Country Music Association’s 2012 “Entertainer of the Year,” five-time Male Vocalist of the Year winner and GRAMMY nominee Blake Shelton continues to add to his superstar status. With 17 consecutive #1 singles, Shelton owns the record of successive #1 singles in the modern era, and has a total of 22 #1 singles.
His new album, If I’m Honest, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Album Sales Chart and the Billboard Country Album Chart. If I’m Honest has already yielded the #1 smash single, “Came Here To Forget,” and his new single “She’s Got A Way With Words.” The album features three songs written by Shelton which include the gospel tinged “Savior’s Shadow,” “Friends,” which is also featured in the #1 film, The Angry Birds Movie, and “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” a song he wrote and performs with Gwen Stefani.
A member of the Grand Ole Opry, he has earned a host of awards throughout his career, including the recent People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Country Artist. Shelton just celebrated his 10th season on NBC’s “The Voice” and recently hosted Nickelodeon’s slime-filled Kids’ Choice Awards. Shelton is the subject of a career-spanning exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story. The exhibit explores the life and work of one of country music’s most popular and multi-dimensional artists. He will hit the road in September for his Blake Shelton presented by Gildan tour, which kicks off with a two-night stand in Oklahoma City.
Chris Young is in complete control.
As the RCA Records Nashville recording artist prepares to release his fifth album, due this Fall, Young has taken over responsibility for conceiving, writing, producing and recording the highly anticipated, I’m Comin’ Over.
Looking for a new approach on an album he knew was extremely important, Young hedged his bet by personally writing a check and quietly cutting six songs. When he played the music for surprised Sony Music Nashville executives, there was one simple response: “Keep going.”
Young, a native of nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a fixture on the scene since his teens, could easily have approached his latest album on auto-pilot. After all, few have had the kind of run he has. This is his fifth major-label album by the age of 30 – a feat rarely accomplished in modern country music. He’s ratcheted up six No. 1 singles, seven Gold and Platinum certifications, and been nominated for the industry’s most prestigious awards – Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and The Grammys – taking home a handful of notable trophies, including the American Country Countdown Awards’ Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Single of the Year, and the Country Music Association’s Triple Play Award, given to songwriters who have co-authored three or more chart-topping hits in a year.
Prior to that clandestine recording session that would set the tone for the project, fate stepped in as Young wrestled with the direction of this new album. His longtime friend Josh Hoge suggested he jump in on a co-write with mutual friend Corey Crowder. It was a casual suggestion, not a put-together session dreamed up in a publisher’s building on Music Row. And that invitation changed everything for Young.
“It was just very honest and natural and we really, really hit it off,” Young said. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do sonically for this record and what I wanted to say. And it’s an important record. Turning 30. I've been doing this for 10 years and you always try to make a statement with each and every record. But this is my fifth record, and after 10 years I better have something important to say.”
Young wrote 9 of the 11 songs, including the title track first single, co produced the album with Crowder and shepherded each track from demo through final mastering. He knows the LP “inside out, backwards and forwards.”
“It just feels different,” Young said. “There was a lot that changed. The studio band we used was different. This is the first time I've co-produced. Half the songs on the record were written by me, Corey and Josh. That was kind of the nucleus of this record, and that was really different for me. Nothing changed for the sake of change. It changed because it was the right way to go.”
Four of the album’s tracks emerged from the trio’s first seven sessions. Young kept the group coming back to the writer’s room and exciting things continued to happen. Two early tracks proved to be special. “I’m Comin’ Over” became a guidepost for Young and Crowder. Technically, the song is a ballad, but there’s nothing slow and steady about it.
“’I'm Comin’ Over’ honestly is such a sonic bridge for me,” Young said. “It's a bridge between what I sounded like on the last record and what we've done on this one. It's not like I went out and just completely blew up everything I was doing, but there's obviously a lot more loops. There's a lot more stuff that we created in pre-production and brought into the studio along with the musicians. I think that this song is a really good introduction to what you’ll hear on the rest of this record. There's R&B elements that we brought into some of the songs, and you definitely hear that on top of the second verse. It's really simple. It's really short, just a tiny, little moment, but it's definitely stuff that we wouldn't have done in the past.”
“As Chris, Josh and I began writing together, the sonic direction seemed to organically take shape,” shared co-producer and co-writer, Corey Crowder. “We all come from different spaces in the music world and our personalities, working styles and strengths really compliment each other.”
You begin to see the producer in Young emerge with a confident strut on the album’s next track, “Heartbeat.” The song is all elevated heart rate, supplied by a thumping heartbeat pulsing just under the instrumentals.
“Chris and I make a really good team,” Crowder said. “We trust each other’s ears and it really makes the combination work well.”
Young the producer wraps Young the singer’s perfectly mellow traditional country baritone in a more modern context. Many of the songs are bright and bold and aimed for the arena rafters as he moves into the touring headliner’s role, kicking off October 22 with his “I’m Comin’ Over Tour,” featuring openers Eric Paslay and Clare Dunn. “Heartbeat,” for instance will drop right into his live set. And songs like “Sunshine Overtime” and the anthemic “Underdog” are strong arena candidates with their bright colors and racing tempos.
While good times are a heavy presence on the album, Young doesn’t completely leave behind the nuanced emotion of his previous work. “I Know A Guy” and “Sober Saturday Night,” which features Vince Gill on guitar and harmony vocals, help Young round out I’m Comin’ Over with a song for every mood.
“There's a great history of sad songs in country music and I think that a lot of people have lived that,” Young said. “They've had that night where it's like, ‘Man, I'm so depressed, I don't even want to leave my house. I'm just going to sit here. I don't even want to try to drink myself out of being depressed,’ and it's powerful. But I think there are touch points - I think that's really what this record is. Hopefully everybody relates to each one of these songs and they have their own experiences.”
Young formed his appreciation for the history of country music listening and watching closely genre ambassadors like Gill, who is best known as a Grammy Award-winning singer and guitarist. But he’s also emerged a powerful producer, and Young would like to see his career follow a similar path. He knew this from the second he saw Gill in concert as a child, sitting in the grass at Nashville’s old Starwood Amphitheater, watching the legend perform solo acoustic for a crowd of thousands held at rapt attention.
“I got to sit in his studio and hang out with Vince Gill all day, and it's just such a weird, cool fullcircle thing for me,” Young said. “He’s absolutely someone that I put on a pedestal as a vocalist and a person. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be known as an artist who is that good.’”
Young exudes a combination of pride and nervous energy as he talks about rolling out I’m Comin’ Over, first, for family and friends, and now for critics and the public. It’s the most personal album Young has recorded, full of accessible moments that grow out of small things like a look, a touch or a broken bond. And for the first time he’s responsible for almost every hook, solo and lyric, right from the start.
Like Gill, Young takes a personal moment or emotion and elevates it with a universal resonance. When he sings of a day at the beach or the lake, it’s because he’s relaying an experience from his own life, not some anonymous songwriter’s. And when you feel his heartbreak, that’s really his heart breaking.
“It’s no secret I’ve fallen in love before,” Young said. “And I’ve fallen out of love. And I’ve definitely had love fall out on me - that makes for several records worth of music right there. Then, when you combine some of the other stuff that we wrote on this record, it gives it a lot of variety, too. I think that’s important. I could just as easily sit down and write an entire an album of love songs, but I think you have to have the love songs and you have to have the stuff you’re going to play when it’s summer and 100 degrees and everybody’s in T-shirts at a festival. It’s a balancing act. You have to have all the colors on the palette and make them work together.”
Big & Rich
As Big & Rich, John Rich and Big Kenny Alphin have exerted a definite “gravitational pull” to the direction modern country music has taken. Their much anticipated new project, “Gravity” provides a stellar example of the genius of their creative brotherhood--the result of two unique musical personalities colliding to form an even greater positive sum total. The project has propelled the superstar duo to new heights, having secured back-to-back Top Ten hits for the first time in their career with “Look at You” and “Run Away With You,” while their current single, “Lovin’ Lately” featuring Tim McGraw continues to climb the charts.
From the vantage point of today’s career success, John notes:
“When Kenny and I were first considering doing music together some 15 years ago, I can recall like it was yesterday him saying, ‘Man, we like two individual planets— wouldn’t it be awesome to collide and smash the universe together,” he recalls. “We definitely felt that creative gravitational pull from the beginning and I think it continues to translate into the music.”
They are America's Technicolor cowboys, brothers-in-arms in service to the creed that great music has no boundaries. Individually, John and Big Kenny are first-rate musicians, songwriters, producers, entertainers—and now the creative force behind their own label imprint, Big & Rich Records. Together, they are one of the most truly original musical forces ever unleashed on a welcoming world.
The new label is fueling even more passion to produce and present their music. “We now have the freedom to write songs, call our own shots and put every ounce of our guts, soul and DNA into music we can have complete creative control over—from creation to release schedule,” notes Kenny. “We can bring the best gunslingers to the shoot out and know everyone is 100% committed to our success from making the music to getting it out there to our audience and it’s a great place to be. As John says—we’re like wild horses that don’t do good in a stall—we’d rather be running the wild range.”
As witnessed too by the lead single, “Look At You,” their influence on their musical universe shows no signs of being eclipsed. “The unusual twist of this lyric really makes the song stand-out, notes John. “It’s a Shannon Lawson co-write that dead-on nails the gut wrenching feeling of being that guy that loses the hot chick—something I think a lot of us guys can relate to.”
Big & Rich have, of course, made a career of being relatable and musically relevant since exploding into the public consciousness in 2003 as the rarest of breeds—true country music game changers. With 2004’s triple-platinum Horse of a Different Color, they were able to tap into the best strands of a wide spectrum of popular music, filter them through their pens and voices and produce a sound that is instantly recognizable, if not classifiable.
"You still can't really define what that sound is," says John. "Even we can't."
It begins, of course, with that one-of-a-kind vocal blend, as unique and compelling as any in the history of the popular airwaves.
"I listen to a lot of music and I haven't heard any two voices go together like this," says Kenny. "John and I can match each other anywhere. He can sing anything and I can make an entirely different melody around it, and vice versa."
If radio didn't fully know what to make of them at first, fans of every musical stripe did. They packed arenas with a flying circus of sight, sound and spectacle, a touring renaissance fair of the mind, complete with raised glasses and danceable beats.
With a much anticipated new studio album that finds them at the top of their creative game, their live performances find them at their hell-raising best, with crowds as intense and appreciative as any they've ever faced.
"It seems like when you put John and Kenny together and we become Big & Rich, it's like Clark Kent walking into the phone booth and coming out a superman," says John. "We can't explain it. It's like a chemical reaction between Kenny and me on stage, something you can feel there. It's funny to think about but it's really true, we walk out on stage and start laying into this thing, the energy goes back and forth between us and the crowd and it's palpable."
They are, in addition to everything musical, noted philanthropists and good-will ambassadors. Both remain committed and enthusiastic livers of life and givers of time, talent and fortune to great causes. Kenny has become a world traveler, fighting poverty and supporting education through agencies including the United Nations Foundation and the Red Cross from North America to Africa. John takes part in any number of charitable outreaches, and his win on The Celebrity Apprentice brought well over a million dollars to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Those things go to the core of two men whose music and worldviews intersect seamlessly.
"We continue to try to inspire," says Kenny. "We just try to be ourselves in a world that sometimes insinuates you shouldn't go outside the boundaries. And now the fact that we've got the family thing going on has made a tremendous difference for both of us, but we're still the same guys. I think life in general moves you forward in a positive way if you let it. Our relationship has grown more positively here than you could ever imagine. I think we just continue to grow, to respect each other more and more and respect the kind of ability we have when we're singing together."
"We both have a lot of things that we do creatively," adds John, "but there's been something magical about this since the beginning. As good as we are at what we do separately; neither of us is as good as Big & Rich are together. The Big & Rich thing is like a new color in the crayon box."
"No question in my mind," says Kenny, "that we have put forward as high quality music as we can do. And we believe we just keep getting better."
Barring divine intervention, hard work and desire are the key factors in anyone’s success in a career. When combined with genuine talent, the sky’s the limit. This has been the case for David Ray.
Ray got his start in his native Michigan, a state known for the likes of Bob Seger and Kid Rock. While learning a few chords on his father’s guitar, Ray gravitated toward country, classic rock and folk music, listening to people like Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam and James Taylor.
He knew he wanted a career in music, but Ray did the prudent thing and pursued a college education at Central Michigan University. There, he regularly played as a solo acoustic artist at The Cabin, a major college hangout in mid-Michigan. After graduating from college, Ray set out for Nashville where he planned to use his degree to teach school while learning more about the city and the music business. However, there weren’t any teaching jobs open for him in Nashville even though he obtained his certification for the state of Tennessee. He ended up accepting a teaching position in South Florida, without knowing what the future would hold for him there.
In 2008, he learned about Kenny Chesney’s "Next Big Star" competition and entered. He won the competition, and soon found himself opening for Chesney in front of 15,000 music lovers. Following that victory, 99.9 KISS Country staff soon began to book Ray for countless station events, including Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes games. KISS Country also hired Ray to play at the station’s concert venue in Fort Lauderdale, where he shared the stage with artists such as Billy Currington, Travis Tritt and Pat Green. This is also where Ray met Jody Stevens, who at the time, was part of the band called Fast Ryde. Stevens told Ray to contact him if he ever decided to move back to Nashville. So, there in Florida, Ray received the kind of break and exposure that he probably never would have found if he had stayed in Nashville.
When Ray moved back to Nashville in 2010, he hit the ground running, performing almost as soon as he pulled into town. In addition to performing acoustically, Ray also performed at a few different bars on lower Broadway before landing steady gigs at Honky Tonk Central and the legendary Tootsies Orchid Lounge. Ray also reconnected with Jody Stevens and began working with him in the studio. Soon, Stevens became Ray’s producer.
In 2012, Ray landed his first publishing deal with Big Deal Music, where he wrote songs with various top Nashville songwriters. A year later, Ray began working with bass player Darren Theriault, who invited Ray to perform at the inaugural Tree Town Music Festival in Iowa in May, 2014. After the festival, Ray met festival owners Dave and Gary Dewaard, who not only invited Ray back to play the festival the following year, but also began working with Ray as a management team, helping him book gigs and introducing him to radio personalities and booking agents. Today, Ray is in the studio with Jody Stevens recording his first Extended Play and preparing to release his first single in January 2016.
Up-and-Coming Country Artist Adley Stump had a breakout year in 2015: Her EP “Like This” (Deluxe) was named “New and Noteworthy” by iTunes and she appeared on several TV shows in support of the release, including being the Featured Music performer at the Miss USA telecast. Her single & video “Stay At Home Soldier” drew accolades across the board and was featured on 115 iHeartmedia Country station websites, Syndicated “Taste Of Country Nights” radio show and Slacker’s “Weekly Country Countdown”; she performed live in front of more than 100,000 fans throughout the year, including the CMA Fan Fair in Nashville. Adley became a #1 Best Selling Author through Amazon.com with her collaboration titled: “How They Sell Music: Lessons from Celebrities on Creating Your Own Success”. With the release of her new single “Don’t Wanna Love Him” on May 13th and an extensive tour planned, 2016 should prove to be a Break-Through year.
In February Adley was named a winner of the Hyundai and The Recording Academy® fourth annual GRAMMY Amplifier® program. She was one of 3 winners chosen from over 4000 entrants. She was a featured performer at a Hyundai/GRAMMY Amplifier® showcase at the SXSW Music festival at Stubbs in Austin, Texas in March. A video for her new single “Don’t Wanna Love Him” (featuring reigning Miss USA Olivia Jordan) will premiere on May 16th.
She has been booked on big Country Music Festivals for 2016: Tree Town Festival in Forest City, Iowa May 26 – 29; Taste Of Country Music Festival in Hunter, New York on June 12th, Country Jam in Mack, Colorado June 18th & 19 and Firefly Country Nights in Ames. Iowa on July 17th. An extensive national tour is being booked and additional dates will be announced in July.
As an Alum of NBC’s hit singing competition show “The Voice” (Season 2, Team Blake Shelton) Ms. Stump says: “I am so fortunate to be able to use the experience I gained from “The Voice” as a springboard to grow my career. I know what a life-changing, fantastic opportunity that was – but I also know it was a moment in time, and the real work of building my career started after that moment. Each day I jump out of bed with an insatiable desire to create a sound that people can identify and that will mean something to them,” Stump says. “The stages and opportunities have only continued to grow and that is a blessing I do not take lightly. In everything I do and release I enjoy finding ways to give back to the community of fans who have given so much to me.”
Adley has stayed in perpetual motion, working tirelessly towards her goals. Her music releases have broken into the iTunes Country charts - and that drive and energy have drawn the attention of national sponsors: She has been endorsed by a variety of Brands, including Little Black Dress Wines, Remington Outdoors, Mac Cosmetics, Logan’s Roadhouse and Vietti Chili, among others.
With her magnetic personality, contagious smile, and a passionate and giving spirit – the sky’s the limit for Adley Stump in 2016.