Saturday, July 12 Entertainment
The title of Billy Currington’s new album, Enjoy Yourself, says it all. “That’s what I want people to think about doing when they hear my music,” the happy-go-lucky Georgia native says. “I want them to have a good time.” And a good time is clearly what they’re having.
He’s garnered an impressive ten Top 10 hits, with six of those hitting No. 1 – “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer,” “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” “People Are Crazy,” ”Don’t,” “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” and “Good Directions.” He’s sold millions of albums and has been selected to tour with the likes of Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Sugarland. Tour mate Carrie Underwood notes that Billy’s “talent and charm” have made crowds fall in love with him. He also received the compliment of a lifetime from David Letterman, who said about Billy’s “People Are Crazy” performance, “This song will change your life. You’re not going to do any better than this song here.”
His multiple nominations include two 2010 Grammy nominations (Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song) for “People Are Crazy,” which also received nominations for Single and Song of the Year from the Academy of Country Music, as well as Single, Song and Video of the Year from the Country Music Association. He was honored with a 2006 nomination for Top New Male Vocalist at the ACMS, which followed 2005 ACM and CMA nominations for “Party For Two,” his duet with Shania Twain.
He proudly claimed the “Hottest Video of the Year” trophy at the fan-voted 2006 CMT Music Awards for “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right.” Entertainment Weekly has praised his effortless charm, while the Associated Press says, “With Enjoy Yourself, he zeros in on an easy-going soul vibe, a sound that brings out a likeable quality in Currington’s Georgia-raised tenor.”
Despite his laid-back demeanor, Billy has earned a reputation as a hard-working entertainer who puts everything he’s got into his shows every night. He’s taken the stage several times at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the very facility that he helped build on his day job while pursuing his musical dreams. He’s still a working man who is drawn to exploring life’s simple truths and pleasures.
“With his rich tenor and relaxed delivery, Billy Currington knows how to put a tear in your beer,” Billboard says. ”Currington sings that he’s ‘not known for doing a lot,’ but he’s certainly found a way to do something that’s undeniably his own.”
Enjoy Yourself, Billy’s fourth album since he burst onto the scene in 2003, builds on the success of his 2008 collection, Little Bit of Everything, which yielded three No. 1 hits: “Don’t,” “People Are Crazy” and “That’s How Country Boys Roll.”
As with Little Bit of Everything, Billy’s latest features his now trademark mix of country, R&B and beach music. “It reflects who I am,” he says. “I’m definitely not just one thing. I’m the beach guy, I’m the country guy, I love my dirt roads and fishin’, but I love New York City and L.A. and Miami, too.”
The album is a perfect storm of material that Billy has been eyeing for just the right moment to release. “Some of these songs date back six to eight years,” he says. “There’s always a right time for everything.”
Finding the right song for the right album is a process in which Billy takes great pride. “I like to live with the songs I’m considering for an album. I like to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and know I still love a song. If I still love it two years later, maybe other people will too.”
The album’s first single, “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer,” became Billy’s sixth No. 1 hit. Interestingly, he found that song on the same demo CD as “People Are Crazy.” “I knew I should only pick one beer song for my last album so I held on to ‘Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer.’ When it came time to record, that was the first one I threw up in the air. Everyone was in agreement that it was a good summertime, first single for an album.”
“Bad Day of Fishin’,” Billy’s songwriting contribution to the record, hilariously advances his theory that a bad day of fishin’ beats a good day of anything else.
The equally hilarious “Like My Dog,” includes the lyrics I want you to love me like my dog does. “It’s about a relationship with you and your dog and how you wish your woman would love you just as much and in the same ways,” Billy says with a grin.
But the album is more than songs about dogs and beer. “Until You,” which was written by Dave Barnes, is a love song pure and simple. “It’s got this great melody and simplified smart lyric about you and your girl out under the sky and overlooking the city at night, just enjoying each other’s company.”
The second single, “Let Me Down Easy,” is soulful and sexy, while “All Day Long” is “happy and kind of sexy,” according to Billy. “Nothing too serious.” There’s not a sad song on the set. Even “Love Done Gone,” a Louisiana-infused tune complete with trumpets and trombones, puts a positive spin on a break-up.
“It’s a good vibe album,” Billy explains. “I hope it’s one of those albums that someone can put in when they’re hanging out in their camp spot or they’re grilling out by their pool and just feel good through the whole thing.”
“I know people like sad songs, but they like happy songs more,” Billy believes. “It took me awhile to figure that out. Growing up I was a fan of all of Merle Haggard’s sad stuff and George Strait’s sad stuff—anybody that was singing sad songs. I thought that’s what I wanted to do.”
Turns out, it wasn’t. After feeling the air sucked out of the room when he played heartbreak songs in his otherwise electrifying live shows, Billy decided he’d leave the sad songs to someone else. “I don’t want to feel that way or make anyone else feel that way when they’re listening to my music. I want people to walk away feeling happy.”
“I can’t say I won’t ever record a sad song again, but you’ll mostly hear happy stuff from me from here on,” Billy notes with conviction.
The album features Nashville’s top songwriters, including Troy Jones, Shawn Camp and Mark Nesler.
“This record was about recording songwriters’ songs,” says Billy. “I could have gone back and recorded a bunch of mine that I’ve written, but there were a lot of writers I wanted to record, like Shawn and Troy. I had to put their songs on this album.”
“I always go back to those same writers,” he adds. “They tend to keep writing the good ones.”
The album consists of what Billy has learned so far. “As an artist, I’ve gotten so much better all the way around. In the studio, live, playing the guitar and I’ve strengthened my voice. If you name anything I do musically, it’s gotten better with practice. I still have a lot to learn but I feel that like anything in life, you get better the more you do it.”
“I’m in a good place. I’m in a happy spot,” says Billy, who founded the Global South Relief organization to deliver supplies to those in need in Central American countries. “I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past five years, not only personally, but also as a businessman and an artist.”
Country up-and-comer Brett Eldredge has always been attracted to singers, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s heard the Illinois native’s soulful, distinctive baritone. “I always gravitated towards big voices, because as a kid I had this big voice coming out of this little body,” says Eldredge. “I was hooked on the story that somebody would be telling through their voice.” It’s been a long time coming, but with current single “Don’t Ya” climbing into the Top 10 and debut album Bring You Back slated to be released August 6 on Atlantic Records, Eldredge is finally getting the chance to share a story of his own… and these days, he’s writing that story himself.
To hear Brett sing, it comes as some surprise to learn that the Eldredge family wasn’t exactly musical. Although distant cousin Terry is a member of seminal bluegrass outfit the Grascals, Brett’s talent was more the exception than the rule. So instead of learning from his parents (“You don’t want to hear them sing,” he laughs), the little kid with the big voice grew up listening to records from Ray Charles, Ronnie Dunn, and, of course, Frank Sinatra. His folks bought him a guitar and a small sound system when he was a teen, and while Eldredge didn’t immediately take to the instrument – “I never could sit still long enough to learn it,” he cracks – the sound system and its wireless microphone became a cornerstone of his early musical training. “I used to be nervous, but once I got that thing I would play a Sinatra track and try to hit it exactly right,” Eldredge remembers. “I lived on a lake, and I would sing in my backyard. The speakers would blare out towards the water, and my neighbors would all be listening.”
Soon, those informal backyard concerts grew into something more, and by age 15, Eldredge was a performer in demand for local functions in his hometown of Paris, IL. “My town was really small, so there weren’t a lot of musicians,” says Eldredge. “We’d take the sound system, load it in the back of my mom’s minivan, and go to, like, a business dinner for the bank at the golf course. My mom would run sound, and I’d grab the wireless mic. I’d be singing, and these older ladies would be putting dollar bills in my pockets. That was kind of my intro into the music biz. It was pretty hilarious.” Hilarious, yes, but the way it shaped him is clear. “I went from staring at the floor to moving with the music,” Eldredge says. “And once I got that feeling, I was riding on the back of golf carts, running around fairs, jumping off stage. I really grew to love the feel of the crowd. There is absolutely nothing like that energy. There’s no high out there – they don’t make any kind of drug. It’s a ride of emotions every time you hit that stage.”
Eldredge says there was no question that his passion for performance would carry him to Nashville. He had no Plan B. “I never thought of a different career,” he says. “I can’t sit behind a desk, are you kidding? I would go bananas. I have a one-track mind of music always going through my head.” But his move to Music City after college made one thing clear: He was going to have to pick up that abandoned guitar. “I saw people on stage playing these songwriter nights, just them and a guitar,” he says. “I don’t like to lose or be one-upped by anybody.” So Eldredge locked himself in a room during his 20th summer, and practiced cover after cover, eventually starting to write songs of his own. “It took me a while to finally get a hold of the guitar, but once I did I was hooked,” he says. “I don’t claim to be some shredder, but I like to get up there and tell my story with some chords and my voice. I think being a student of singers works to my advantage, because it taught me how to phrase things. I didn’t know how to write songs at the beginning, but I had melodies all over the place in my head.”
He has since had the honor of writing with some of Nashville’s greats, including the legendary “Whispering” Bill Anderson. Eldredge calls him “an incredible mentor,” someone who taught him that the trick to being a great songwriter is to “just keep writing… you never know when you’re going to land on that awesome song that speaks to people.” The two singles he’s released so far certainly prove his range: His 2010 debut, “Raymond,” told the gut-wrenching story of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, and was inspired in part by Eldredge’s own grandmother. “Don’t Ya” hits the opposite end of the spectrum, an uptempo flirtation that ponders the ongoing mystery of romantic relations, and showcases the sexy growl in Eldredge’s voice. “We’ll never have the girls figured out, but that’s the beauty of it all,” he laughs. “I feel great that ‘Raymond’ gave me the start that it did, and with ‘Don’t Ya’ I’m able to branch out and show my fun side. ‘Girl, you cut those jeans just right,’ the opening line, has changed my world. Now there’s all sorts of girls coming up in cutoff jeans. Screaming.”
Opening for some of the biggest names in country music has taught him plenty, too. After spots in front of Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert, Trace Adkins and Willie Nelson, this year found Eldredge facing the biggest (and possibly most enthusiastic) crowds of his lifetime thus far, opening 19 dates for Taylor Swift on “The RED Tour.” “I’ve played plenty of gigs where there are only 30 people in the crowd, or less,” he says. “Fast forward to, you know, a stadium, with 50,000 people…” He pauses, still in disbelief. “There’s a whole new energy out there I can’t even explain. I’ve always been confident in my voice, but I think becoming a stronger songwriter has also made me more confident in who I am as an artist,” he says, trying to pinpoint what’s changed since his days playing unattended open mic nights. “In the beginning I was just singing. As a songwriter, I’ve learned to reach down and not be afraid. When you’re the most real to people, that’s when you really connect.” (It likely doesn’t hurt that Eldredge was recently named one of People magazine’s Hottest Men of Country.)
Eldredge says being on stage is “the place I feel more alive than anywhere,” and that every early morning flight or late-night bus ride is worth it once he gets behind the mic. His off-stage relationship with the fans is strong, too: As a self-described “goofball,” Eldredge operates one of the more amusing Twitter accounts in the format; he also produces a series of webisodes called “The Couch Sessions,” in which he performs covers as well as new songs he may have just written that afternoon. It still amazes him when fans arrive at shows knowing every word. “That’s cool to me,” he says. “If I feel the passion from one person in the crowd singing along, that gives me a reason to keep writing.” And finally, he’s got a habit of visiting the parking lots before shows, communing with the tailgaters – a habit that hasn’t changed, even as the parking lots get bigger. “I grew up with that kind of stuff,” Eldredge says. “I remember being those people. So I get out there and do whatever they’re doing, whether it’s play a game of flip-cup or just hang out and talk. I remember when I was a kid, Garth Brooks did a meet & greet that was a bajillion hours long. Taylor’s done the same thing. I’ve tried to make it a point that after every show, I stay there until the last person goes by. I want to meet every person. I want to hang out with these people for 20, 30 or 40 years.”
Indeed, Bring You Back feels like the first step in a 40 year career, the work of an artist who understands how to showcase every side of his story. From the opening guitar riff of “Tell Me Where To Park” to the sweeping cinematic conclusion of “Go On Without Me,” there’s a consistency of tone that’s rare in new artists, leaving no doubt that Eldredge is a lot more than just a pretty voice. Perhaps the biggest challenge in shaping the album was narrowing down the 300 songs he’s written since deciding to pick up that guitar. “They always say you have your whole life to write your first album, but I’ve already got songs for my second,” he laughs. Eldredge eventually settled on 12 songs for the debut – he’s credited on 11 of them – chosen in part thanks to all that touring. “I think once you’ve sang all these songs on the road and experienced what connects with people, you start to get a feeling for what you want your first album to be,” he says.
A collaboration with Bill Anderson made the cut (postcard to Paris “Signs”), along with tracks co-written by other Nashville greats like Scooter Carusoe (classic country love song “Mean To Me”), Shane McAnally (the retro groove of “On and On”), and Tom Douglas, who shares writing credit on “One Mississippi,” a song Eldredge calls “a really special thing to have on the record.” While on the Taylor Swift tour, Eldredge got the chance to perform the piano-driven heartbreaker on stage at Ford Field in Detroit, with Douglas in the audience. “To have him sitting out there in the crowd, I got to tell everybody, ‘I remember sitting in a room with just him and I one day, making something out of nothing, and now I’m singing it in front of thousands and thousands of people,’” Eldredge remembers. “That was a cool moment.”
And then there’s the title track – the lone song on the record that Eldredge didn’t write. “There’s special meaning behind ‘Bring You Back,’ or at least the title,” he explains, saying the song gave him “the chill factor” the first time he heard it. “If you’re smart as an artist you don’t look past the fact that Nashville has the best songwriters in the world, and so many songs that need to be brought to life. When you find one that really sounds like you wrote it, like you lived it…” He takes a breath, and begins to explain his connection: “I remember when I first moved to town – there was fire in my heart,” he says. “It was like a magic world. Then you start to see the reality of everything. I was starting to get frustrated. I went into the studio for this album, and I got that fire back. I never really lost it, but I’d shifted my focus. And that’s why ‘Bring You Back’ felt really true. It’s about bringing somebody back into love – but it means a lot more than that to me.” When asked the biggest thing he’s learned on his journey thus far, he responds without hesitation: “Patience.”
Hit singles, a debut album on the way – the little kid with the big voice is well on his way to the backyard dream coming true. But while his mother’s tenure as his sound op may have come to an end, that doesn’t mean Eldredge has forgotten where he comes from. “I had a show back in my hometown, as a thanks to them,” he says. “My mom and I were backstage, and we had a weird moment where we locked eyes and it kind of came full circle. I remembered being backstage at the same fair, nervous as heck to go on stage, I was just a little kid with 200 people in the stands.” Nowadays, that number has a lot more zeroes on it – and, naturally, Eldredge is planning to connect with every last one. “How do I pour my whole heart and soul into my music to make sure that people see that it’s the real deal?” he asks. “I started singing for a reason. I came here because I wanted to hit that big stage. It’s taken every song I’ve written up to this point to get to where I am. Bring You Back is me, and it’s the truth. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Sunday, July 13 Entertainment
One of country music’s most recognizable hit-makers earning numerous CMA, ACM and GRAMMY nominations since the release of his debut album, Long Black Train, Josh Turner has sold more than five million albums and garnered four No. 1 hits (including three multi-week chart-toppers): "Your Man," "Would You Go With Me," and "Why Don't We Just Dance" (a four-week No. 1 that was named the most-played song of the year in 2010 by MediaBase). His song, "All Over Me," from Haywire also reached the top spot on the charts, making him one of only seven country artists to have two No. 1 hits in 2010.
A Hannah, S.C. native, Turner has been songwriting and performing since he was a young child, and in support of music education, created The Josh Turner Scholarship Fund to assist students interested in pursuing a future in arts/music. As a high school student, he had very little access to music education, therefore realizes first-hand the importance of arts in the schools.
Turner released his fifth studio album, Punching Bag on June 12, 2012 which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. The debut single, “Time is Love” was #1 on the Best of 2012 Billboard Country Chart. The Associated Press says, “With Punching Bag, Turner once again proves he ranks among the most effective -- and most hard-core country -- performers of his generation.”
For more information on Josh Turner, visit www.JoshTurner.com.
LARRY GATLIN and THE GATLIN BROTHERS
There have been many great voices in country music and one golden one: Larry Gatlin. His bell-like tones and soul-stirring vibrato are works of art in themselves, quite apart from the lyrics they illuminate. Of course, Gatlin is equally distinguished as a songwriter. Of the 42 songs he charted between 1973 and 1990, including 17 Top 10s and the Grammy-winning “Broken Lady,” he single-handedly wrote every one, an achievement unmatched by any other artist in popular music. His smash “All The Gold In California” stands as a country crossover classic.
After a 17-year absence from the Nashville recording and songwriting scene, Gatlin and his harmony-singing brothers, Rudy and Steve, are back with a new album, Pilgrimage, on Curb Records. Its title is a nod to Gatlin’s first album, The Pilgrim, which debuted in 1974.
There are other parallels between the two works. Johnny Cash wrote enthusiastic liner notes for The Pilgrim, while his son, John Carter Cash, did the same for Pilgrimage. The younger Cash also produced updated versions of two songs from The Pilgrim that his father specifically praised in his notes, “Penny Annie” and “Sweet Becky Walker.” Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge sang harmony on the original “Sweet Becky Walker.” Gatlin’s daughter, Kristin, named in honor of Kristofferson, provides harmony for the newly recorded version.
Given Gatlin’s track record, it’s evident why every cut on Pilgrimage is a carefully polished gem. “Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down)” is a rip-roaring hosanna to the Man in Black. “Black Gold,” a co-write with Leslie Satcher, is a moving homage to Gatlin’s oil-field worker father. “Say Nashville - Whadda Ya Say?” is a fence-mending peace offering to the town Gatlin now acknowledges as his “home away from home.”
Terry Choate, a key member of the Capitol Records team that launched Garth Brooks, produced most of the songs for Pilgrimage, including an absolutely killer duet between Gatlin and Lari White of Gatlin’s 1978 hit, “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today.” Satcher and Doug Johnson, who produced hits for Steve Holy, Doug Stone and Hank Williams Jr., contributed additional tracks.
Admitting that his “feelings were hurt” by the shifting tastes in country music during the early 1990s, Gatlin moved from Nashville to Austin in 1992, declaring that he and his brothers would no longer tour or concentrate on recording. That same year he won the lead role in the Broadway production of The Will Rogers Follies and earned critical hurrahs throughout the play’s nine-month run.
In the meantime, Gatlin and his brothers lent their name to a musical theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and agreed to perform there for 25 weeks each year. That arrangement would have allowed Gatlin to continue acting and to spend family time in Austin. He soon discovered, however, that the theater deal would work only if the Gatlins performed there virtually year-around. The decision to do that cost Gatlin two starring Broadway roles, but it kept him and his brothers in the musical spotlight for the next five years.
When the Myrtle Beach phase ended, the Gatlins took their show to the entertainment complex in Branson, Missouri. They also went on the road occasionally for special concert appearances. Ultimately, Gatlin decided to return to the city where he’d had his greatest musical triumphs—Nashville.
“It took me being 17 years away to realize how much I loved that place,” Gatlin muses. He credits Mike Curb, the music-loving and entrepreneurial owner of Curb Records, with seeing the potential of a newly energized Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. “We are supposed to be doing this,” Gatlin contends. “I really believe it’s our time…our season.”