Antone's & the Country Music Association Present:
CMA Songwriter's Series
2015 East Riverside
Austin, TX, 78741
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
CMA Songwriter's Series
The CMA Songwriters Series showcases the best of Country's mega-hit songwriters! Each night of the series features successful songwriters, who line up on stage and, with guitar in-hand, take turns telling the stories behind their hit songs and performing them in the raw as originally written.
Lee Brice is a man whose time has come. On his stunning sophomore album, Hard 2 Love (Curb Records), the four-time Academy of Country Music nominee demonstrates a new maturity and patience, both in his songwriting and vocals.
"I made my first album, Love Like Crazy, over six years," explains the South Carolina native, lifting his trademark turned-around ball cap and rubbing his forehead. "It didn't feel like a cohesive record, but more like a lot of different songs. And six years later, I've grown as an artist and a writer.
"Everything on the new album is very pertinent to who I am right now and where I am in my life. I have some very personal stuff on there, and I had to be really honest with it. Hopefully, folks will see that."
Randy Houser is a man refreshed. "I don't know how it happened, but everything in my life has started lining up," says the Lake, Mississippi native. "I must have done somebody right in the past."
Houser's own past contains no shortage of achievement, including multiple nominations for ACM and CMA Awards, a #2 single in the form of "Boots On," and songwriting credits for major names such as Trace Adkins, Justin Moore and Chris Young. In 2008—mere months after the release of his debut single, "Anything Goes"—Houser was even asked by David Letterman himself to appear on the Late Show. The singer's first full-length, Anything Goes, came out later that year, followed in 2010 by They Call Me Cadillac.
And yet despite this early success, Houser now admits that he wasn't truly happy. "It seemed like professionally things weren't as great as they could be, and that was part of it," he says. "But the biggest thing was not having a homebase. I needed an anchor." He found one last year when he married his wife, Jessa. "All of a sudden it was like I had this piece that had been missing," he says with audible gratitude. Another piece—son West Yantz Houser—arrived this past spring, as did a crisp new look and a pact with Stoney Creek Records.
"Everybody there feels like part of my family," Houser says of the independent imprint, where he happily signed following a long stretch of intensive touring. (How intensive? Think 150 shows a year.) "You walk in the door and everybody seems really happy with their job; there's no strife in the air. That's really important for me to have right now. It's comforting."
Those positive vibes ripple through "How Country Feels," the sparkling first single from Houser's upcoming Stoney Creek debut, which he's currently cutting with producer Derek George, a fellow Mississippian Houser's been wanting to work with for a decade. "It was the obvious choice for a leadoff," Houser says of "How Country Feels." "It caught my ear the first time I heard it—like, 'I wanna hear that again.'"
Other new tracks echo the single's sunny self-assurance, including "We're Just Growing Younger" and "Along for the Ride," which Houser co-wrote with Zac Brown. "We were playing a festival and I just had this song rolling around in my head," Houser remembers of the latter. "I stayed up till about 5 in the morning but then got stuck. So I called up Zac and we went on his bus and knocked it out of the park."
There is contemplation, too: "Like a Cowboy" is about "me coming home for a few days, then having to leave again," Houser says, while "Route 3 Box 250D" provides an intimate snapshot of the singer's upbringing. "That one's kind of hard to listen to," he admits. "It hits almost too close to home."
As for the album's sound, Houser says it's shaping up as his most expansive outing yet, with more bells and whistles than he's used in the past; it also showcases the remarkable voice that led Vince Gill to call Houser "one of the best in the new crop of country singer-songwriters" and caused his pal Jamey Johnson to say, "I watched a blind man jump to his feet and drop his crutches the first time he heard Randy Houser sing."
Still, the heart of the album—of Houser's entire outlook right now—remains the story of a man who's moved through darkness into light. "I feel like I've reached such a special moment," he says, and it's a true pleasure to hear him inside it.
While writing and recording his new album, Jerrod Niemann immersed himself in the history of country music. A student of music theory and production—he majored in Performance Art Technology at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas—Jerrod pondered a question that is heard more and more frequently these days: Just what exactly constitutes country?
His answer to that query can be found in the musically and technically groundbreaking Free The Music. "This album is my interpretation of how I feel about country right now," Jerrod says.
The follow-up to his Sea Gayle Records/Arista Nashville debut Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury, which debuted at No. 1 and yielded the No. 1 hit "Lover, Lover" and the Top 5 single "What Do You Want," Jerrod's sophomore album emphasizes the early instruments that have shaped the genre: acoustic guitars and bass, fiddles, and even horns.
"The pedal steel guitar has come to define country music, but there were years and years of country being made before that instrument was even invented. Horns have been in country going back to the 1920s. And fiddles and other string instruments date back even further. I took all those things and put them on Free The Music," Jerrod explains. "I made this record in an effort to try and mix 1927 with 2027, but I didn't want to disregard 100 years of what people have already done musically. Instead, I wanted to take that and do it in a way that is also representative of the future."
The result is an adventurous release that redefines the listening experience. A "headphones album" if ever there was one, Free the Music is a sonic journey through a multitude of styles, including country, rock, honky-tonk, Dixieland jazz and reggae.
While exploring these sounds, the Kansas native says he sought inspiration in the outside-the-lines approach of two seminal outlaws. "Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were very progressive in their day, and they were getting harassed by people who said, 'Hey, that's not country.' But the mistake many artists make when they first come to Nashville is that they want to be those guys so badly that they get stuck in time. It's our duty to have our own voice and come up with our own way of saying something," Jerrod stresses. "Icons like Alabama and Ronnie Milsap did that by using pop melodies. But when you hear their songs today, they've become country classics. Those artists stepped out, and I hope fans will understand that that was my goal too. I want the album to push you out of any musical comfort zone."
Jerrod took each of those big steps with great care, painstakingly fine-tuning every song on Free The Music with his visionary co-producer Dave Brainard. Together, the pair cut a new technological path in Dave's studio, using a one-of-a-kind analog-to-digital recording process to give the record a rich, organic feel. "Knowing that analog was going to be our foundation—and that we'd have the ability to easily record and re-record digitally—gave us the confidence to take more chances. For instance, we used an acoustic bass on the entire record and put horns on every song. By doing so, we got a lot of organic sounds," Jerrod shares. "I want people to realize the time and effort that we put into this album, from the beginning of the first song to the very last note."
Such exquisite attention to detail is evident throughout the 12 songs that make up Free The Music, all of them written or co-written by Jerrod. From the funky opening title track to sun-drenched first single "Shinin' on Me," the songs represent an artist committed to stretching musical boundaries while simultaneously honoring country's past.
The empowering "Get on Up" employs a unique ascending-and-descending guitar riff and a surprisingly well-fitting Mellotron. "Real Women Drink Beer," cleverly combining elements of reggae with the Bakersfield Sound, would sit nicely on a Dwight Yoakam album. "Honky Tonk Fever" has prominent jazz horns and remarkably different tempos. And "I'm All About You," featuring Grammy-winning vocalist Colbie Caillat, is a piano-driven, laid-back love song.
But it is the knockout ballad "Only God Can Love You More" that, for the first time, truly showcases Jerrod's voice as the nuanced instrument it is.
"Some people sound the same on every song, but I like to be a chameleon, like an actor in a role. For 'Only God Can Love You More,' we didn't put any harmonies on it and used my original tracking vocal. 'Lover, Lover' had a bunch of harmony parts, so I thought it'd be interesting to have zero here, especially with the French horns and the other orchestral things we have going on," Jerrod says. "Some songs just work better with one vocal. If you listen to Garth Brooks' 'The Dance,' that doesn't have any harmonies on it either. Not that I'm comparing myself to Garth by any means."
Still, the allusion to the 1990s superstar isn't out of bounds. Jerrod co-wrote one of Garth's biggest hits, "Good Ride Cowboy," and penned two others for the Country Music Hall of Famer, along with songs for Blake Shelton, Lee Brice, John Anderson and Jamey Johnson.
"The most important thing to me is songwriting. But no one can ever hear a song without a vehicle, whether it's me or somebody else singing it," admits Jerrod, who, as a writer, has more than 10 million albums sold to his credit. "If someone told me I couldn't write a song ever again, or had to choose between playing and writing, I don't know what I'd choose."
Fortunately, no one is forcing him to. Jerrod is free to pursue both of his passions on stage and in the writing room, using his gift with a lyric and melody to free the music, expand people's minds, and deliver an album that, while occasionally unconventional, is undeniably country.
"For me, it's all about the song. You can put all the bells and whistles on an album that you want, but if the songs aren't there, it's not going to work," Jerrod says, discussing the versatility of country music. "You can take all of these songs, go into a studio and record them with Nashville's amazing studio musicians, and Free The Music would sound just like a modern-country record. And that's fine. But I like to experiment."
Jerrod cracks a wry grin at this admission. Clearly, he's comfortable with his role as a musical scientist--an artist who absorbs all styles and sounds, and forms them into his own creation.
"When your ears are always on, everything seeps into your brain," he says with a laugh. "And my ears are always on."
For the past 20 years, Bob DiPiero has helped define the best that is Music Row. A legendarily funny and compelling performer, he is one of a handful setting the bar for present-day songwriter/entertainers.
As a raconteur, he may have no equal among his peers, and as a musical ambassador and bridge-builder, he has helped make Nashville a port of call for legendary performers from all genres, writing with Neil Diamond, Carole King, Johnny Van Zant and Delbert McClinton, among many others.
He is one of Nashville's most consistent and prolific writers of hits, and he remains at the top of his profession more than two decades after hitting #1 on the charts for the first time in 1983. His long string of hits includes the Oak Ridge Boys' "American Made," Montgomery Gentry's "If You Ever Stop Loving Me," Vince Gill's "Worlds Apart," Shenandoah's "The Church On Cumberland Road," Ricochet's "Daddy's Money," George Strait "Blue Clear Sky," Brooks & Dunn's "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out Of the Girl," and Martina McBride's "There You Are."
DiPiero has received three dozen BMI Country and Million-Air honors; CMA's Triple Play Award in 1995 and 1996, "Song of the Year" for "Worlds Apart" at the Country Radio Music Awards in 1997, and Songwriter of the Year awards in 1998 at the Nashville Music Awards and in 2000 from Sony/ATV Nashville.