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Exclusive Q and A: Brantley Gilbert Talks CMAs, Eric Church and Lessons from the Road

Brantley Gilbert is the opposite of a divo (that’s a male diva, in case you didn’t know).

That’s why it’s gratifying to see him grab so much success this early in his career. Last year, the now 27 year-old singer/songwriter was a bit bummed that many music journalists didn’t seem to want to talk with him. This year, he hardly has time to talk to anyone.

With a nomination for the 2012 Country Music Association (CMA) New Artist of the Year Award, Gilbert is launching the “Hell on Wheels Tour.” It’s the first headlining tour for Gilbert, whose sophomore album Halfway to Heavy debuted at #2 on the Billboard Country charts and who has written a host of #1 singles including “Country Must Be Country Wide,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” along with Jason Aldean‘s songs “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” He’s also won plenty of fans during his recent tours, including supporting spots on Eric Church‘s “Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour” and Toby Keith‘s “Live in Overdrive Tour.”

Although he’s got some heavy competition for the CMA Award — Love and Theft, Lee Brice, Hunter Hayes, and Thompson Square are the other nominees — Gilbert seems to be taking all the excitement in stride. Although he was battling bronchitis on one of his recent days home, he took time out to chat a bit about his reaction to the nomination, his songwriting, and just what he’s learned on all the tours he has played.

Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Brantley Gilbert Talks CMAs, Eric Church and Lessons from the Road’

Your Country’s Right Here: Lindi Ortega Talks ‘Cigarettes and Truck Stops’ yet Keeps her ‘Little Red Boots’ Firmly on the Ground

Lindi Ortega’s sound has taken a long dip into the blues, but she’s still got the soul of a country girl.

Talking by phone from her mother’s Toronto home, she talked about how her 2011 release Little Red Boots inspired her to more fully explore the roots of country music.

Noting that the first book she read was Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Phil Hemphill, Ortega discovered Williams was heavily influenced by the blues. “That’s when I started to see a real connection between blues and country. I tried to listen solely to blues for months at a time, right around the time I was writing the songs for this record.”

She enlisted Colin Linden, a renowned producer and blues guitarist who has an extensive knowledge of blues. Linden helped Ortega weave the blues into the outlaw-traditional-country-with-hints-of-rock sound she developed. In a significant way, Cigarettes & Truckstops is an maturation of Ortega’s music from her debut album Little Red Boots. Although her sound is now more sophisticated and blues based, it has the heartfelt sincerety that drew listeners to her earlier work. Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Lindi Ortega Talks ‘Cigarettes and Truck Stops’ yet Keeps her ‘Little Red Boots’ Firmly on the Ground’

Your Country’s Right Here: Aimee Wilson Weaves Poignant Stories into Song

It’s easy to hear the relief in Aimee Wilson’s voice when she talks about her new album “Unto Us the Sun.”

To create the August 28 release, Wilson composed on both sitar and guitar as inspired by the Sacred Harp tradition. The result is a whirl of mix of traditional folk and indie rock with a dose of spirituality and Celtic influences put into it.

“My music is a dialogue with God, as I understand him,” said Wilson of the songs that resulted from the eight-year long process. “It’s a way of getting to something more than myself. It’s this instinctual reaching and listening that’s happening through me.”

What led Wilson to that music was everything from the study of literate to working with at-risk women at a safe haven in Philadelphia. The Tennessee native didn’t set out to write this album, though. Having learned to play guitar at an early age and the sitar several years ago, she has continually turned to music as a way to express her thoughts and feelings. That manifested into her 2004 debut album “Timbers Fall.”

So with her background in literature and her way of turning to music to express herself, perhaps it’s not surprising that the songwriting muse would visit her as she worked with chronically homeless women at 1Philadelphia shelter. Their lives are in full evidence in the lyrics that tell stories of loss, exposure and ultimately hope. Beyond that, Wilson continually talks about how much she took away from her experience at the shelter.

“I started realizing what I was learning from the women I got to know there,” Wilson said. “I had just gone through a loss myself before I started working at this shelter. There was something healing about being around others who couldn’t hide their heartbreak, who could have that honest and courageous conversation. I’d hear something in my head as I was going about my day. When I had a chance, I’d grab the instrument and work it out.”

When she recorded the album, Wilson included an array of instruments from the Chinese erhu fiddle to the hurdy gurdy, along with a full Sacred Harp-style vocal ensemble to completely tell the stories.

Yet while the album is lush and full, the completion of the project is almost a surprise to Wilson.

“I didn’t really even set up to write music for an album,” he said. “They were just songs that I started writing on the sidelines outside of my day to day job. But as  the songs started taking on a life of their own and growing I just felt like I needed to do something with them and share them.”

Find out more about Aimee Wilson’s release on the Factorye website.

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Exclusive Q and A: Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook Shares How “Tornado” Lifts the Band to New Heights

In the past two weeks, Little Big Town earned it’s first No. 1 hit for the single “Pontoon,” received a Single of the Year nomination from the County Music Association, and watched as its just-released album Tornado ttook the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country chart and No. 2 on the Top 200 chart with 112,758 albums sold in its first week.

It’s almost too easy to say the vocal quartet—known individually as Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook—is a prime example of the old adage “good things come to those who wait.” But consider that it has been 13 years since the band formed and it just hit No. 1. And even “Pontoon,” which was released in April, didn’t really soar until the song was performed in June at the CMT Awards.

In the middle of the swirl of excitement, Jimi Westbook took a bit of time out to talk about the band, its new music, and just where they will go from here. Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook Shares How “Tornado” Lifts the Band to New Heights’

Your Country’s Right Here: Big And Rich Triumph With ‘Hillbilly Jedi’

Big & Rich’s Big Kenny had just finished rehearsals for the duo’s Wednesday appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but he sounded as relaxed as if he was on summer vacation.

And why not? Hillbilly Jedi, the first album by Kenny (whose given name is William Kenneth Alphin) and John Rich in four years, has whipped listeners into a frenzy. Witness the rampant online buzz, with fans adopting Jedi nicknames and critics hailing the mix of country rock and ballads, many of which were written with Jon Bon Jovi and his longtime collaborator Richie Sambora.

“We couldn’t be more excited that this all came together and this is all blowing up. And I’ll betcha it’s gonna continue to keep on,” said Kenny with his trademark devilish drawl. “That first song on the album, ‘That’s Why I Pray,’ is poignant, and the rest are, too.”

Indeed, “That’s Why I Pray,” the only song on the album that the two didn’t co-write but which they performed on the Tonight Show, is something of a narrative of Big & Rich’s last four years. Although the song was written by Sarah Buxton, Blair Daly, and Danelle Leverett (one half of the Jane Dear Girls), Kenny said it sums up everything he and Rich feel about family, friends, and the priorities in life that led to the duo’s hiatus.

“It’s hard to start a family with a brother as a Siamese twin. We have spent so much of our lives together, rockin’ and writing rock and playing,” said Kenny. “We have written over a thousand songs, so to be able to respect each other enough to allow us to have the duality of our families and do some things that important to us says a lot.”

The two partners both spent time nurturing families and participating in an array of high profile charity work including Rich’s Celebrity Apprentice win and Kenny’s myriad humanitarian efforts.

“I couldn’t be more proud of John. That stuff is hard,” said Kenny, ticking off a list of charity work, much of it for the benefit of children, that they each undertook. “There are a lot more kids in school right now, kids in better places, thanks to us being able to take some time off.”

Once each man had checked some major goals off their individual “To Do” lists, Kenny said they found themselves in a place where “we just missed writing and singing together, quite honestly.”

That came to the forefront when they collaborated on the song “Fake ID” for the movie Footloose and decided to record it. From there, the two began performing together, quickly finding themselves back in the Big & Rich groove.

Bumping into buddies Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora found the foursome with a bit of time to finally collaborate on songs. The result, of course, is much of Hillbilly Jedi, a title that was made possible in part by Bon Jovi who called his friend George Lucas to unsnarl copyright red tape.

“He said ‘What do you mean you can’t use it? I’ll call George. He is a buddy of mine,’” said Kenny relating a response from Bon Jovi. “George answered his phone! He was at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. I told John when we do these radio interviews we should say we made that up because it doesn’t even sound like it’s true. It is though. We didn’t make it up.”

It’s also true that Bon Jovi has previously invited Big & Rich on tour, but the scheduling stars haven’t aligned on thatyet. Still, with Sambora putting out a solo album this week and Bon Jovi having one in the works, fans might want to keep an ear to the ground for tour news.

“We are talking about some craziness with touring concepts for next year,” said Kenny. “We are going to continue Big & Rich and knock down even more walls, get even more fans. We are working together, putting together tour concepts we want to try that would be insanity. We want to give back to our fans in a big way and Bon Jovi had invited us on a world tour. They may just do that again. They’re wide open to working with us for this album, too. Who knows? The future is briggggghttttt!”

Find out more about Big & Rich on the duo’s official website.

Watch Big & Rich’s video for “That’s Why I Pray.”

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Exclusive Q and A: The Band Perry Talk Next Album, Brad Paisley and Bribes

The Band Perry is out to prove there’s a lot more to them than their chart-topping single “If I Die Young.”

The Alabama-born, Tennessee-based trio of siblings saw that song zoom to #1 on the country charts after it was released as a single from the band’s 2010 self-titled debut album. Although the song didn’t win a GRAMMY, the band still netted two of the coveted trophies and a host of other awards.

But now the real work begins as Kimberly, Neil, and Reid Perry hunker down with super-producer Rick Rubin to craft their sophomore album. The trio is also burning up the highways as it plays concerts throughout the U.S. including on Brad Paisley‘s Virtual Reality Tour.

So just how is The Band Perry planning to keep the career momentum going? Recently the siblings took time out to talk about just that. Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: The Band Perry Talk Next Album, Brad Paisley and Bribes’

Exclusive Q and A: Kathy Mattea Talks About ‘Calling Me Home’

Kathy Mattea has done it again.

When the two-time GRAMMY Award winner released Coal in 2008, many critics thought it’s powerful messages about Appalachia would be impossible to replicate. That’s understandable when you consider the Charleston, W. Va. native wrote the 11 songs on Coal as a way to spotlight the Montcoal, W. Va. mining disaster that killed 29 people. But what Mattea did on the album even beat that lofty goal; she turned the songs into a story of those that lived in the area for decades, continually triumphing over oppression.

Although Mattea has had more than 30 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart including “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” and ”Goin’ Gone,” she has no qualms about turning back to her folk, bluegrass roots for her latest album though it moves her away from the country music spotlight. Mattea recently took time to talk about her new album, her time in mainstream country, and how a sense of place plays into her music. Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Kathy Mattea Talks About ‘Calling Me Home’’

Your Country’s Right Here: Multi-Grammy Winner TobyMac Grabs Roots for Musical Feast

Go ahead and call TobyMac‘s music – the latest of which is the album Eye On It that debuted at #1 across iTunes charts last week – Christian rock if you want. And call the music made by Eric Church and Colt Ford country. Just as long as you realize that those entertainers may not stay firmly in those boxes.

There’s a reason you’ll see the sometimes rapping TobyMac pop up around country concerts and in country-flavored venues, and that’s not just because of the close connection between Christian and country formats (think Elvis Presley). It’s because anyone who listens to TobyMac music, including on his just-released album, will hear some distinct roots sounds a la John Oates‘ solo work. And who ever thought half of the pop group Hall & Oates would have such a soulful sound before he made that sound known in Nashville? Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Multi-Grammy Winner TobyMac Grabs Roots for Musical Feast’

Exclusive Q and A: Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr Talks ‘The Whippoorwill,’ Songwriting, and Zac Brown

Blackberry Smoke

Blackberry Smoke‘s recent release of The Whippoorwill has fans and critics calling the Georgia-based band the next generation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, Kid Rock, and other legendary southern rockers with a foot planted in the country. Since signing with Southern Ground Artists, the label founded by Zac Brown, the band have been on the road with Eric Church, the Zac Brown Band, and many other high-profile performers. It seems only a matter of time before Blackberry Smoke become headlining powerhouses themselves.

Charlie Starr, leader and main songwriter of the band, took time out from his schedule to talk about writing The Whippoorwill, how the songs were selected, and just what he hopes fans hear in the band’s latest release:

OS: You must feel great about having The Whippoorwill released.

CS: Yes, it was such a long time between making this album and the last album (Little Piece of Dixie from 2010). I had a lot of songs written that we had been playing live already. We were were excited to record those even though they weren’t new to us and our fans anymore. We definitely had those down!

OS: I’m always curious about the songwriting process. Are you the kind of writer who works on the road or do you have a certain place you prefer to write? Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr Talks ‘The Whippoorwill,’ Songwriting, and Zac Brown’

Your Country’s Right Here: Lucinda Williams’ New Music Shines Bright

Lucinda Williams was already a multi-GRAMMY Award-winning singer songwriter in 2009 when she married music industry insider Tom Overby on stage at her Minneapolis concert prior to her .

But finding the man she calls “my best friend, my soul mate,” actually bumped her artistry up even more levels. You’ll hear that on her GRAMMY Award- nominated album Blessed and perhaps even more so in her live performances, especially when she performs songs she has just written and will soon record. At a recent sold-out show at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C., Williams did the near impossible. She and her musical partner for the evening, virtuoso guitarist Doug Pettibone, performed a two-hour show before a packed room that had the intimacy of a house concert. Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Lucinda Williams’ New Music Shines Bright’


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