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Art is a moving target. Those who do it most successfully find shades of emotion within themselves that change the texture of their work and how they feel about themselves. As a result, a real artist is ever-changing.
So it is for Lady Antebellum, whose album Golden was figuratively – and literally – borne on the move. The harmony-based trio – Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood – and its sizeable fan base bonded heavily during the band’s Own The Night World Tour, its first arena run as a headlining act, in 2012. The shows themselves were inspirational. But so was the time offstage. Lady A made a point of experimenting and creating with its road band as the one-nighters and the miles of travel piled up. That behind-the-scenes interaction inspired much of the music on Golden, an instantly infectious project in which Lady A discovered new edges for its already-successful foundation.
“Every band I love that’s been here for a long time has reinvented itself in some way,” Kelley says. “There’s a balance to it. I get a little annoyed when people reinvent themselves too much because there’s a reason people fell in love with you in the first place, but I think it’s important not to regurgitate the same stuff over and over again.”
“Downtown,” Golden’s funky lead single, announced the new direction when Capitol released it in January 2013. The band gave it an energetic, playful performance with a noticeably cleaner production than the previous album, Own the Night. The recording uses fewer instruments – each of them framed distinctly in the sound – and Scott delivers the lead vocal with a full-on attitude that’s never been completely realized in previous recordings.
“Most of the songs on this album are literally just five instruments,” Haywood observes. “Five guys playing in the studio. So it’s a little more minimal than the previous stuff.”
“Downtown” became the highest-debuting single in the band’s career and instantly created a sense of anticipation for Golden by putting a new, surprising sheen on Lady A that even the band’s associates could not foresee.
“We embraced risk,” Scott notes. “When you are pushing yourself to not go back to the same well, you’re gonna come up with something different, or you’ll find songs that are different. And that’s what happened on this album.”
Risk is never the easy path, particularly for an act already at the top of its game. And Lady Antebellum certainly could have easily relaxed a little and emulated the previous album or two. After all, things were working.
Since its 2006 inception, the group had risen quickly to become Country Music’s most influential current group. Lady A won the Vocal Group of the Year honor from both the Country Music Association and from the Academy of Country Music three times in a row. Eight of the band’s singles went gold, with four – “American Honey,” “Need You Now,” “Just A Kiss” and “I Run To You” – surpassing the platinum mark. “Need You Now” went on to sell over seven million downloads, according to the RIAA. Additionally, “Need You Now” claimed five of the trio’s seven career Grammy wins in 2011, including the all-genre Record and Song of the Year.
All of that was achieved through a fragile balance of several key pieces, each of which helps define Lady Antebellum’s sound: ingratiating melodies, the interplay between Kelley’s soulful male resonance and Scott’s scintillating female texture, the threesome’s bittersweet harmonic blend, and production elements that invariably emphasize the stylistic inclusiveness of modern country.
That sound catapulted Lady A to an enviable level of popularity. The band picked up an audience beyond the typical Country core listener, it hit the road playing arenas and stadiums, and the group performed on all the major television shows, including Saturday Night Live, Oprah, the Grammys, The Voice, and most every other daytime and late night program on network television.
That kind of attention often destroys bands. The pride that goes with success begins to undermine the act, and the members compete for recognition. Ultimately, that delicate balance devolves into a tug of war and the act simply falls apart.
That’s an unlikely scenario for Lady A. Kelley, Scott and Haywood each play a key role, not only in the band’s harmonic development, but even in the day-to-day details of the group’s mission. Each of them are keenly aware that the other members need the right amount of attention – and the right amount of space – to make the entire band work.
“We’ve seen enough Behind The Musics to know how these things turn out,” Scott suggests. “As much as we all are confident about what we bring to the table, the second that you become a little too confident is when that balance shifts, and that’s when you can implode. We know that it’s not worth that.”
In some ways, Golden reaffirms the very beginnings of Lady Antebellum. The project focuses on deft songwriting and fresh uses of their talents, which was at the heart of what drew them together in the first place. Augusta-born Kelley met Nashvillian Scott at a Music City hot spot. Their creative partnership started with a songwriting appointment with Haywood, though they quickly realized their three voices combined in a way they’d never quite heard before.
“Golden,” the last song they wrote for the project, has a sense of innocence and rediscovery not far removed from those initial creative efforts.
“It really took us back to when we first met each other, when I first met the boys and we were sitting around the piano at the house they used to live in,” Scott says. “We didn’t know each other at all, but there was still some magic – that blend of our voices and that blend of our songwriting craft together. It’s exciting to say that at record four, we can still find that.”
The magic remains because they have kept the focus on the music. They started as songwriters, and they’ve continued to prove themselves in that field. In addition to writing most of their own hits, Haywood and Kelley co-authored buddy Luke Bryan’s breakthrough hit, “Do I”; and Scott was a cowriter of Sara Evans’ #1 single “A Little Bit Stronger,” featured in the movie Country Strong.
The outside material was key in helping Lady A find new dimensions to its sound and new depths to its performances.
The passion for writing spilled over into the Own The Night Tour, and thus into Golden. The band set up a jam room at every venue, giving them some time to get into the right mental framework for the evening’s show. But it also provided more cohesiveness with their backing musicians and kept their inventiveness alive. “All For Love,” a dramatic title on Golden, was written by the entire band in the jam room in sessions at several different shows. The anthemic “Generation Away,” the nostalgic “Long Teenage Goodbye” and the steely “Goodbye Town” similarly emerged from writing sessions on the road.
“We were just kind of in that mindset,” Haywood says. “We had that perspective of being on a tour and having seen what translates in an arena. We have a better idea what kind of songs are so relatable where it shakes everybody like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve totally been there.’”
While the band was committed to its songwriting, Nashville’s music community busted down the doors with its A-list material. Six of the 11 songs on Golden came from outside writers, including the R&B-tinged “Downtown,” the Byrds-like “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone)” and the fragile “It Ain’t Pretty.”
“We could never sit in a room together and write a song like ‘Downtown’ or ‘It Ain’t Pretty,’” Scott concedes. “Those songs that we didn’t write pull out of us different things that we couldn’t find within ourselves in a writing room.”
In the end, the mix of their road experiences and the challenging outside songs added a brightness and a freshness to the album that’s reflected in the Golden title.
“We keep calling it our roll-down-the-windows record, and that was one of the reasons why the term Golden was kind of cool,” Kelley says. “You know, you have these little road trips and you’re driving down the road and you get these little streaks of sunshine popping through the trees, especially at sunset as you’re driving. This golden thing. The album just gives you that warm, easy feeling.”
The road trip is key. The album emerged from the band’s concert tour – an over-sized road trip, if there ever was one – and it embraces the moving target that is creativity. Lady Antebellum’s familiar, established blend remains firmly intact, but there’s a sense of renewal about it, too. Golden is a reinvented version of Lady A that’s familiar but simultaneously unlike any of its predecessors. It’s an achievement that comes from the band’s journey, and from its willingness to risk.
“Golden depicts a kind of a special time for us in our career,” Haywood says. “I personally feel so humbled that we can still be making records that people are excited to hear. We’re in a really valuable, golden time.”
Billy Currington has come a long way from working construction and living in a tiny attic apartment during his early days in Nashville. In the decade since he made his debut with the top ten hit "Walk a Little Straighter," the Georgia native has parlayed his rich, emotion-laden tenor and unerring song sense into some of the country format's most memorable hits, including No. 1 hits "Good Directions," "Must Be Doin' Something Right" and "People Are Crazy."
Currington's songs have always been snapshots of life. His music is steeped in truth and are relatable so it makes his audience feel like they could drink a beer or catch a few fish with the curly-haired country boy. Currington has that heartfelt everyman quality that lends emotional weight to whatever he's singing whether it's a tender ballad or a rocking party anthem. He demonstrates his ability to render both those scenarios and all points between on his fifth studio album We Are Tonight.
Led by the fast-climbing single "Hey Girl," We Are Tonight is filled with songs that evoke both wistful reflection and boisterous revelry with equal conviction. Throughout the collection, Currington exudes the easy going charm that has become his trademark yet also possesses a maturity and confidence that comes from a decade of churning out hits and earning accolades. He won the "Hottest Video of the Year" honor at the fan-voted CMT Music Awards for "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right" in 2006, the same year he received an ACM nod for Top New Male Vocalist. His hit duet with Shania Twain, "Party For Two," earned nominations from both the CMA and ACM, and "People Are Crazy" proved to be a career-defining hit that earned Grammy nominations for Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song in addition to being nominated for Single and Song of the Year from the ACM, as well as Single, Song and Video of the Year from the CMA.
Currington could have continued in the same hit-making groove he had established with producer Carson Chamberlain, yet on We Are Tonight he steps out of his comfort zone. "This album is the first time that I ever worked with three different producers," says Currington, who again partnered with Chamberlain and also engaged Dann Huff and Shy Carter. "Carson is one of the greatest producers in Nashville. I still enjoy making music with him and always will, but there were a couple of songs that I didn't feel like fit Carson and I. So I called on Dann Huff, one of the magic men in Nashville. He's a great producer, great guitar player and he just fit a couple of the songs perfectly."
Currington was introduced to Carter by his former landlord. "He ended up living in their attic after I did and that's how we met," he says of. Currington decided to pay a visit to Carter in LA and wound up recording the final track for We Are Tonight, a quirky, up-beat love song titled "Hallelujah." "Shy started laying down the beat and we started putting some guitars to it and by six o'clock the next morning we were done with the song," Currington relates. "I put it at the end of the album because I thought the energy in the song and everything about it would be perfect to end the record."
Carter joins Currington on the clever "Banana Pancakes." "That was written by Jack Johnson, one of my favorite singer/songwriters," Currington says. "It's such a great laid back song. We recorded it and then I started thinking about background harmonies so Shy came in. He and Karyn Rochelle put the harmonies on. And if you listen to the end of 'Banana Pancakes,' it's got a rap to it that Shy just laid down out of the blue. He didn't write it or think about it or anything. He just walked up to the mic and said what it says and that's how we got that."
Currington cites "Hey Girl" as one of his favorite songs he's ever recorded. "I was drawn to that song because of the amped up energy it has," he says. "It was written by a couple of friends of mine, Rhett Atkins being one. I love that guy and he's from Georgia. I always wanted to record one of his songs. He's one of the first concerts I ever went to in Nashville. When I got the song and I had a choice. I could choose any producer out there to work this song. I thought Dann Huff would be perfect for this song, and he was. You hear that guitar in it. You hear the power of the drums. Everything about that recording – I'll take a little credit, not much – but Dann Huff is the reason."
"Hard to Be a Hippie" is a song that Currington discovered when he was surfing YouTube and ran across an acoustic performance by his pal Scotty Emerick. "I saw the great fan reaction and it's a song I couldn't get out of my head," Currington says. "I called him up and I'm like, 'Man, you've got to send me that Hippie song.' My first thought when I was listening to the demo was this would be perfect to record with Willie Nelson. I mentioned it to Scotty and he's like 'Well I know Willie pretty good' so he mentioned it to Willie and I ended up meeting Willie on his bus one afternoon. We played it for him and he was in. We went to Texas and recorded his vocal and that's how 'Hard to Be a Hippie' came about."
The anthem like title track is the first tune Huff sent Currington after the two agreed to work together. "I listened to it 20 times," Currington says excitedly. "About the third time, I called Dann saying, 'Man, count me in!' I couldn't wait. I was really, really antsy to get in the studio with this song. There was something about it. I knew he would bring a really amped up production on it and make it sound like it was in an arena or stadium. And he did. It came out exactly like I wanted it to."
"Wingman" is a fun up tempo tune about barroom camaraderie gone awry when the wingman actually steals the girl and takes her home. Currington's personality-packed delivery makes each track on We Are Tonight a memorable event. Among the album's many highlights is "23 Degrees and South," a tune that has already become a fan favorite in his live shows. "It sounds like a song that I could have written because it's so much about me," says Currington. "It's about Key West and I go there quite often. I've spent so many days in the sunshine down there fishing and spear fishing, paddle boarding and just being a part of Key West. Everything about '23 Degrees and South' explains my life and down there."
The sea is in Currington's soul and is a constant presence in his life and music. The Georgia born artist spent his early years on Tybee Island before his family moved inland to Rincon. He recalls his parents playing vinyl records by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kenny Rogers. His mom took him to see Rogers in concert when he was 10 and it proved to be a pivotal moment. "It was there that night I remember thinking, 'man I'd love to be that guy. I'd love to be doing this,'" says Currington. "It was an amazing show, the energy in there and everything about it I never forgot."
Like many country entertainers, Currington began singing in church. "I met this preacher when I was 17. I heard about this church and just went there. They had a rocking little band," Currington remembers. The preacher invited him to sing the next week and Billy made quite an impression. Some of his musician friends from church asked him to sing with their band and then had to sneak the underage singer into clubs to perform. "It just started happening so fast," he says. "The next thing you know I'm playing in a band and the preacher is taking me to Nashville."
After that introductory visit, Currington decided Nashville was where he needed to be. He moved at 18 and began paying dues. He poured concrete and worked as a personal trainer at a gym during the day and played in bars at night. He began writing songs and singing on demos. "I was meeting all these songwriters. That led me into singing everybody's songs. I was doing 10 demos a day," he says. "Before you know it, I started getting deal offers from record labels."
Currington signed with Mercury Records and released his self-titled debut in 2003. His first single, "Walk a Little Straighter," quickly established Currington as a singer/songwriter of depth and substance. The song peaked at No. 8 and he followed with "I Got A Feelin,'" which became his first top five. From there, the hits continued as his sophomore album Doin' Somethin' Right spawned his first No. 1 with "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right" and his second No. 1 with "Good Directions." Released in 2008, his third album, Little Bit of Everything, featured five songs co-written by Currington. The Bobby Braddock/Troy Jones penned "People Are Crazy" became his third No. 1 and he followed that with a song he co-wrote, "That's How Country Boys Roll," which also hit the top of the charts. In September 2010 Currington released Enjoy Yourself, which included the No. 1 hits "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer" and "Let Me Down Easy."
We Are Tonight finds Billy Currington in peak form. The songs are sometimes whimsical, often poignant and always compelling. Seasoned by time and peppered with experience, his distinctive voice has never sounded better and he's a young man who appreciates the road he's traveled. He's humbled by the successes of his past yet always looking forward. "It's like you work so many years to get it and you finally got it," says Currington, who once again makes his home on Tybee Island. "I feel so blessed."
Through a meeting with record producer Randy Edwards, Nichols began to work on his singing and songwriting skills. At age 19, he was signed to his first record deal, with an independent label known as Intersound Records. There, Nichols released his first album, 1996's Joe Nichols. Despite the minor success of its lead-off single "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other" (which reached No. 74 on the RPM country charts in Canada), the album sold poorly and he was dropped from Intersound's roster. A second record deal, this time with Giant Records, was short-lived and did not produce any singles or albums. After his short-lived record deals, he took many jobs in Nashville, including moving furniture, installing cable TV systems, and selling steaks door to door.
In 1999, Nichols met Brent Rowan, a Nashville session guitarist who helped him land a recording contract with Universal South Records (which became Show Dog-Universal Music in December 2009).
July 2002 was the release of his second album, entitled Man with a Memory. Its lead-off single, "The Impossible", went on to become a No. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (now Hot Country Songs) charts, and was declared by Billboard as the tenth most-played country song of 2003. The same year, his debut album was re-issued under the title Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other.
Man with a Memory earned Nichols a Top New Male Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music, as well as three Grammy Award nominations and platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Its second single, "Brokenheartsville", became his first No. 1 hit on the Billboard country charts in 2003, while "She Only Smokes When She Drinks" and "Cool to Be a Fool" both reached Top 20. Also in 2003, Nichols received the Country Music Association's Horizon Award.
Nichols spent most of 2004 on tour with Alan Jackson. In June of that year, he issued his second album for Universal South. Entitled Revelation, it produced the Top Ten hits "If Nobody Believed in You" and "What's a Guy Gotta Do", at No. 10 and No. 4 respectively. Later that same year, he also issued an album of Christmas music, entitled A Traditional Christmas. Four of the tracks from this album received enough airplay to enter the country charts.
III was the title of Nichols's third album for Universal South and was released in October 2005. Its lead-off single, "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off", became his second Billboard Number One hit, with both the single and the album receiving gold certifications from the RIAA. The album also produced the Top Ten hits "Size Matters (Someday)" and "I'll Wait for You", at No. 9 and No. 7. In 2005, Anna Nicole Smith met Nichols at the Grand Ole Opry and she became a fan. After Smith's death, he performed two songs ("Wings of a Dove" and "I'll Wait for You") at her funeral service. Nichols joined Toby Keith on tours in both 2005 and 2006.
Real Things is the title of Nichols's fourth Universal South album, released in August 2007. Its lead-off single, "Another Side of You," reached Top 20 on the country music charts, as did the follow-up, "It Ain't No Crime." Also included on this album was the song "Let's Get Drunk and Fight," which Canadian singer Aaron Lines released as a single in 2008.
Nichols released a new single, "Believers", to radio on March 27, 2009. Written by Ashley Gorley, Wade Kirby and Bill Luther, it is the first single from his sixth album entitled Old Things New. The song reached the Top 30 on the country singles chart. The album's second single, "Gimmie That Girl", which reached Number One on the country charts in May 2010.
The follow-up single, "The Shape I'm In", was shipped to radio in July 2010.
It's All Good was released on November 8, 2011. The album's only single "Take It Off" peaked at number 25 on the country charts. Nichols left Show Dog-Universal in May 2012. He signed in October 2012 to Red Bow, a new partnership of Broken Bow Records and RED Distribution.
On April 22, 2013, "Sunny and 75" premiered exclusively online at AOL's The Boot. The song was available on iTunes May 7, 2013. On Monday, May 13, it was announced that the song had the biggest country radio add week of his entire career, with 52 first week adds. It peaked at number one on the Country Airplay chart in December 2013. Nichols' eighth studio album, Crickets, was released on October 8, 2013. The album's second single, "Yeah", was released to country radio on January 27, 2013.