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Artist of the Week

Brad Paisley

Country Music Star Paisley made his debut as a solo artist after signing to Arista. He released his first album, Who Needs Pictures, in 1999. The record produced the No. 1 hit "He Didn't Have to Be," followed by the chart-topping single, "We Danced." The album sold more than 1 million copies, and catapulted Paisley to fame. The next year, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) named Paisley the year's Best New Male Vocalist, and the Country Music Association (CMA) granted him the prestigious Horizon Award.

 

In February 2001, Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry's Hall of Fame. Several months later, he received his first Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist. He also released his second album, Part II (2001), which featured his cheeky and unforgettable No. 1 single "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song)." Three other songs on the album, "I Wish You'd Stay," "Wrapped Around" and "Two People Fell in Love," also made it into the Top 10 on the country charts.

His next album, Mud on the Tires (2003), was equally, if not more successful, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard chart, and featuring an acclaimed duet with Alison Krauss called "Whiskey Lullaby." The video for his collaboration with Krauss won several awards, and the single made it to No. 3 on the Hot Country charts.

 

Paisley's 2005 effort, Time Well Wasted, came on the heels of his sold-out Two Hats and Redhead Tour with Reba McEntire and Terri Clark. The album included another notable collaboration, "When I Get Where I'm Going" with Dolly Parton, which won the CMA Award for Musical Event of the Year in 2006. The album also scored Paisley both ACM and CMA Awards for Best Album. That same year, Paisley embarked on a successful tour, with rising country star Carrie Underwood serving as his opening act.

 

Teaming up to record together, Paisley and Underwood sang a duet, "Oh Love," on his next release, 5th Gear (2007). Reaching the top spot on the country album charts, the album featured several No. 1 hit singles, including "Online," "Letter to Me" and "I'm Still a Guy." Paisley also took home several major awards that same year, winning the ACM Award for Top Male Vocalist and the CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year. He also won his first Grammy Award for the instrumental track "Throttleneck."

 

His next album, Play: The Guitar Album, hit stores in November 2008, featuring collaborations with musicians such as Keith Urban, Vince Gill and B.B. King. Paisley and Urban received 2008 Entertainer of the Year nominations at the CMAs for their duet. Although their performance didn't snag the award, Paisley walked away from the ceremony with other honors—this time for Male Vocalist of the Year and Music Video of the Year.

 

In 2009, Paisley released his American Saturday Night album. The first single off the album, a song called "Then," became Paisley's 14th No. 1 hit. Thanks to his album, Paisley was nominated for seven CMA Awards that year, including Entertainer of the Year. He also co-hosted the event alongside Underwood. The duo would go on to have the honor of hosting the CMAs several times.

Paisley's next studio effort, This Is Country Music (2011), featured a duet with Underwood on "Remind Me." He also performed with the group Alabama for the track "Old Alabama." With 2013's Wheelhouse, Paisley found himself under fire for the song "Accidental Racist." The album debuted at the top of the Billboard country charts, but it quickly lost momentum. In 2014, Paisley returned to more lighthearted country fare with Moonshine in the Trunk.

 

The summer of 2015 brought the news that Paisley would serve as a mentor for Blake Shelton's team on Season 9 of The Voice. Paisley also performed in a concert to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Grand Ole Opry, with footage scheduled to be released in a documentary at the end of the year.

 

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Cole Swindell

COLE SWINDELL 

Bronwood, Georgia's Cole Swindell is a country singer and songwriter who often adds touches of rock, pop, and hip-hop to his songs. Swindell was a member of the same Sigma Chi fraternity at Georgia Southern University as fellow Georgian Luke Bryan; the two often played shows together, and after Bryan made his move to Nashville, Swindell followed. Six of the songs on Bryan's Spring Break... Here to Party album were written by Swindell; he also contributed songs to albums by Scotty McCreery, Chris Young, and Florida Georgia Line. Swindell's success as a songwriter opened up an opportunity to pursue a career as a performer. Swindell released the single "Chillin' It" independently in 2013, and it generated enough attention to get the singer signed to Warner Nashville by the end of the year. Warner Nashville re-released the single and it hit number one on the Billboard Country chart on its way to an eventual gold certification.
Swindell released his self-titled debut on February 18, 2014. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and produced two more Top Ten Country singles, "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight" and "Ain't Worth the Whiskey." By the end of 2014, Swindell had dropped an EP for Warner Bros., The Down Home Sessions, which was released in conjunction with his first headlining tour. In 2015, Swindell was touring with Jason Aldean and preparing a new release, but Swindell's debut album hadn't stopped spawning hits, and another track from the full-length, "Let Me See Ya, Girl," broke out and rose to number two on the Country Airplay chart. As "Let Me See Ya, Girl" was continuing to dominate country radio, Swindell released another EP, The Down Home Sessions II, in November 2015. "You Should Be Here," the first single from his second album, reached number one on Billboard's Hot Country chart prior to the release of the full-length You Should Be Here in May of 2016. ~ Steve Leggett & Mark Deming, Rovi

 

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Dan + Shay

Delivering a bright, polished sound that owes as much to contemporary pop as anything in the classic country handbook, Dan + Shay is the country singing and songwriting duo of Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney. Both began playing music as teenagers, with Smyers (born and raised in Wexford, Pennsylvania) discovering songwriting at the age of 14, then learning the guitar at the age of 16, and Mooney (born and raised in Natural Dam, Arkansas) writing and playing music from the age of 12. The pair met in Nashville in December of 2012 and immediately began writing songs and performing together. Developing a bright and contemporary country-pop sound, the duo was signed to Warner Bros. Nashville, which released an infectious debut single, "19 You + Me," a song the duo wrote with Danny Orton, in the summer of 2013. "19 You + Me" peaked at seven on Billboard's Country chart. In the spring of 2014, Dan + Shay dropped their debut album, Where It All Began, which included "19 You + Me." "Show You Off" went to 29 in 2014 and, after the seasonal single "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," it was followed by "Nothin' Like You," a single that peaked at 5 on the Country chart. It set the stage for Dan + Shay's next album, Obsessed. Released in June of 2016, it was preceded by the single "From the Ground Up," which reached nine on the Billboard Country charts earlier that year. 

~ Steve Leggett, Rovi

 

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Maren Morris

 

 

 

 

 

Maren Morris is a singer and songwriter whose music bridges the gap between hard country, classic rock, and hip-hop-influenced pop, and has enjoyed success both as a tunesmith and as a performer. Maren Morris was born in Dallas, Texas on April 10, 1990, and she grew up with a love of music, saying she was always willing to belt out a tune on the family's karaoke machine by age ten. By the time Morris was 14, she had learned to play guitar and began playing professionally, self-releasing a debut album, Walk On. Morris had struck a deal with Smith Music Group when she dropped her second album, 2007's All That It Takes; Morris' songwriting was strong enough that she either wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's 13 tracks. Morris graduated high school and was attending the University of North Texas when she self-released her third full-length, 2011's Live Wire. A year later, she left Texas for Nashville, determined to shift her career into high gear. After winning an "Artist on the Verge" prize at the New Music Seminar, Morris first got her foot in the door as a songwriter, signing a publishing deal with Yellow Dog and writing tunes for Tim McGraw ("Last Turn Home") and Kelly Clarkson ("Second Wind"). In addition, Morris ramped up her touring schedule, sharing stages with artists as diverse as Pat Green, Radney Foster, and Marty Stuart, and performing for artists in Europe and the United Kingdom as well as the United States. In 2015, Morris released a digital single about the close connection between music and driving titled "My Church." The song became a viral hit, generating over 2.5 million streams in a bit longer than a month. The major labels in Music City took notice, and Morris signed a deal with Sony Music Nashville, who dropped a five-song EP featuring "My Church" in November 2015. Sony serviced "My Church" to country radio in anticipation of Morris' full-length debut Hero, which appeared in June of 2016. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Darius Rucker

DARIUS RUCKER 

Rucker continued to tour and perform with Hootie & The Blowfish while working on his sophomore solo effort, a country album called Learn to Live. The album's first single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" jumped to to Top 20 on the Billboard charts in July of 2008, making Rucker the first African-American singer to reach the top of the country charts since Charley Pride in 1988. Rucker's newfound fame in the country realm also earned him an invitation to the Grand Ole Opry later that year, and his performance earned a standing ovation.

Rucker's single eventually hit number one on the country charts, and the album received platinum status in 2009. The album's next two singles "It Won't Be Like This For Long" and "Alright" also hit the top of the charts, making Rucker the first country music singer to have his first three singles reach number one since Wynona Judd in 1992. Rucker's album also gained the attention of critics, and earned him two Country Music Association award nominations in 2009, including Male Vocalist of the Year. 

Continuing to thrive as a country music artist, Rucker released Charleston, SC 1966 in 2010, which topped the country album chart and featured the hit "This." His next record, True Believers (2013), helped him add another Grammy to his collection. The song "Wagon Wheel" earned him a win in the best country solo performance category in 2013. His most recent effort, 2015's Southern Style, was another success, lifted up by such songs as the title track and "Homegrown Honey."

 

In his private life, Rucker enjoys football, and hanging out with close friends Brad Paisley and Tiger Woods. He married long-time girlfriend Beth Leonard in 2000. The couple resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with their two children. Rucker also has a child with a former girlfriend.

 

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Little Big Town

LITTLE BIG TOWN 

 

Country vocal quartet Little Big Town began with Kimberly Roads and Karen Fairchild, two Georgia natives who began singing together in college. Arkansas-born and Alabama-raised Jimi Westbrook, a friend of Fairchild's husband, joined them to make a trio, and the group was completed by the addition of Arkansan Phil Sweet in 1998.

 

From the outset, Little Big Town devoted their sound to harmony and multiple lead vocals, a combination that made the band a hard sell at first. They finally landed a deal at Mercury Records, but it fell through due to disagreements about musical direction. In the wake of the success of the Dixie Chicks, however, Little Big Town suddenly seemed a more likely commercial proposition, and they were taken up by the Dixie Chicks' label, Monument Records, in 2000. Recording sessions lasted longer than usual for a country release, but Monument finally issued the band's debut single, "Don't Waste My Time," in the winter of 2002. The song was on its way up the charts when its accompanying album, Little Big Town, arrived in May. Although the debut produced several minor hits, Little Big Town didn't become a superstar act until 2005, when The Road to Here yielded four Top 20 singles (including the ballad "Bring It on Home") and earned the group its first platinum record.

 

A Place to Land followed in 2007 and netted three singles, none of which made it into the Top 30, but the band's profile continued to grow due to incessant touring and supporting acts from Sugarland to Carrie Underwood. Fairchild also guested with John Mellencamp on his album Life Death Love and Freedom. In May of 2010 "Little White Church" appeared as a single that peaked at number 14 on the Billboard country chart; in August of that year, Little Big Town's fourth studio album, The Reason Why, was released by Capitol. 
 

The band returned in 2012 with the single "Pontoon," which wound up topping Billboard's country chart. The band's fifth full-length album, Tornado, followed in September 2012. It was their first release to be produced by ex-In Pursuit member Jay Joyce, and it became their highest-placed album on the Billboard 200 up to that point, reaching number two. Joyce was retained for their next album's sessions and the resulting record, Pain Killer, appeared in October 2014, preceded by the single "Day Drinking." That single went to four on Billboard's Hot Country chart but it was soon overshadowed by the ballad "Girl Crush," which topped the Hot Country chart and crossed over into the pop Top 20 on its way toward winning two Grammy Awards in 2015. Little Big Town capitalized on this crossover by collaborating with Pharrell Williams for Wanderlust, a brief album that appeared upon short notice in June 2016. Little Big Town returned to country in early 2017 with The Breaker, an album that was preceded by the Taylor Swift-written single "Better Man." ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

 

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Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley’s career in country music could be taught in music business classes because of its rare balance of commercial success and artistic breadth. Most young Nashville newcomers who gravitate to the Station Inn and the city’s bluegrass heritage are not the ones who wind up on arena stages. The city’s not programmed that way, even if it should be. But Dierks made some savvy choices, soaking up sound and wisdom on Tuesday night bluegrass shows and on Wednesday nights on Lower Broadway with the twanging, electrifying Jamie Hartford Band. In those same days, his day job at The Nashville Network’s tape vault gave him access to a library of classic country music performances, which he soaked up like a sponge. 


Under these many influences, he wrote and recorded songs that honored the past and the heritage while saying something fresh. Early songs like “I Wish It Would Break” and “Bartenders, Barstools and Barmaids” suggested this was a writer/artist who could add something to the country tradition while speaking a contemporary language. That promise was fulfilled upon teaming up with Capitol with the shocking No. 1 debut “What Was I Thinkin’?” It continued with indelible hits, including “Settle For A Slowdown” and “Every Mile A Memory.” 

The tone for Dierks’s career was truly set in 2005. He won the CMA’s Horizon Award for most exceptional emerging artist. And his passion for and stewardship of classic country music earned him membership in the Grand Ole Opry, where he was the third youngest artist ever to be inducted. The first Grammy Award nominations came in 2007 and they quickly became routine. Through the critically acclaimed Up On The Ridge album, he’s earned ten Grammy nods. And throughout, Dierks has pursued a broad-based strategy on the road, juggling arena dates supporting George Strait with club and college shows and now balancing headliner status in country music settings with gritty, jammy tours of rock venues. 

“I walk a different path,” Dierks says. “Because of my love of acoustic music, I have opportunities to do different musical things. It’s not just one type of show, which I really think would be a lot easier!” Reflecting on a career that’s sent him from the bars of Lower Broadway to the top of country music, Dierks is a mix of amazement, gratitude and determination. “I don’t know what the next ten years holds but I think I’ve put myself in a position where I can satisfy all of the different things that I love about music.” 

Throughout this journey (and critical to it), Dierks has sought out and made use of technologies that could help erase the distance between himself and his fans. The website that went up before the release of Home is perhaps the most audacious expression of that yet. The album’s cover is rendered as a mosaic of miniscule images farmed form Dierks’s nearly 200,000 Twitter followers. Drag over it, and the faces pop out in a magnifier. Click on any tile, and up pops what they’ve been saying – to Dierks and each other. It’s like a microcosm of everything Dierks has cultivated in his fan base: connectivity and immediacy. 

He’s done things his own way, satisfied his own muses and done all he can do to bring all kinds of fans along with him. There’s every reason to think they’ll follow him Home too.

 

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Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton may have been an unlikely candidate for superstardom but that's hardly due to a lack of charisma. Shelton possessed a warm, masculine ease that lent his rowdier numbers a sense of sly humor but this relaxed touch also made him an effective crooner of ballads, the ace in the hole that helped him cross over from country to the mainstream in the 2010s. His transition to being a household name certainly was assisted by his starring role as a judge on NBC's hit musical competition The Voice, but by that point Shelton had racked up plenty of number one country hits, beginning with his 2001 debut "Austin" and running through "Some Beach," "Home," "Doin' What She Likes," "She Wouldn't Be Gone," "Hillbilly Bone," "All About Tonight," and "Honey Bee," the 2011 single that went triple platinum around the time The Voice hit the airwaves. 

 

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Billy Currington

Billy Currington was born on November 19, 1973 in Rincon, Georgia. His first single, "Walk a Little Straighter," was released in 2003, and drew heavily on Currington's experiences with an alcoholic father (the chorus for the song was actually written when Currington was only 12 years old.) A debut album, Billy Currington, was released on Mercury Records in 2003. Currington returned to action in 2013, releasing the single "Hey Girl" in March and then delivering the full-length We Are Tonight that September. The album debuted at five on the Billboard Country charts. In 2015, Currington returned with Summer Forever, an album preceded by the single "Don't It" -- a song that reached number four on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart.

 

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Keith Urban

Born in New Zealand and raised in nearby Australia, Keith Urban made his biggest splash in Nashville, where he helped rewrite the rules of contemporary country music. By embracing drum loops and elements of Top 40 pop, Urban wrote songs that appealed to a wide audience, effectively satisfying his Nashville fans without alienating those more accustomed to pop music. He also became a genuine celebrity, known for his good looks, his marriage to Nicole Kidman, and his outspoken battle with alcoholism. Even so, it was the music that maintained Urban's career, from his work with the Ranch during the late '90s to the acclaimed solo albums that followed.

 

Australian country music was primed for a revolution at the start of the '90s, and Keith Urban -- young, brash, and blonde, with a guitar style that owed heavily to rock & roll -- was part of that transformation. After signing with the Australian branch of EMI Records, he issued his first album and scored several number one hits in his home country. Even so, Urban's sights remained set on Nashville, Tennessee, which he considered to be the birthplace of the music he loved. Having already taken trips to Nashville to forge career bridges, he soon decided to base himself in the city.

 

Urban was invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry by Vince Gill in April 2012; he accepted and was inducted later that month. In September, he joined American Idol as a judge. Urban continued to work on his album through all of this activity. Inspired to create something new, he worked with producer Nathan Chapman to add subtle funk and hip-hop elements to his country-pop sound.

 

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Tim McGraw

Samuel Timothy McGraw was born in Delhi, Louisiana on May 1, 1967. Though he didn't know it until years later, his father was baseball player Tug McGraw, a star relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets who'd had a brief affair with McGraw's mother. He was raised mostly in the small town of Start, Louisiana, near Monroe, and grew up listening to a variety of music: country, pop, rock, and R&B. He attended Northeast Louisiana University on a baseball scholarship, studying sports medicine, and it was only then that he started playing guitar to accompany his singing. He played the local club circuit and dropped out of school in 1989, heading to Nashville on the same day his hero Keith Whitley passed away. He sang in Nashville clubs for a couple of years and landed a deal with Curb in 1992. His debut single, the minor hit "Welcome to the Club," was released later that year, and his self-titled debut album appeared in 1993 but failed to make the charts.


McGraw's fortunes changed with the lead single from his 1994 sophomore effort, Not a Moment Too Soon. "Indian Outlaw" was embraced as a lighthearted, old-fashioned novelty song by fans but was heavily criticized for what some regarded as patronizing caricatures of Native Americans. Despite some radio stations' refusal to air the song, it reached the country Top Ten and even crossed over to the pop Top 20. All the publicity helped send McGraw's next single, the ballad "Don't Take the Girl," all the way to the top of the country chart; it too made the pop Top 20. The album kept spinning off hits: "Down on the Farm" hit number two, the title track went to number one in 1995, and the novelty tune "Refried Dreams" also reached the Top Five. Not a Moment Too Soon was a genuine blockbuster hit, eventually selling over five million copies and topping both the country and pop album charts; it was also the best-selling country album of the year.
McGraw's follow-up, 1995's All I Want, immediately consolidated his stardom with the number one smash "I Like It, I Love It." The album topped the country chart, reached the pop Top Five, and sold over two million copies. Once again, it functioned as a hit factory thanks to the number two "Can't Be Really Gone," the number one "She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart," and the Top Five "All I Want Is a Life" and "Maybe We Should Just Sleep on It."

 

Over 1996, McGraw supported the album with an extensive tour, accompanied by opening act Faith Hill. In October, after the tour was over, McGraw and Hill married, in a union of country star power that drew plenty of attention from mainstream media. It doubtlessly helped McGraw's next album, 1997's Everywhere, become another crossover smash; it topped the country chart, fell one spot short of doing the same on the pop side, and sold four million copies. The lead single was a McGraw-Hill duet called "It's Your Love," which not only hit number one country, but made the pop Top Ten. Three more singles from the album -- "Everywhere," "Where the Green Grass Grows," and "Just to See You Smile" -- hit number one, and two others -- "One of These Days" and "For a Little While" -- reached number two. Meanwhile, "Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me," another husband-and-wife duet from Hill's 1998 album Faith, climbed into the Top Five.

 

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Sam Hunt

Country singer/songwriter, guitarist, and pianist Sam Hunt was born and raised in rural Cedartown, Georgia, where he was a gifted athlete and had a fine career as a college quarterback at both Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although he was good enough to be signed as a free agent for a time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt was drawn increasingly to music. He had grown up on, and loved, 1990s country, and after hearing all manner of rap, R&B, and other urban pop styles in college locker rooms, he developed a singing and songwriting style that gently blended all of this, and he headed off to Nashville, ground zero for hopeful country songwriters, to begin his career.

 

Quickly signed to a publishing deal, he applied the self-discipline he learned as an athlete, and began writing better and better songs, finally breaking through when songs he wrote or co-wrote were recorded by country stars Kenny Chesney ("Come Over," which went on to become a number one single), Keith Urban ("Cop Car"), Billy Currington ("We Are Tonight"), and others. Hunt made his commercial recording debut when he independently released a single, "Raised on It," in 2013, followed by a 15-song demo mixtape called Between the Pines that same year, also independently released. Hunt signed a recording deal with MCA Nashville early in 2014, and the label released a single, "Leave the Night On," that same year in advance of an album. "Leave the Light On" became a number one country hit later that year, setting the stage for the October release of Hunt's debut, Montevallo. It debuted at number one on the country chart and number three on the pop chart and generated three additional hits: "Take Your Time" and "House Party," which both reached number one, and "Break Up in a Small Town."

 

 

Sam will be embarking on a major concert tour this year.

 

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Florida Georgia Line

With their innovative fusion of country, rock, hip-hop and pop, Florida Georgia Line have already proven themselves as a once-in-a-generation force of change in modern music, but the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley is far from done pushing the envelope. With the release of their third album, Dig Your Roots, FGL is showcasing a whole new musical evolution.
 
Since breaking out in 2012 with the mega smash “Cruise,” Hubbard and Kelley have solidified their place as one of the elite acts in country music, earning honors from every major awards body – including three consecutive Vocal Duo of the Year titles from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.
 
They’ve sold almost 26 million tracks and over 3.5 million albums worldwide, claiming the first Diamond-certified single in country history for sales of over 10 million copies along the way (“Cruise”). Each of their 11 singles has reached platinum or gold status (with an astonishing 11 No. 1s), both of their previous albums (Here’s to the Good Times and Anything Goes) have earned platinum or double platinum standing and the duo sold over 1.5 million concert tickets in 2015 alone.
 
 

Thomas Rhett

 

Thomas Rhett was born March 30, 1990. In 2012, Thomas Rhett released his debut single, "Something to Do With My Hands." The song topped out at #19 on the country singles chart. In fall of 2013, the young singer released his major-label debut, It Goes Like This. The title track was co-written by his father and sailed to #1 on the country radio charts.

 

After years of being nominated for a few CMA Awards, he finally went home with his first win in 2016 for Single of the Year for his song " Die a Happy Man " .

 

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Eric Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born on May 3, 1977, country singer Eric Church started writing songs and performing as a teenager, and he released his first album, Sinners Like Me, in 2006. His rock-influenced country style really began to catch on with his second album, Carolina (2009), and with Chief in 2011, Church had established himself as a country music star. His latest release is 2014's The Outsiders.

 

 

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Zac Brown Band

 

Zac Brown Band

 

Three-time GRAMMY winners and multi-platinum artists Zac Brown Band have become one of music's most heralded acts. The band's three platinum-selling albums, Uncaged, You Get What You Give, and The Foundation have sold over seven million copies total and produced a historic series of eleven #1 hit singles. In 2014, Zac Brown Band performed for two million fans including a sold out, two-night stand at Fenway Park, a packed show at Wrigley Field and a Veteran's Day performance with Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl on the National Mall in Washington, DC. 

 

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Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert is a Grammy Award-winning country music star and singer-songwriter. Her 2005 major label debut album, Kerosene, went platinum.

 

Miranda Lambert was born on November 10, 1983, in Longview, Texas. Her family helped to finance her first recording in 2001. Lambert later became a contestant on Nashville Star. She finished as second runner-up, but landed a contract with Sony Music. Her major label debut album Kerosene (2005) went platinum.

Miranda Leigh Lambert was born on November 10, 1983, in Longview, Texas. When she was in her 20s, Miranda Lambert emerged as one of country music's rising stars. She grew up in Lindale, a small town where her parents ran a private detective agency. Her father was also a guitarist and songwriter, and she grew up listening to such country music greats as Merle Haggard and Guy Clark.

At the age of 10, Lambert entered her first country music talent show. Her budding career got a boost from performing on Johnnie High's Country Music Revue, a weekly variety show in Arlington, Texas. This program helped launch the careers of several other country music stars, including LeAnn Rimes and Lee Ann Womack. Another talent contest led to some acting work, appearing in a commercial and the teen comedy Slap Her She's French(2001).

Inspired by such singer-songwriters as Emmylou Harris, Lambert began writing her own songs after learning how to play the guitar from her father. She started her own band called Texas Pride at the age of 17 while still in high school. Focused on a career in music, Lambert graduated early from school to pursue her dream.

Her own family supported her efforts, helping to finance and promote her first recording, an independent self-titled CD, in 2001. Two years later, Lambert got a big break when she passed the auditions for a new country music reality show, Nashville Star. She moved to the country music capital to compete for a recording contract among other prizes. While she didn't win, Lambert still landed a major label contract with Sony Music after becoming the show's second runner-up. "I was hoping not to win," she said in a statement on her website. "The winner had to go in right after the contest and make a record in a couple of weeks, and I wasn't ready."

In 2004, Lambert released the single "Me and Charlie Talking," an up-tempo tale of puppy love. It was a modest hit and was soon followed by her first major label album, Kerosene (2005). After the album's release, Lambert went on tours with George Strait and Keith Urban.

Debuting at the top of the country music charts, Kerosene surprised some listeners with its fiery lyrics. "I don't write about angels, Jesus, happy days, kids. I grew up on drinkin', cheatin', love gone bad," she once explained. Clearly, her songs struck a chord with the music-buying public—the album sold more than 900,000 copies.

Also a hit with critics, Kerosene earned several positive reviews from a variety of sources, from Rolling Stone to the New Yorker magazine. Lambert earned several award nominations from the Academy of Country Music, including for top new female vocalist. The following year, she did win the ACM Award.

In 2007, Lambert had another hit album on her hands. Crazy Ex-Girlfriendstarted out at the top of the country album charts and reached as high as number six on the Billboard 200 charts. The title track became a popular hit and anthem of sorts for former girlfriends everywhere. "Gunpowder & Lead" tells the story of a woman seeking to kill her abusive significant other. On the other side of spectrum, Lambert appears unusually vulnerable on "More Like Her." She also reflects on her love of rural life in "Famous in a Small Town."

Along with being a strong seller, the album has brought Lambert a lot of positive critical attention. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won an ACM award for album of the year, and Lambert earned the ACM Award for top new female vocalist. Lambert also received a Grammy Award nomination (best female country vocal performance) for her single "Kerosene." At the 2008 ACM Awards,Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won album of the year.

For 2009's Revolution, Lambert seemed to find her romantic side with such songs as "Making Plans" and "Love Song"; she worked on the No. 1 country album with fellow country star Blake Shelton. 

Later in 2011, Lambert teamed up with Angaleena Pressley and Ashley Monroe. The trio, known as Pistol Annies, released the hit album Hell on Heels that September. Lambert continued with her success as a solo act as well, releasing Four the Record that same year.

Lambert has remained one of country music's most popular stars. In 2013, she was one of the big winners at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Lambert took home two awards for her song "Over You" and was named female vocalist of the year. Lambert's winning streak continued that November. At the CMA Awards, she was named female vocalist of the year.

Lambert continues her reign as one of country's most popular performers. In 2014, she released Platinum, which featured such hit tracks as "Automatic" and "Somethin' Bad." The record also earned several CMA Awards, including single of the year and album of the year, and won a Grammy in 2015 for Best Country Album.

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Kenny Chesney

With the release of his 13th studio album, Welcome to the Fishbowl, June 19th on BNA Records, Kenny Chesney opts to find that gear and put the pedal to the floor in what’s destined to be a milestone chapter in an already historic career. Chesney calls Fishbowl the “most emotional” record he has ever recorded. With so many songs that already form the soundtrack to so many people’s lives, that in itself says a lot. But more than that, Fishbowl’s 12 songs showcase one of country music’s most important artists at the peak of his powers, simultaneously blending confidence and vulnerability, bravado and longing, in a way few artists could master, regardless of genre. 

Longtime fans and newcomers alike will find Chesney’s Fishbowl both familiar and adventurous, with surprises around every corner and insightful observations at every turn. This is Chesney at his most ambitious and fearless, challenging the listener while providing an unforgettable ride. If Chesney crossed his own boundaries with 2009’s critically acclaimed Hemingway’s Whiskey, he ignores them completely this time around. Yet, with its melding of good times and deep longing, Welcome to the Fishbowl is unmistakably Kenny. And this is a good thing. 

Produced by Chesney with longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon, Fishbowl delivers great songs penned by both Chesney himself and a diverse mix of top-shelf songwriters. Chesney says that in making the album he felt “solid in his skin” in his roles as songwriter, producer and interpreter of songs. “I’d been through a lot emotionally since Hemingway’s Whisky came out, and I think that’s reflected in this record,” he says. “My main goal when I went into the studio was to be honest with my fans and myself as a songwriter and a creative person. I do feel like, now more than ever, that I’m comfortable at being authentic, wherever that leads me. That’s why I’m proud of this record, because every song on it has been an evolution.” 

The songs themselves are all sterling additions to the Chesney canon, and range lyrically and stylistically more than any Chesney album perhaps ever. Whether dealing in one way or another with the loss of loved ones, the astute cultural observations of the title cut, the never-ending challenges of romantic relationships, or simply a primer on having a hell of a good time, Chesney hits what he aims for without fail. Chesney admittedly challenged himself on Welcome To The Fishbowl, and listeners benefit from the process. 

“There are songs on here I might not have had courage enough to put on a record in the past, and now I feel like it’s essential that I do these kinds of things at this point in my career,” Chesney says. “If there’s a thread on this record, it’s a thread of searching. ‘Come Over’ has it, ‘Always Gonna Be You’ has it, ‘El Cerrito Place’ has it. 

These songs have a sense of longing and searching and just trying to figure it all out, to find that one thing we all search for, especially if you’re a busy, creative person, and that’s balance.” 
Balance in life and balance in the listening. In an era when many albums come off as collections of unrelated songs, Fishbowl is conceived as a body of work and is sequenced to perfection, with heart wrenching lows expertly balanced against thrilling highs. At its core, Fishbowl is a commentary on the human condition, delivered with memorable melodies and complete artistry. Chesney took the freedom to let the record develop at its own pace, and it shows in the final product. 

“We didn’t finish Hemingway’s Whiskey and say, ‘I want the next record to come out 18 months from right now.’ If Welcome To The Fishbowl wasn’t done, I wasn’t going to put it out,” he says. “But I felt like I said what I wanted to say, and I felt like the songs that we had and the sequence that we had was very tight and very listenable. You hope you end up with a collection of songs that says what you want to say, that makes the listener think, lets ‘em laugh, lets ‘em cry, miss somebody, love somebody, want to party at a show. That’s when I know that I’ve got it, and to add anything else would just be muddying the water.” 

The water in Fishbowl is crystal clear. Listeners will surely relate to the barely contained urgency of the smoldering “Come Over,” celebrate with the delightfully non-judgmental throwdown of “Feel Like A Rock Star,” (with Tim McGraw), revel in the quirky social commentary of the title cut, and see themselves in the smartly observed “I’m a Small Town.” Sporting memorable melodies and charismatic vocals, “While He Still Knows Who I Am” and the haunting “Sing ‘Em Good, My Friend” are two of the more emotionally-charged songs Chesney has ever cut, and “El Cerrito Place” carries a sense of isolation that stays with the listener long after the last note is played. Conversely, “Makes Me Wonder” is all bluesy, upbeat romance, and “Time Flies” is a classic Chesney party anthem sure to be a showstopper on this summer’s ‘“Brothers Of the Sun’ Tour” with McGraw, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, and Jake Owen. Chesney’s confident vocals, the masterful musicianship, and artful sequencing take listeners on a ride that will touch on every aspect of living life. 

Chesney says striking a balance between taking his fans in new directions and giving them what they want is a conscious choice that he specifically strived for on the previous album. “When you’ve been as blessed as I’ve been with all the songs I’ve had on the radio, it would be really easy to internally get complacent,” Chesney admits. “Any artist could be tempted to say, ‘this is what’s always worked, so this is what I’m gonna do.’ But, especially before I went in to cut Hemingway’s Whiskey, I realized that I just can’t keep re-releasing ‘Beer In Mexico’ every time. That song has its place, I love it and I’m proud I wrote it. But I really felt like that it was time for me as an artist to find songs and write songs where the melodies were different and what it was saying was different. To be able to push myself as an artist, and more importantly push my audience but not alienate them, that’s a fine line to walk. And I think we did that with [Whiskey’s] ‘Somewhere With You’ and ‘You And Tequila,’ and I think there are several moments on this record that will do that, too.” 

Chesney says Fishbowl, “defines me where I am right now, and I’m happy about that. Getting to this spot has been years of work; I didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m gonna start being honest with my fans and myself.’ It takes some time to be that vulnerable as a person, especially when you’re in the public eye.” 

With the release of Welcome to the Fishbowl, Chesney is sure to be in the public eye in a big way. Chesney remains country music’s top ticket seller, moving more than a million tickets every time he takes his show on the road. The Brothers of the Sun stadium tour launches June 2 in Tampa, Florida, is already one of the hottest tickets of the summer, and several songs from the new record are sure to make the set list, including the hit single with McGraw, “Feel Like a Rock Star.” 

Chesney welcomes both veteran fans and newbies. “I’m excited about the people that have been on this train with me a long time, listened to my music, dreamed this dream with me and saw everything that has happened,” he says. “I’m excited for them to hear this music and the evolution of where it’s at, and where I’m going. And I’m also excited for those people that are at their first show, that never bought one of my records, that don’t know anything about me at all. If Welcome to the Fishbowl is their first Kenny Chesney record, I’m really glad that this is their first one. I’m that proud of it.”

 

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Jason Aldean

Multiple ACM “Male Vocalist Of The Year” Winner Jason Aldean released his sixth studio album Old Boots, New Dirt on October 7, 2014.

 

The release’s smoking lead single “Burnin’ It Down” earned Platinum certification in only 9 weeks, making it the fastest selling single of 2014. 

Aldean has sold over ten million albums and has taken 13 trips to #1 on the Country Radio charts.

 

Each of Aldean’s albums has been certified Platinum with his last album Night Train earning Platinum certification only four weeks from its release. 


Aldean sold out each of the shows on his previous Night Train Tour – often in minutes the day they went on sale. He has broken over 40 venue attendance records, and the tour has gone on to sell an unparalleled 1.9 million tickets - most recently launching his 2014 Burn it Down Tour.

 

Courtesy of CMT

Album Photo: Broken Bow Records


Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan, like many, listened to his musical heroes and wanted to be a country music star when he grew up. Unlike most of those other kids, Bryan has achieved his dreams as he prepares to release his latest round of new music, the seventh and final installment of his unique “Spring Break” series- “Spring Break…Checkin’ Out.” 


He’s sold more than seven million albums, 27 million tracks and has 12 No. 1 hits and back-to-back double-platinum albums. He celebrated his best touring year ever in 2014, performing for 1.7 million fans. He’s a two-time Entertainer of the Year. A television host. 


What was the difference between Bryan and all those other dreamers? Bryan realized a little bit of singing and songwriting talent, a dimply smile and a pleasant voice will only take you so far, so he decided to work at it. 
Sure, he listens to his musical heroes as a fan, but he analyzes them, too.

 

He might be singing about late-night parties and lazy long weekends up there on stage, but in reality he’s up and working out in the morning so he can work it out at night for fans. 


“When you work hard, take life moment by moment, stay positive and trust in the bigger picture, moving forward is the only path to take,” Bryan said. “I know that this is my moment for my career, for my friends and family, for making my time matter. I don’t take a second for granted. It’s cliché. But it is true. Live life to the fullest every day. Every moment counts.” 
 
His tireless album “Crash My Party,” which had the biggest debut week at the time for a male country artist in more than a decade continues to resonate with fans 18 months after release. He recently scored a record sixth consecutive No. 1 singles on the Mediabase country chart from the double-platinum record  (“Crash My Party,” “That’s My Kind of Night,” “Drink A Beer,” “Play It Again,” “Roller Coaster” and “I See You”). He also became the first person to have the Billboard Country Airplay Nos. 1 and 2 songs simultaneously with “Play It Again” and “This is How We Roll” with Florida Georgia Line. “Crash My Party” placed five songs at the top of that chart. 

 

Courtesy of CMT
 


Carrie Underwood

With more than 14 million albums sold worldwide, 14 No. 1 singles, with six as co-writes, five Grammys, and countless other accolades—all achieved with three albums in less than seven years—Carrie Underwood remains ever-passionate, fueled by a restless creative spirit, good-natured competitive streak, and abundance of God-given talent. And now, Carrie unleashes her most ambitious project yet with Blown Away. 
 
Teaming again with producer Mark Bright, Carrie delivers a 14-song collection that covers a particularly vast expanse of emotional territory. She celebrates the understated pleasures of small-town living in “Thank God For Hometowns” and explores the exquisite fragility of life in “Forever Changed.” She’s not averse to tackling abuse and betrayal then doling out a little sweet revenge with such compelling tracks as “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs.” Musically the songs range from rollicking up-tempo anthems, such as her smash first single “Good Girl” to the island-flavored escape of “One Way Ticket” and the steel guitar-laced country lament of “Wine After Whiskey.” 
 
Such musical and lyrical diversity is the foundation of Carrie’s artistry. After all, this is a young woman who in the past year has performed with Steven Tyler on a top-rated edition of CMT’s Crossroads, scored a No. 1 country hit with good friend Brad Paisley on “Remind Me,” and sang with the iconic Tony Bennett on this year’s Grammy telecast, delivering the classic “It Had To Be You,” their collaboration on Bennett’s Duets II album. 
 
The Oklahoma native is a fan of all types of music, yet she’s purposefully planted herself in the country format, even while her eclectic tastes have influenced her creative output. She’s been careful to not get pigeonholed and prides herself on not being predictable. “I feel like I’ve taken all of my albums into as many different directions as possible while still keeping them cohesive,” she says. “I love this album from start to finish and love every song on it. There’s not one single song that’s like another song I’ve ever done. I think it’s my best album. I really do think there’s something for everyone.” 
 
Her ability to be unique yet accessible has been crucial to Carrie’s career from the beginning. She became America’s sweetheart in 2005 when she won the fourth season of American Idol, a vehicle that transformed her from a shy Oklahoma girl with a great voice to a budding superstar. Since then she’s become the popular franchise’s most successful alum. 
 
She’s won a vast array of awards including three female vocalist awards from both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM). In 2010, when Carrie garnered her second win as ACM Entertainer of the Year, she became the first female artist to win the award twice, and only the 7th female to take the award in the 40-year history of the ACM category, among Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks. Thanks to her past wins for the categories of Entertainer of the Year, Top Female Vocalist, and Top New Female Vocalist, Carrie also received the ACM Triple Crown Award, which has been won by only one other female artist—Barbara Mandrell in 2004. In addition to the above, Carrie’s won 6 American Music Awards, 6 People’s Choice Awards, 7 CMT Music Awards, 9 American Country Awards, and 7 BMI Songwriter Awards. Carrie also received a Golden Globe nomination in 2010 for Best Original Song for “There’s A Place For Us,” which she recorded and co-wrote for Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. 
 
Carrie’s 2005 debut Some Hearts topped Billboard’s Country Albums chart for 27 weeks, has sold over 7 million copies, and was voted No. 1 Country Album of the Decade by Billboard. Her 2007 sophomore album, Carnival Ride, and 2009’s Play On each debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country and all-genre album charts. Over the course of three albums, she’s saturated country radio with such hits as “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” “So Small,” “Last Name,” “Just A Dream,” “Cowboy Casanova,” “Temporary Home,” “All-American Girl,” “Undo It,” and “Mama’s Song.” 
 
Carrie’s highly acclaimed concert tours have further helped to establish her into the elite status of the country music community, or in any genre of music, with her stellar performances. In 2008, after wrapping her “Carnival Ride Tour” she became the top-selling country female touring artist of the year, selling out many of her 137 shows before 1.2 million fans. In that year, Carrie also became the most-heard artist at country radio and was named the No. 1 Hot Country Songs Artist by Billboard and No. 1 Top Country Artist by Radio & Records. In 2010, her next headline arena tour, the “Play On Tour,” played 108 shows with one million fans attending, which resulted in Carrie being named again as the top-ranked female country touring artist of the year. In 2012, in support of Blown Away, Carrie will headline another major international tour, which will no doubt be one of the hottest tickets of the year. 
 
Carrie is a proud member of the Grand Ole Opry and expanded her résumé making her acting debut in the 2011 film Soul Surfer. She can be seen in print and TV ads as the North American face of Olay beauty products, and has a long-running deal with vitaminwater®. One of country music’s most respected young ambassadors, Carrie has served as co-host of the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley the past four years. 
 
Yet for those who think they know Carrie, Blown Away is likely to catch them by surprise, particularly the cinematic title track with its swirling, atmospheric production and intense lyric about abuse and revenge. “I got chills,” she says of the first time she heard the Josh Kear/Chris Tompkins penned stunner. “I remember where I was when I heard it and called my manager and said, ‘Do not let anyone else have this song. It’s my song.’ It’s such a visual song. You listen to it and you can see everything that is happening. It’s so dramatic. I’m not a drama person, but when you can make a movie in song form in 3 and a half minutes, it’s surreal.” 
 
“Blown Away” finds a daughter getting revenge on an abusive, alcoholic father and the next song, “Two Black Cadillacs,” also has a larger-than-life cinematic quality which makes both tunes feel like mini-movies set to music. “Two Black Cadillacs” relates the story of a wife and mistress who conspire to get even with the man who betrayed them both. “It’s just more drama,” says Carrie, who co-wrote the tune with Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey. “It was so much fun creating all this drama and singing about it. That’s the great thing about being an entertainer; you’re just a big actor. When we start sitting down and writing songs, you just never know what’s going to come out.” 
 
Carrie co-wrote eight of the 14 songs on Blown Away, including the first single, “Good Girl,” which has rocketed up the charts. “ ‘Good Girl’ was one of the last ones I wrote for the album,” she says of the tune she penned with Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gorley. “We wanted something a little more fun and up-tempo. Chris DeStefano is just a mad scientist with his Pro Tools, and he can play every instrument. We walked out of that writing session with a demo. It sounded awesome. It was ready to go. We let everybody hear it, and everybody was so excited.” 
 
“Cupid’s Got A Shotgun” is another of the album’s high-energy tracks, and it gets an extra kick from Paisley contributing his signature guitar licks. “Once we got into the studio, I was like, ‘Brad Paisley HAS to play on this. He’ll make the song,’ ” Carrie says of the tune she wrote with Kear and Tompkins. “We left so much space in the song for him to come in and play. He did his thing and sounded awesome. He added that last piece of the puzzle, and it’s just so country. It’s really cool.” 
 
In addition to being musically inventive, Carrie has long been known for delivering songs with substance, and the new album delivers its share of potent messages. “Nobody Ever Told You,” which Carrie wrote with Luke Laird and Hillary Lindsey, boasts an empowering lyric and a breezy, engaging melody. “People need to hear compliments more,” she says of the song’s life-affirming lyric. “People need to hear ‘I love you’ more. People need to hear ‘You are beautiful’ more.” 
 
“Good In Goodbye,” co-written by Carrie, Lindsey and Ryan Tedder, is a bittersweet look at life beyond heartbreak that offers tender truth in the lines “As bad as it was/As bad as it hurt/I thank God I didn’t get what I thought I deserved.” On the other end of the emotional spectrum, “Thank God For Hometowns” is a sweet salute to small-town life. “I heard that one when I was going back to my 10-year high school reunion,” the Checotah, OK, native says. “I listened to the demo when I was driving in to go stay with my parents. It was just very fitting in my heart at that time.” 
 
“Forever Changed” is a beautiful ballad that brings tears to Carrie’s eyes as she discusses it. “I had a hard time recording it, and I still have a hard time listening to it,” she says of the Tom Douglas/Hillary Lindsey/James T. Slater penned ballad. “That is the most wonderfully well-written song I’ve ever heard in my life. There’s this young girl meeting the love of her life, getting married and having a baby. It takes you back in time, and there is something old fashioned about it. At the end, the mom’s obviously slipping away a little bit. It is a sad song, but it’s not meant to be a sad song. It’s about love, being forever changed, forever loved.” 
 
In a few short years, Carrie has seen the power that music has to change lives—to incite dialogue, to instill hope, and to simply entertain. She’s aware of the platform she’s been given. She respects it and appreciates every moment. “I’m very happy in my life, and I count my blessings every day,” she says. “Seven years ago when I decided to try out for American Idol, my life changed completely in the blink of an eye. I went down a different train track and took off at about a million miles per hour. I feel like I’m still learning. In the beginning, it was like, ‘Oh, I have a No. 1. That’s awesome!’ I didn’t really understand what that meant. ‘Jesus, Take The Wheel’ and ‘Before He Cheats’ were No. 1 for several weeks, and that doesn’t happen often, but I had no idea. I realize now what hard work it actually is, and I feel like I can appreciate those victories even more. Touring is more fun because I know what it’s like to headline a tour. I feel like I’m able to be more and more creative all the time. I always feel like I’m taking steps forward.” 
 
 
Image: from today.com

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