Separately, Elora Taylor and Dee Filc are just two twenty-something ladies from Oakville, Ontario. Together, they become something even better, a folk duo called Tallulah Darling that plays stripped down, bare bones rock and country. Though the two cite influences like Miranda Lambert, Loretta Lynn, Dixie Chicks, and Toby Keith, you’ll find more street edge in tracks like “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.” There, a serpentine bass, buzzsaw guitar riffs, and cheeky lyrics are loosely combined for raw, unrefined rock. “Metal Heart,” on the other hand, is a more lackadaisical meditation on love, wrapped up in acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals. Finally, on “This Is Not A Joke,” those country roots are unearthed. With the wistful, confessional appeal of Taylor Swift, Mulligan delivers her simple request: “This is not a joke so please stop smiling.” Mute adoration, however, is permitted.
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.
It was really just over a decade ago that Eric Church arrived in Nashville, another hungry wanna be country star.
Now as he prepares for his first headlining tour—Blood, Sweat & Beers—he’s taking with him a GRAMY-nominated new album, Chief, an ever growing stack of much-loved singles including “Home Boy,” and “Drink in My Hand,” and a rock-solid fan base that he credits for his success. Add to that he and his wife Katherine welcoming their first child last October and you have the makings for a huge boost into the new year.
As if that isn’t enough, his upcoming tour has broken concert ticket sales records and sold out so many venues that new dates were already added.
Just before the outlaw cowboy saddled up for his next adventures on the road, he talked to OurStage about his music, his fans and just what has been keeping him up at night!
OS: You’ve made records for years, your major label debut Sinners Like Me was released in 2006, and now the buzz almost indicates that you’ve suddenly been “discovered.” That seems a bit disconcerting!
EC: I think so, too. My career is almost defined as pre Chief and post Chief. For me, I love to see what Chief is doing, going into the NPR Top 50 and Spin magazine Top 50 [albums' list] and hitting [charts] where country artists don’t usually show up. It’s great to see how wide the record is reaching.
OS: I remember talking to you just after you’d written many of the songs for Chief, in a very secluded cabin, basically walled off from everything else. Is that a process you’ll repeat when you write the next album?
EC: I don’t want [the writing process] to be a gimmick thing. That was an experience in the cabin where I was writing this one very organically. I don’t know about the next one. We’re very young in this record cycle and we’ve already exceeded expectations, certainly my expectations, of where we’d be when we got toward the end of this cycle. I have to plug in, recharge and figure out what is next. That’s how I made [Chief], by shutting everything down and thinking about what I hadn’t tapped into yet.
People talk about the vulnerability of [the songs on] Chief but we had been beating up the road so much for so long, we had finished up the tour [behind the 2009 album Carolina] on a Saturday night and I was at the cabin the following day. The emotion was so raw, so much of that was still decompressing from the tour we had done.”
OS: I’ve read about your reaction to receiving a recent GRAMMY Award nomination for Best Country Album. The question is always what does that mean to you as an artist?
EC: The GRAMMY’s are the Holy Grail, and I’m very, very flattered. But I am going to make the same record whether I win or lose the GRAMMY. But to be GRAMMY nominated this early in [the record cycle], to have them acknowledge it very quickly in the most coveted category, is very cool.
OS: So you’ve got “Homeboy” and “Drink in my Hand” both out as singles and both incredibly well received. When can we expect another?
EC: It’s [probably] going to come out in early February. Now, we’re looking for “Drink in My Hand” to go to No. 1.
OS: The song “Springsteen” has gotten a lot of great buzz including from Rolling Stone.
EC: I am more excited every night I sing that song. I feel like I am seventeen again [when I sing it]. I have to believe that when I feel that way, others will too.
I remember talking [with my song co-writers] about shows at amphitheatres that changed us. I went to a [non Springsteen] concert when I was sixteen, seveteen, and when I hear that [artist's] song I can still see [my date] standing there. I think about her and I think about me at that time. [The other writers] all had similar experiences. I have such admiration for Bruce Springsteen and his career, it seemed he was the perfect [musician] to use for that song.
OS: So on a personal note, you and your wife Katherine welcomed Boone McCoy into the family in October. What’s the most surprising thing about having a new baby in the house?
EC: How little sleep a person can go on! I thought I was somewhat conditioned. I thought if anyone could segue into non-sleep, I should be the most conditioned person out there! It’s great but it’s also about trying to get the schedules right— he had his days and nights mixed up for a while. It’s been great though because I’ve been able to be off in anticipation of the [upcoming headlining] tour, so I’ve been able to be here changing diapers.
OS: I know you have followed Brantley Gilbert’s career [that includes songwriting many hits including Jason Aldean's "My Kinda Party"] and really wanted him to open for you on this tour, which he will. Do you think you might write together when you’re on the road?
EC: I am open to it. I’d love to do it. I got to write with [Toby Keith] and [Miranda Lambert] when I was on tour with them. And [Jason Aldean]. For me, it’s always a cool thing to do when you put yourself in a situation where you’re all sitting around with guitars.
OS: What strikes you the most as you look ahead to the Blood, Sweat & Beers tour?
EC: It’s going to be big. I am amazed. A year ago we were playing clubs and we were all crammed on one bus. I can’t believe how far we’ve come so fast. When they hit the gas on this headliner [tour], they started talking about five buses and four trucks and it’s all astounding. It’s not supposed to be this way until you’ve got eight or ten No. 1 songs. We’ve always done things a little differently and that was not an easy thing to do.
OS: And now you’re breaking ticket sales records and adding more dates onto the tour. What has made the difference for you and your career?
EC: It’s all been because of the fans and their passion.
Earlier today, somebody asked me if I was surprised and I probably would have been if the fans weren’t steering my career. It’s really all about them.
Find out more about Eric Church, including his tour that kicks off January 19 in Fort Smith, Ark., on his Web site.
Don’t miss Eric Church’s video for “Drink in My Hand”
Only two days after its release, Eric Church‘s new single “Homeboy” isn’t his anymore.
That might seem odd since Eric carefully birthed the February 15th release right from the nugget of an idea to fruition, but he feels strongly about his attitude.
“Once they’re released, they aren’t mine anymore,” said Eric just before leaving Nashville for the latest leg of his concert tour. “It’s really weird because of the way I wrote the songs and recorded them, but once people hear them they belong to those people. It’s almost like the songs are kids.”
That’s likely even truer now for Eric than it was for past songs. When the time came for Eric to begin to write his upcoming album, he rented a cabin in a secluded part of North Carolina. Then he spent several months in seclusion developing ideas and writing songs. “Homeboy” is the first song from the album Eric hopes to release later this year.
“When I went up there, I got a fairly good handle on it,” said Church of writing the songs for his album. “It takes me a while for the songs to start telling me what they’re about. It’s a very intriguing process.”
Even those in Eric’s inner circle often have to wait until Eric is comfortable with a song to let them hear it. He doesn’t do demos anymore, he said, instead letting the cuts speak basically stand on their own.
Now out on tour—both headlining and sharing bills with Jason Aldean and Toby Keith—it’s clear that Eric’s style works well for him. Even though this leg of his concerts is just underway, fans are as rampant as they were when they forced last year’s Country Throwdown organizers to move him from the Outlaw stage to the Main stage.
“Our fans are just great,” said Church. “They are always right there, pulling [other fans] up out of their chairs.”
Although Eric said he laughed out loud when he watched the video— that also features a guest appearance by Luke Bryan, who last year received ACM’s Top New Artist award—he said his main goal with music isn’t to win such award.
“I just want to make an epic record,” said Eric. “That’s what making music is all about.”
This year was a curious one in GRAMMY world, with some heavy hitters being shut outand some less popular acts finally getting a chance to shine. The ‘Record of the Year’ category is dominated by urban pop, with just one band—CMT Artist of the Year Lady Antebellum (nominated in six categories)—bringing up the rear with their country album Need You Now.Eminem leads the pack with ten nominations for his smash success Recovery, landing on the list for ‘Best Rap Album,’ and “Love The Way You Lie”, featuring Rihanna, scoring nominations for ‘Record of The Year,’ ‘Song of The Year,’ ‘Best Rap Song’ and ‘Best Rap Collaboration.’
Other hip hop standouts include Cee-Lo’s three nominations for “[Forget] You” for ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Song of The Year’ and ‘Best Urban Performance’. Jay-Z made the list for ‘Best Rap Album’ with Blueprint 3 and again with newlyweds Alicia Keys (with “Empire State of Mind” up for ‘Best Rap Song’ and “Best Rap Collaboration”) and Swizz Beatz (with “Onto The Next One” contending for ‘Best Rap by Duo’ and ‘Best Rap Song’). Keys’ album, Elements of Freedom was shockingly snubbed from all categories, despite its heavy radio play. Swizz Beats is also nominated for “Fancy,” his collaboration with Drake, whose debut album, Thank Me Later earned him a nomination for ‘Best Rap Album,’ while his single “Over”scored him a bid for ‘Best Solo Rap Performance.’
On the pop front, Katy Perry is the front-runner with four nominations for her album, Teenage Dream. Ke$ha’s debut, Animal, failed to garner any attention for the saucy newcomer and Lady Gaga’s“Bad Romance” popped up on the shortlist for ‘Best Female Pop Vocal’ but was slighted in the categories of ‘Song and Record of The Year.’ “Dance In The Dark” earned Gaga a ‘Best Dance Recording’ nom and “Telephone,” her duet with Beyoncé, earned her a nomination for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’
B.o.B fared well with his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, earning him five nominations including ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Best Rap Album’ while his single, “Nothin On You” featuring Bruno Mars is making a run for ‘Best Rap Song’, ‘Best Rap Collaboration’ and ‘ Record of The Year’.B.o.B’sduet with Paramore front-woman, Hayley Williams is also up for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’ Meanwhile, Mars came in with seven nominations for his work with B.o.B., his single, “Just The Way You Are” and his work as producer with The Smeezingtons who are up for the ‘Producer of The Year’ title.
‘The ‘Best New Artist’ category seems the most diverse with contender Justin Beiber going head to head with Florence andthe Machine, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Esperanza Spalding (who was curiously excluded for any noms in the Jazz category) for the honor. Usher’s, Raymond V Raymondwill go against Chris Brown’s,Grafitti for ‘Best Contemporary R&B Album.’
This is the year of new beginnings. In addition to Chris Brown’s nomination, fellow tabloid darlings Lee Ann Rimes and Fantasia, whose troubling private lives made very public headlines, end their year on a happier note with nods for the former in ‘Best Female Country Vocal Performance’ and the latter in ‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance’ and ‘Best R&B Song’ for “Bittersweet.”
There’s a good chance we’ll see last year’s ‘Best New Artist’ winner Zac Brown Band on stage again this year, this time sans stick puppet—2009 addition Clay Cookwas unable to accept the award with the band for their win last year because he did not have a credit on their first album. They’re nominated for ‘Best Country Performance,’ ‘Best Country Song’ and ‘Best Country Album.’ Other country favorites Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Jewel also received nominations.
No huge surprises found among artists in the rock categories, with multiple nominations for veterans Jeff Beck (‘Best Rock Album,’ ‘Best Rock Performance’ with Joss Stone and ‘Best Rock Instrumental’) and Neil Young (‘Best Rock Song,’ ‘Best Rock Album’ and Best Solo Rock Performance’) while Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, John Mayer earning one nom each. Hard rock and metal showcased no new artist nominations either: Ozzy Osborne, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Iron Maiden, Korn, Megadeth, Lamb of God and Slayer.
For the complete list of nominees across all 100 categories, visit Grammy.com
Sometimes it pays to be an outlaw, especially if you’ve got the gutsy, greasy sound and tough, terse songcraft to back up the bad-ass image. On his second album, They Call Me Cadillac, Randy Houser shows he’s bona fide and then some. By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles, the world at large might finally give the up-and-coming country star his proper due as the Willie Nelson to cohort Jamey Johnson’s Waylon Jennings. Lately, you can’t look anywhere, from CMT to The New York Times, without seeing Jamey Johnson’s hirsute mug, but Houser’s been his partner in crime for a long while. The pair came up together, playing sets full of George Jones and Johnny Paycheck tunes in rowdy bars before breaking through as songwriters—they co-penned Trace Adkins’ monster 2005 hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”—and moving on to solo success.
Houser managed a Top 10 country single of his own straight of the gate with the raw, rockin’ “Boots On,” from his ’08 debut album, Anything Goes. But even though he was already showing off the kind of maverick, roughneck spirit that makes sane men climb on top of raging bulls and marry beauty-contest winners without signing a pre-nup, Houser hadn’t quite reached his full potential yet.
There are no half-measures on Houser’s latest outing—They Call Me Cadillac. Itmarks his first recording for fellow country rebel Toby Keith’s label Show Dog, which was created expressly to give someone like Houser the opportunity to be his own butt-kicking self without holding anything back. “It’s the first time that I’ve had the most creative control to make the record I want to make,” Houser confesses. You can hear the rush of artistic freedom fueling his no-frills mix of outlaw country edge and classic honky-tonk heart throughout the album.
Houser tasted success from the fruits of his latest labors before Cadillac was even released when the redneck-pride Southern rock stomp “Whistlin’ Dixie” hit the country Top 40 back in February—the record’s first sneak-peek single. Now that the real, raw, uncensored Houser sound has been fully unleashed on the public, the burly, bearded man from Mississippi has been popping up on TV shows from Good Morning America to Jimmy Kimmel Live. Houser looks at his latest effort as “a more traditional country album…something that country folk like my friends and family in Lake, Mississippi—and lots of other places across the country—can relate to.”
He’ll be bringing his outlaw-as-he-wants-to-be sound all across the nation on tour with Gary Allan through late November. As his country-rocking Cadillac makes its way from state to state, he’ll be on a one-man mission to let fans from San Bernadino to Staten Island connect with their own inner rabble-rouser. Don’t be surprised if a pattern of barroom bust-ups happens to develop this fall along a route that seems oddly identical to Houser’s tour itinerary.
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
10/2 – Farmville, VA, Lankford Mall
10/7 – Toledo, OH, Huntington Center
10/8 – Erie, PA, Tullio Arena
10/9 – Detroit, MI, The Fillmore
10/17 – West Des Moines, IA, Val Air Ballroom
10/21 – Corpus Christi, TX, Concrete Street Amphitheatre
Jim Allen has contributed to a wide range of print and online outlets including RollingStone.com, MOJO, Village Voice, Uncut, VH1.com, iTunes, All Music Guide, CMT.com, The Advocate, Prefix, Blurt and many more.
“Spurs of the Moment” is your up-to-date source for all happenings in the country music community. Make sure to check in bi-weekly to see just what’s going on with your favorite country singers and stars!
February—the month of love. And now, since this month’s announcement of upcoming summer tours, I have fallen even more in love with country music and its stars.
No matter where country stars show up, whether at a concert, promotional event or on the radio, their fans are usually happy to see them. A movie screen, however, is not somewhere I’m ready to see my favorite country singers. For a community of people so hell bent on staying true to themselves, its no wonder that the majority of films featuring a country star are lacking in the acting department. From Dolly Parton to Reba McIntyre, Willie Nelson to Billy Ray Cyrus, country music stars have long sought out Tinseltown’s spotlight. The question is, do their efforts prove there is a reason for them to leave the safety of Nashville and head for the Hollywood hills?
What could be better than Tim McGraw style with Toby Keith looks? Pair these star qualities with a fun, down home country sound, and you have Canadian-born Craig Moritz, who’s been pumping out hits since he bounded onto the country music scene in 2002. Not only is he turning heads with his upbeat, power-packed singles, but he is building quite the resume in the Canadian music community as well. Moritz’s first album—The Way I Feel—propelled him to breakout stardom, and after working with country music super group Lonestar, he put out an even more successful second album, Down and Dirty. This country crooner never stops, continually touring to promote his album and his kickass songs.
Mr. Moritz and his money maker
Speaking of kickass, Moritz’s video for his single “Blame You” really packs a punch. The creativity behind this music video concept is rarely seen in independent artists, but it’s the professionalism paired with a sense of humor that make this something you can’t miss. Check out his hilarious video for “Blame You”, and don’t forget about his fanclub!
No matter what is going on in our country—from the magnitude of presidential elections and impending war, to the circus that is our nation’s media—everyone seems to have something to say. Country stars are no different. By using their songs as platforms, country music fans always know just what their favorite stars are thinking, whether we want to or not. Ironically, we hold their relatable stories of love, loss and Friday nights on a pedestal but when it comes down to something we see on the news, many fans suddenly prefer that these innate songwriters turn a blind eye. Country stars have boldly confronted national issues for years; some have been applauded for their honest portrayal of national concerns, while others pay for speaking out with their careers.
"The Angry American"
An artist that has always been able to pack a punch lyrically is none other than Toby Keith. Back in 2001, after the tragic events of September 11th, Nashville started cranking out song after song in support of the country. Keith was no different. His single, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” certainly stirred up emotions throughout the country music community. With lyrics like, “Justice will be served, and the battle will rage. This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage. And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.’Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” Keith was literally and lyrically threatening the forces that “sucker punched” our country on that fateful day. Because of its sentimental value, Keith had originally decided to only perform this song when touring for troops, but after Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, James L. Jones, told Keith it was his American responsibility to record the song and lift the morale of the troops, Keith could not keep this rabble-rousing song to himself. However, after the release of this single, reviews were mixed on Keith’s in-your-face, vengeful lyrics. Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, came forward against the song, saying she felt it was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant,” fueling a long and tiresome feud between the two. The opposition didn’t stop there. When Keith was asked to perform on a patriotic special on ABC, host Peter Jennings requested that he tone down the aggressive lyrics in this song. Keith refused and did not play in the special. But, in a 2003 interview, Keith responded to all the heavy opinions of the single with this, “It wasn’t written for everybody. And when you write something from your heart—I had a dad that was a veteran, [who] taught me how precious our freedom is—I was so angry when we were attacked here on American soil that it leaked out of me.”
On the other end of the lyrical spectrum, Brad Paisley wrote a progressive and historically-relevant single with his “Welcome to the Future.” In it, Paisley references the many ways in which our country has evolved, from technology to the growth in equal rights through the years. He sings about a black friend of his from high school who had a cross burned in his front yard because he asked out the Homecoming Queen, and how he wished he could see how far we’ve come. He calls “Wake up, Martin Luther. Welcome to the future!” When Paisley was invited to play at the White House for President Obama and family, he recalls choking up as he sang the lyrics. Obama says of the song, and country music; “It’s captured our restlessness and resilience, and told so much of our story in the process.” Usually a comical lyricist, Paisley’s song is subtle, poignant and graceful as it delicately exhibits his hope for continuing growth in our country.
Single appeared on Brad's "American Saturday Night" album
For Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks, a song was born after a media fire storm no one could have ignored. In March of 2003, Maines made comments at a London concert regarding the band’s views on the impending Iraq War, the President and their shared Texan roots. To be specific, she declared to the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” But, after the doctored, “Just so you know…we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas” hit the American media outlets, all hell broke loose for the trio. After country music radio stations boycotted the threesome’s music, and protests sprouted throughout the country, it seemed as though the Chicks’ career was over.
Mag Cover to address the Chicks' controversy
The group’s songs were no-where to be heard in the country community, who felt that disrespecting the President on foreign soil was nothing less than an unpatriotic sin. However, with hard work just as resilient as Natalie’s unforgettable words, the Dixie Chick’s determination and talent could not be quelled. In 2006, the women came back with their seventh album, Taking the Long Way, with their first single being “Not Ready to Make Nice.” The single frankly addresses the public reactions and disturbing events that followed their defiant stand against the war and the President. While they aimed for a universal interpretation, and not a literal one, there are lines in the song that cannot be translated otherwise. In reference to a particularly rattling death threat Maines received, lyrics question “And how in the world can the words that I said, send somebody so over the edge that they’d write me a letter, saying that I better ‘Shut up and sing’ or my life will be over?” The Chicks also filmed a rockumentary appropriately named “Shut Up and Sing,” chronicling their ordeal post comment-heard-round-the-world. Both the film and comeback album did shockingly well, Taking the Long Way earning five Grammy Awards in 2007.
As country music fans, we are rooted in the honesty and integrity of our favorite songs on the radio. We love that these are real stories that we can relate to and believe in. But, when a song is written that has such a strong message that it can either polarize or unite their fans, paradoxically, we must accept this rarity as the most raw form of art and songwriting. Appreciation for these frank testimonials of American life must be a priority for country fans, or all we will be left with are empty verses leaving us cold and needing more from our favorite artists.