WPOC Sunday in the Country

WPOC Sunday in the Country

Revolution has cast a spark in mainstream country music, and outlaw rebel Eric Church is to blame. Since the release of his first album, Sinners Like Me (2006), Church has led his pack one-by-one through retrospective songwriting, invigorating live shows, and a hard-boiled attitude soaked in blood and sweat, and ice cold beers. Perhaps that’s why his recent No. 1 single “Drink In My Hand,” has accomplished RIAA Gold certification and his first headlining arena tour, aptly titled Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour, is experiencing record-breaking sales and prompting rave critical reviews. Moreover, there’s no doubt since the release of his ground-breaking third album CHIEF, his tenacious tribe of disciples is demanding the world’s help in catapulting their ‘chief’ of country music from smoky barroom songster to headlining arena superstar.


On board with the upheaval in naming CHIEF one of NPR’s Top Albums of The Year, renowned critic Ann Powers writes:


“Mainstream music is full of macho dudes in faded designer jeans, but it’s rare to find an artist with enough sophistication and self-awareness to make the outlaw persona feel genuine. Enter Eric Church: The North Carolina native honky-tonker who fully embraces country clichés, but sharpens them with wit, chronicling wild nights and epic hangovers with just the right amount of critical distance, and single with the cool world-weariness of someone who’s lost a few lovers and parking-lot fights.”


Rolling Stone, SPIN, iTunes, and the Los Angeles Times also joined the crusade in granting Church coveted end-of-the-year ‘top album’ accolades, and the release of CHIEF earned RIAA Gold Certified sales in only six weeks, helping to launch fan-favorite party anthem and third single release “Drink In My Hand,” to No. 1 on the country radio charts. Furthermore, positioned at the apex of life-long achievements for Church, he experienced the exhilaration of his first-ever GRAMMY nomination with CHIEF for Best Country Album.


Having kicked off Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour on January 19 in Fort Smith, AR, Church is bringing his raucous live show to arena-filled venues from New York, NY to Minneapolis, MN, Chicago, IL, Nashville, TN and everywhere in between in 2012 with special guest Brantley Gilbert.


"Normally, you have No. 1 singles before you have No. 1 albums and arena tours, but for us, it was the other way," says Church who began planning the arena tour months before ever reaching the singles summit with “Drink In My Hand." Cultivating a devoted fan base without sacrificing musical integrity and self-expression, Church has built up his following slowly, but the hard work is finally proving to have paid off.


Reflecting on his creative process when crafting the game-changing album CHIEF, Church used his opportunity to make a new record provided by his success to push his creativity and live show even further. “I have a theory that all of us only get a small window of time to make records when people will really listen and care,” he says. “It's up to us to move the needle. People like Waylon and Cash or Garth and Strait - they all took the format and said ‘We're going over here,’ and they all changed the direction of the music a little bit.”


Although his debut album, Sinners Like Me, established him as one of the most acclaimed new songwriters in country music; and the follow-up, 2009’s RIAA Gold Certified Carolina, produced the singles “Love Your Love the Most” and “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which—along with the continually escalating popularity of his hard-charging live show—elevated Church to the top ranks of today’s country stars in early 2011 at which point Church decided to take a step back to give some thought to his next creative direction.


“I took about a month off and went to a cabin in North Carolina,” he says. “We’ve always blazed our own trail and I was trying to figure out where it needed to go and, honestly, I wasn't sure. So, I didn't go anywhere for a month. Writers came out and we just wrote songs all day and all night. That really stoked the creative flame. Then, I spent the next six months on tour writing whenever I could.”


The songs that resulted illustrate Church’s impressive range. Some of the titles like his first career No. 1 Billboard single “Drink in My Hand” or “Hungover and Hard Up,” instantly show that he’s still comfortable with the expectations of his rowdy live audience. “You’ve got to know what's going to fire them up,” he says, “but, you also need to give them a twist, something they can't just go back and get from the other two records.” Other songs, like the ambitious “Springsteen” or “Like Jesus Does,” reveal complicated emotions and sophisticated song structures.


Perhaps the bravest track on CHIEF is the first single, “Homeboy,” a provocative appeal from one brother to another to get back on track and make peace with his family that was recently RIAA Gold Certified.


“‘Homeboy’ deals with social issues and with everyday life,” says Church. “It was pretty challenging for me to take that term ‘homeboy’ and use it as slang, as a destination, and then at the end, as a spiritual place. Sonically, it's like three or four different songs. It’s not something people are used to,” he continues, “and there can be a price to pay for that. I’ve had people say ‘that's strange,’ ‘it's odd’—things that some people might run from but, I think it's fantastic.”


When it came time to record the album, Church had a sound in mind that felt different from his first two releases. “This record, more than anything else I've done, is breathing and alive,” he says. “There’s a wildness to it. It’s untamed and not very harnessed.”


This energy started with the singer’s own role in the sessions. Much of CHIEF was cut live in the studio. Church played guitar with the band (and for the first time on record, electric guitar on “Like Jesus Does”) and some of the final versions even use the original tracking vocal.


Church gives credit to producer Jay Joyce, with whom he has made all three of his albums, for helping to bring this excitement out on the tracks. “There’s just a comfort level with Jay,” he says. “We’ve both learned to sit back and let each other try different paths and get farther out there. A lot of stuff we just tried, like the handclap loop on ‘Homeboy,’ just because we weren’t afraid. We never thought there was anything we couldn’t do. I think it’s the most aggressive record I’ve made because of that.”


Though Church’s focus on CHIEF is on looking forward rather than looking back, he does acknowledge that the surprising success of chart-topping single release “Smoke a Little Smoke” allowed him to explore and experiment with his new songs. Church explains, “This was the first time I picked a single because of the reaction on the road and it paid off.” And his desire to capture the intensity of his live show on record is indicated right in the title of the new album. "‘Chief' is my nickname on the road," Church reveals. "When it's show time, I put on the sunglasses and the hat, and that's how people know it's game time. This album was made from a live place; we recorded it with the live show in mind, so it just seemed right to make that the title."


If there is one thing country music needs more of, it’s the attitude that is driving Eric Church, the approach behind every song on CHIEF, the fearlessness that lets an artist swing for the fences and try to leave a mark on history. “There were safer choices I could have made for sure, but I just can't feel that helps anybody,” he says. “If you have any respect for the music, you'll use each chance you get to try to be one of the ones who moves the flag.”

"A husband-and-wife country duo comprised of Keifer Thompson and Shawna Thompson, Thompson Square combine classic rock, country, and singer/songwriter strands into a sharp, pleasant country-pop mix. Shawna grew up in Chatom, AL, where she listened to acts like Alabama and Reba McEntire on the radio and learned country songs from her guitar-playing father. Keifer hails from Miami, OK, where he was drawn to everything from Roger Miller to Merle Haggard and punk rock to heavy metal before honing his songwriting talent by listening to artists like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Shawna and Keifer relocated to Nashville the same week, and met at a singing competition a few days later -- by all accounts, it was love at first sight. Both pursued solo careers in Nashville, though, for several years before deciding to go as a duo. Thompson Square's cutting-edge style soon created a buzz, and they signed with Stoney Creek Records early in 2010 and were soon working on a debut album. An initial single, “Let’s Fight,” was released by the label in June of 2010, followed by a second single, “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” a month later in July." - Steve Leggett, AllMusicGuide

It seems that good ol’ boys and girls are everywhere country fans look these days. And while that rough-hewn sound and image has clearly established its place in the genre, it’s refreshing to encounter an artist who stands apart from the crowd—in look and style, but especially in his music.


Enter David Nail. With Sinatra-like levels of poise and class, the rare gifts of natural melody and soul, ...and a voice as enveloping as a Cumberland River fog, the Missouri native is a modern-day country gentleman. He’s Jim Reeves crossed with Elton John. Garth Brooks meets Stevie Wonder. Glen Campbell blended with Michael Bublé.


The musical result of those mash-ups is a rich sound that hearkens back to Nashville’s Countrypolitan days, when artists like Campbell—one of David’s heroes—added a dash of sophistication to country music.


“My father was a band director for 31 years and he listened to all sorts of music, including a lot of old-school Elton John. I just loved the big, lush feel of those records,” David explains. “Glen Campbell was a huge influence on me for the same reason: the arrangements, the elaborate production, the dramatic songs. Those influences all come out in what I do.”


This is specifically true on David’s vibrant new album, The Sound of a Million Dreams. “A lot of the sounds that I try to emulate and use for inspiration are from a time when pop music was called that because it was popular,” David says. “And who doesn’t want to have popular music?”


The Sound of a Million Dreams is Nail’s follow-up to 2009’s I’m About to Come Alive, which yielded the Top Ten hit “Red Light” and was also listed by Esquire Magazine as one of 50 Songs Every Man Should Be Listening To. David also received an Academy of Country Music nomination for Single Record of the Year for “Red Light.” Furthermore, Nail scored a Grammy nomination for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “Turning Home.”


Much like I’m About to Come Alive, The Sound of a Million Dreams is cinematic in its scope, with lyrics and melodies awash in imagery. In the evocative “That’s How I’ll Remember You,” it’s snapshots of baseball-game dates in Brooklyn with an ex-lover. In the swirling “She Rides Away,” the titular girlfriend makes tracks in a rusty El Camino. And in the album’s yearning first single “Let It Rain,” a contrite husband seeks forgiveness for “the one night I forgot to wear that ring."


“Imagery is so much a part of what draws me to the songs I record. I pick songs with cities in their lyrics or the names of girls because I want you to know exactly where I’m coming from and what I’m talking about,” says David. “I love painting those pictures.”


And with the album’s title track, he just may have painted a masterpiece. Written by Scooter Carusoe and Phil Vassar, “The Sound of a Million Dreams” expertly sums up David’s belief in the power of music, namely the power of a song, to create memories. It references classics by Seger, Springsteen and Haggard, all pegged to different milestones in the narrator’s life.


Nail connected with the message so deeply that he chose “The Sound of a Million Dreams” to represent the album.


“I’ve always felt that an album’s title was the most important thing besides the music. It automatically gives someone an idea of what to expect,” says David. “If you had to tell the story of me to this point, that song really sums it up.”


But the lyrics on The Sound of a Million Dreams, whether David’s or those of his co-writers, only tell part of the story. The rest unfolds thanks to David’s incomparable voice. Bourbon-smooth, full of emotion and always in control, it’s an instrument in and of itself. And the singer-songwriter knows when to let it loose or rein it in.


“I don’t want somebody to think I’m a great singer because I can sing a Stevie Wonder hit and do all the licks,” he says modestly. “With this record, I wanted to find the best songs that I could sing as best as I can, but at the same time, songs that I could sing effortlessly. And by ‘effortlessly,’ I mean emotionally, not technically. There’s a difference between singing a song on key, and singing a song that makes a person instantly feel something.”


Still, David views the album as a stepping stone of sorts—he hopes his recorded work will draw listeners out to his live show, where the real vocal magic happens. While recording The Sound of a Million Dreams, he paid close attention to how the songs might sound when performed live. It was a pivotal difference from the way he and co-producer Frank Liddell structured I’m About to Come Alive, and an approach partially adopted from being on the road with Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum. (Lady A’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, incidentally, contribute a song to the album, the soaring “I Thought You Knew,” co-written with David and Monty Powell.)


“I had the chance to see some bigger productions and the art of putting on a show,” David says of those high-profile tours. “I learned how songs are so much bigger live and I had that in the back of mind while making this record. When people hear these songs, they’ll anticipate how grand they’re going to sound onstage.” This is proved with the album opener “Grandpa’s Farm,” a sultry honky-tonk shuffle that is equal parts Little Feat and the Rolling Stones.


Ironically, the record’s first song could end up being David’s concert closer.


“That’ll be a song that you wouldn’t want to follow with another,” he declares. “With ‘Grandpa’s Farm,’ we’d leave as big as an exclamation point as we can.”


The same can be said for The Sound of a Million Dreams as a whole. It’s a definitive statement that David Nail has arrived and is committed to releasing his brand of mature country music—songs that are built around personal stories, transcendent vocals and a sense of class.


“That will always be the basis of what I do on a record and what I try to do live. If you’re looking to get rowdy and hear a lot of screaming and hollering, you’ll be disappointed,” he says with a laugh. “This record yields a different kind of enjoyment. And there are all kinds of songs. It really does epitomize the sound of a million dreams.”


And for fans of sophisticated country music, it’s a million dreams come true.

Justin Moore

"It's a dirt road, a fishin' pole, a cold beer sittin on a tailgate, an old church, a kind word, it's where I was born and raised, Heaven Ain't That Far Away."


The lyrics from Justin's song, "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away," typifies his philosophy on life. In his music and in his life, Justin embodies the soul and character of a kid from a small town.


Justin was born in Poyen Arkansas, population 272 where he'd was raised by his parents, Tommy Ray and Charlene Moore, on the family's 100 acres of land. One would have to go to Poyen to really get a sense of just how "small town" it is. There are no street lights, mostly dirt roads, a florist in an old trailer and one filling station; however, as Justin sings in his single, "Small Town USA," it's where "everybody knows me and I know them and that's the way I believe we were supposed to live." Listening to the lyrics, you know Justin's music is from the heart and that he wouldn't want to have been raised anywhere else.


His grandpa "Pa" and grandma Faynette raised cattle and, as a young boy, Justin would help feed the herd, bush hog the fields and learn about hard work. His other grandparents, "PaPa" and "Ma" lived a mile down the road, and "PaPa" taught Justin to fish and hunt and had him in a deer stand hunting before he was 1 year old.


Justin has been singing since he was 2, and at 8 years old he won the talent contest at Poyen High School. He grew up singing gospel songs in church and listening to nothing but Country music. A student of the genre, Justin can literally sing thousands of Country songs, from old to new, word-for-word and melody-perfect.


When Justin packed up and moved to Nashville right after high school at age18, he already had a manager and an offer as a writer/artist with Zomba Music Publishing. As things often go in the music business, Zomba got sold and Justin wound up signing his writing deal with Big Picture Music, headed by Keith Stegall, renowned producer of Alan Jackson, among others.


Through his attorney, Justin was introduced to young up-and-coming producer, Jeremy Stover and, as a result, Jeremy became both Justin's producer and main co-writer. This quickly led to a recording offer with Scott Borchetta's The Valory Music Co. And, while it took a few years to materialize, Justin patience and willingness to wait for the opportunity to work with Scott and his staff at Big Machine Records/The Valory Music Company (home to Taylor Swift, Reba, Jewel and Jimmy Wayne) more than paid off.


2008 proved to be a big year for Justin as he and his band were fortunate enough to tour with some of the biggest stars in Country music. January '08 included tour dates with Trace Adkins and Luke Bryan as well as an opening slot on "The Rowdy Frynds Tour" with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr., two of Justin's musical heroes. A show with Brooks & Dunn and ZZ Top was just another highlight of a great year.


Since bursting onto the Country music scene, Justin has been lauded as Billboard's "New Country Artist of 2009" and received nominations for the 2010 CMT Music Awards "Nationwide On Your Side" Award for emerging artists as well as Music Row Magazine's Breakthrough Artist of 2010.


Justin became the only new Country artist last year to earn #1 single status (for his hometown anthem "Small Town USA"). The success of "Small Town USA" made the Arkansas native the first solo artist to have a song from his/her debut album go to #1 since Taylor Swift's "Our Song" (from her Big Machine Records self-titled release) in December 2007. The hit has sold over a half million downloads to-date.


Justin's follow-up single, "Backwoods," followed suite, becoming a Top 5 hit. His new single, "How I Got To Be This Way" has already reached Top 40 status. Justin's self-titled album, which debuted on the Billboard Top 200's Top 10, was recognized as one of the Best Albums of 2009 in The New York Times' "The Year in the Arts" list by music critic Jon Caramanica - no small feat for a small town boy.


Justin spent the majority of 2009 touring alongside Brad Paisley on his "American Saturday Night Tour." 2010 finds Justin again, performing alongside Paisley on the main stage of the superstar's H20 World Tour.


As the approximately 1 million fans to whom Justin played in 2009 will attest, the rising star's live band show is high energy, non-stop, rockin' country, where his songs tell the truth about a kid from a small town who's doing all he ever wanted to do -- play Country music.

If you ask Jana Kramer to describe her life in this very moment she would say, “Dreams really do come true.” The singer/songwriter/actress has already had success with three songs that were featured on The CW’s “One Tree Hill,” where she plays the firecracker actress, Alex Dupre. Jana will debut a fourth song on “One Tree Hill” this upcoming season that will air mid-January.


Jana is no stranger to the bright lights with her impressive string of movie and television roles, but she credits her recent break into the music industry as her most important accomplishment to date.


“I love acting, but my heart and soul is in singing. I’ve been terrified to pursue this dream because it’s so personal to me. If someone tells me they don’t like my voice, it’s a lot harder of a hit to take,” said Jana. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve wanted to do music my entire life.


Growing up in Michigan, Jana is no stranger to the rich history of country music, crediting one of her favorite memories to baking cookies with her grandmother while listening to Patsy Cline. These little moments are one of the many reasons why Jana hopes to share her music with others.


And she’s doing just that as the singer-songwriter is lighting up country music with her emotionally moving songs and sweet, country vocals, selling over 150,000 digital singles in the first six months. All eyes are on Jana as she boldly graces country music with a fresh, new sound and powerful new music.


“Country music is in my blood. I love country music because it tells a story and I have a lot of stories to tell.”

The voice is straight-forward and powerful. The songs are down-to-earth portraits of real people from the American heartland. The sound is traditional, unapologetic country.


Craig Campbell is a proud reminder of one of country's strongest creative periods, building on the early-'90s legacy established by some of the genre's most successful figures: Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Travis Tritt.


The Georgia-bred Campbell was introduced with a five-song EP that landed in the Top 20 on iTunes. His self-titled debut album expands on the central themes of his life—family, friends, purpose and self-determination—with a bundle of self-written songs, all delivered with the force and conviction of someone who's lived every sentiment in every word.


"I have to believe every one of my songs," Campbell says matter-of-factly.


It's a simple premise learned through years of touring at the club level, writing songs in Nashville and playing the bars on Lower Broadway in Music City. Campbell honed his craft in bands backing Luke Bryan and Tracy Byrd, on stages where he covered Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and at an annual hometown talent contest where he won twice and eventually became the leader of the house band for other contestants.


Campbell's abilities stood out, as Nashville decision-makers discovered. In fact, he became the subject of a moderate competition. He received an offer from one of Nashville's major labels, but he was more intrigued by interest from songwriter-producer Keith Stegall—known for his work with Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band. Introduced to Stegall through radio promotion executive Michael Powers, Campbell turned down the other offer to wait while Stegall and several other industry veterans developed Bigger Picture Group, an innovative artist-development company.


Once Bigger Picture was in place, Campbell headed into the studio to work on his first project, founded on his big, commanding voice and centrist-country songwriting. "When I Get It" puts a defiant spin on a tough economy, "I Bought It" revolves around sweet revenge and "My Little Cowboy" incorporates a multi-generational storyline and a Haggard-esque instrumental hook into a Southern-rock framework. "Fish" puts a bawdy spin on romance, but—in sensitive-daddy fashion, does so in a manner that's safe for the kids to hear.

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WPOC Sunday in the Country with Eric Church, Thompson Square, David Nail, Justin Moore, Jana Kramer, Craig Campbell

Sunday, September 16 · 1:00 PM at Merriweather Post Pavilion