s. "It's a great 6/8 fast waltz tune and I am almost quoting John Duffey's mandolin playing note for note," he says. "It's a great tune and I've never heard anyone else do it."
The Bush-penned "Old North Woods" is a "Bill Monroe-sounding waltz," according to Bush, that features Meyer, his wife, Cornelia Heard of the Blair String Quartet, and their 16-year-old son, George, in his recording debut.
"With Emmy I learned more about singing and more about letting music breathe and I hope this CD is part of that thought," Bush says of Emmylou Harris, his former boss in the Nash Ramblers. "Through her I realized you don't have to whack people over the head with intensity on every song."
There's plenty more of course and Bush fans new and old will find lots to love.
"It's crazy to think about," Bush says of his influence on today's crop of mandolin players. "I'm proud to be part of a natural progression in music. And I hope to still be playing 30 years from now."
That said, it's not surprising that Bush still has goals. "I want to grow as a songwriter, as a song collaborator," he says. "There are still a lot of things I haven't discovered about playing mandolin. I want to be able to be secure in the styles that I know how to play well, but I also want to explore other styles that I haven't learned yet.
"I want to improve as a singer," he adds. "I have to work harder on singing than I do on playing."
"As long as I'm alive I hope I have the ability to play," says Bush, a two time cancer treatment survivor. When the ability to play is taken away, it's humbling. It teaches you a lesson: don't take it for granted."
Here's to the next 30 years.
Bill Anderson has been using that philosophy for almost fifty years to capture the attention of millions of country music fans around the world, en route to becoming a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and one of the most popular, most enduring entertainers of our time.
He’s known, in fact as “Whispering Bill,” a nickname hung on him years ago as a result of his breathy voice and his warm, soft approach to singing a country song. His credentials, however, shout his prominence: One of the most awarded songwriters in the history of country music, a million-selling recording artist many times over, television game show host, network soap opera star, spokesman for a nationwide restaurant chain, and a consummate onstage performer. His back-up group, The Po’ Folks Band, has long been considered one of the finest instrumental and vocal groups in the business.
Arlington VA | Pop
Durham NC | Alternative
Seymour Stein's office sits way up in the highrises of the Rockefeller Plaza; a corner office, with a beautiful view out over New York City, its surfaces cluttered with all of the memorabilia, awards and accumulated paraphernalia of a lifetime spent in the music industry.
It was into this office that the six members of Delta Rae shuffled one day in the summer of 2011. A rather convoluted connection had led them here to this meeting, their first with a major record label, and no one was quite sure how to proceed. "We were very nervous," recalls Ian Holljes, with perhaps some understatement.
“But we talked briefly, and then Seymour said "Well, why don't you sing something for me?" The band duly launched into Hey Hey Hey, a joyous, rollicking tune that begins with an exquisite four-part harmony. Ten seconds in, Stein asked them to stop. The band balked. But Stein stood up, walked to the door and hollered for his colleagues to join them. “You gotta hear these people!” he cried into the hallway. "They sound so beautiful!"
The story that led Delta Rae to Stein's office, a major label deal, and the release of their stunning debut album, had in fact begun many years before, in the Holljes household, where siblings Ian, Eric and Brittany, enjoyed a childhood that was close yet itinerant, carrying them from Durham, North Carolina, to the Bay area of San Francisco, via Nashville, Tennessee, and Marietta, Georgia. Throughout it all, they relished the continuity of great music - their parents' record collection, rich with James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon.
Jim Ed Brown
If there is one word best suited to describe Jim Ed Brown, it is veratile. As a dynamic component in duets and a trio, as a solo recording artist, and as a popular television host, in the course of his professional lifetime, he has filled role after role with shining success. The last career of this balladeer from Arkansas can easily be likened to a well-cut gem, with its facets reflecting light on many different planes, yet collectively achieving the warm, enduring brilliance of an unforgettable star, a TRUE LEGEND...
Riders In The Sky
Riders In The Sky are truly exceptional.
By definition, empirical data, and critical acclaim, they stand "hats & shoulders" above the rest of the purveyors of C & W - "Comedy & Western!"
For more than thirty years Riders In The Sky have been keepers of the flame passed on by the Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, reviving and revitalizing the genre. And while remaining true to the integrity of Western music, they have themselves become modern-day icons by branding the genre with their own legendary wacky humor and way-out Western wit, and all along encouraging buckaroos and buckarettes to live life "The Cowboy Way!"
Riders In The Sky are exceptional not just in the sense that their music is of superlative standards (they are the ONLY exclusively Western artist to have won a Grammy, and Riders have won two), but by the fact that their accomplishments are an exception to the rule as well. That Riders In The Sky was even formed is a feat of improbable likelihood. What are the odds that a theoretical plasma physicist, a wildlife manager - galvanizer - Life Scout, an English major - shot putter - Bluegrass Boy, and a Polka Hall of Fame member would collectively become "America's Favorite Cowboys?" And even more unlikely is that 30-plus years later, the original members are still "bringing good beef to hungry people" while putting up Ripken-like numbers! The Rolling Stones only made it a few years before replacing Brian Jones; the Sons of the Pioneers constantly changed personnel; even the Ringo-era Beatles only lasted 8 years. (Perhaps Too Slim, as a sophomore writer for the University of Michigan Daily, had an ulterior motive in 1969 by propagating the rumor that Paul McCartney was dead! It's true... go ahead and Google "Paul is dead rumor"...) But the key to keeping the same founding members intact for three decades on the road is more easily explained: "Separate hotel rooms," cracks Ranger Doug!
Riders In The Sky's first official public performance was Nov. 11, 1977, at the erstwhile Nashville nightspot "Phranks & Steins." Taking the stage that night for a crowd of eight or nine (counting Herr Harry behind the bar) were Ranger Doug (Idol of American Youth) on arch-top guitar and baritone vocals, and Too Slim (A Man Aging Like Fine Cheese) on bunkhouse bass, face, and tenor vocals. A chain saw may have been in the mix somewhere that night, but was soon retired. Replacing the chain saw was Woody Paul (King of the Cowboy Fiddlers) on fiddle, tenor vocals and rope tricks, and the launch was successful! They subsequently added the "Stomach Steinway" stylings of Joey the Cowpolka King on accordion and baritone vocals, much to the delight of 'Polkaholics' everywhere.
As a classic cowboy quartet, the trail has led them to heights they could have never predicted. Riders have chalked up over 6100 concert appearances in all 50 states and 10 countries, appearing in venues everywhere from the Nashville National Guard Armory to Carnegie Hall, and from county fairs to the Hollywood Bowl. Their cowboy charisma and comedic flair made them naturals for TV, and landed them their own weekly show on TNN, as well as a Saturday morning series on CBS. They have been guests on countless TV specials, documentaries and variety shows, appearing with everyone from Barney to Penn & Teller. And their animated likenesses have shared the screen with Daffy Duck on the Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel's Stanley. If you consider their compositional credits, one might call them "Writers In The Sky!" In addition to penning award winning songs for their own albums, they wrote the score for Pixar Animation's 2002 Academy Award-winning short "For the Birds." They composed the theme song for the internet cartoon show "Thomas Timberwolf" by renowned Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones. But the animated character that history will most certainly link to Riders In The Sky is the loveable cowboy Woody, as Riders performed "Woody's Round Up" in "Toy Story 2," with the album of the same name garnering Riders their first Grammy Award in 2001 for "Best Musical Album for Children." Two years later, Riders roped their second Grammy in the same category, for "Monsters Inc. - Scream Factory Favorites," the companion CD to Pixar's award winning movie.
Equally as exceptional, but of greater significance, is that in 1982, Riders In The Sky became the first, and to date only, exclusively Western music artist to join the Grand Ol' Opry, the longest running radio show in history, and thus began a love affair with radio as well. In 1988, they recorded comedy skits for the album "Riders Radio Theatre" and launched the long-running international weekly radio show of the same name on public radio. And keeping pace with the ever-changing technological landscape, in 2006 "Ranger Doug's Classic Cowboy Corral" debuted on XM Satellite Radio, still heard weekly on SiriusXM Channel 56.
Exceptional artists also appeal to a diverse and broad-based cross section of their adoring public. Riders In The Sky's music and comedy delights cowboys and cowgirls of all ages, and from all walks of life. Riders are equally at ease amusing a theatre full of children as they are enthralling a symphony audience accompanied by 50 or 60 classically trained instrumentalists, or even an NCO club full of servicemen during a USO Tour. Riders have performed at the White House for both Democratic and Republican administrations, and at Major League Baseball's winter meetings for both American and National Leagues (although with an admitted bias for the Detroit Tigers). With their ability to persuade cowpokes on both sides of the fence to set aside their differences for a brief escape from day-to-day tribulations, is it any wonder that Riders have a virtual home called "Harmony Ranch?"
Ultimately, exceptional careers do not go unnoticed, and throughout theirs, Riders In The Sky have been honored regularly. In addition to being inducted into the Grand Ol' Opry, Riders are in the Western Music Association's Hall of Fame, the Country Music Foundation's Walkway of Stars, and the Walk of Western Stars (in Newhall, CA near Melody Ranch Studios) along with Gene, Roy, John Wayne and other cowboy legends. No less important than their two Grammies, Riders have been the Western Music Associaton's "Entertainers Of the Year" seven times, and won "Traditional Group of the Year" and "Traditional Album of the Year" multiple times. The Academy of Western Artists has named them "Western Music Group of the Year" twice in 5 years, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has bestowed Riders with their Wrangler Award statuette three times. It comes as no surprise then that Billboard magazine's Jim Bessman counts them as one of "the most historically significant acts in the history of American music."
Yes, it would be "The Easy Way" to call it a career after 30-plus years, but it wouldn't be..."The Cowboy Way!" And so, the never-ending trail drive continues. The ponies are rested and watered, and America's Favorite Cowboys are ready to saddle up and ride, bringing good beef to hungry people wherever they may be. Yes, Riders In The Sky are truly an exception to the rule.
Gleason TN | Country
Mike Snider, (born May 5, 1961), is an American bluegrass banjo player and humorist. He learned to play banjo at the age of 16. Although he is well known for irreverent humor, he is a well respected banjo player. Much of his comedy is based on stories about his wife, Sabrina, referred to as Sweetie.