Corey Smith

Corey Smith

Corey Smith
While the Gettin' Is Good
The way Corey Smith sees it, he owes a debt to his fans. And it's one he is determined to repay with his 10th album, While the Gettin' Is Good. The project, released on Sugar Hill Records, marks the first time that the singer-songwriter, a wildly popular touring artist who has produced all of his past efforts, has turned over the reins to a bona fide country music producer in Keith Stegall. The result is Smith's most ambitious record yet, as well as a return on the investment made by the fans who have supported him since his first album in 2003.
"A lot of start-up acts are using fan-funded programs to finance their record. That's what my whole career has been: Kickstarter before Kickstarter. When my fans show up and buy a ticket and a t-shirt, they're investing in what I'm doing," says Corey. "It's my responsibility to invest it wisely and give them the best album I can. That's what led me to While the Gettin' Is Good."
It's also what led him to Stegall, who has produced such radio heavyweights as Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band. It was the producer's track record, country-music experience and easy-going nature that convinced Corey that he was the man to refine his signature acoustic sound. "Keith knows how to make country records," he says, "but I wanted to make my kind of country record and he understood that immediately. He simply wanted to get us comfortable in a studio environment so we could do what we do onstage every night. For me, it was very liberating to be able to focus solely on performing and not be burdened by a lot of the decision-making and drilling down that goes into producing. It was the first time I was able to go into the studio and focus on what I do best. Keith was there to handle the rest."
A collection of 12 songs, While the Gettin' Is Good was written entirely by Corey. As such, it's a deeply personal album, one that explores themes of love, hometown pride and even personal discovery. A close relative inspired one of the record's highlights, "Bend," about learning how to adapt to what life throws at you.
"I wrote 'Bend' about a family member who was struggling with issues and I realized through writing this song that I was also talking about myself at the same time," says Corey, who scored a Top 20 album with The Broken Record in 2011. "So that song really hits home."
Still, the album stands as the Jefferson, Georgia, native's most upbeat. Especially on the nostalgic "Pride," a bouncing look back at Corey's high school days, from pep rallies to game day. His children attend the same school he did and together they often attend high-school football games, where the one-time social studies teacher sees friendly faces from his past.
"I remember sitting up in the stands going, 'Man, this is so cool.' I'm so glad we decided to stay here and let my kids be a part of this tradition," he says. "'Pride' summarizes who I am and even how my career has developed."
Likewise, album opener "Don't Mind" coasts along with a New Orleans vibe, full of fiddle and clarinet. A fun, happy song, it sets the tone for the record and pays tribute to the things we all gladly bear when we're in love. It also epitomizes Corey's current worldview.
"I have a 2006 truck that runs great, so I don't need a new truck. I don't have much time to get on a big lake, so I don't need a bass boat. I could have bought some really cool stuff with the money that I spent on this record, but I didn't, because I'm happy," he says. "It's a privilege to be able to do something like this, finance it myself and not have anyone telling me how my music needs to sound."
Nonetheless, Corey has hit on the perfect song for today's country radio: the approachable ballad "Taking the Edge Off." It's a road-weary travelogue, like Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" or Zac Brown Band's "Colder Weather," about the loneliness of touring and how people who travel combat such feelings.
"It captures a certain mood that we go through, especially in the winter. It's really a grind, it gets cold and lonely, and you're taking the edge off with a drink," he admits. "I remember being in Omaha and it was cold as hell. I worked on that tune throughout the day and night there and every time I hear it, I am transported back to that time."
Now, however, Corey is focused squarely on the future. As the new album title suggests, he's ready to make a determined grab at country's brass ring while the gettin' is good. And with Keith Stegall and Sugar Hill Records behind him, the gettin' has never been better. As the perseverant Corey is fond of saying, "There is more than one way to skin a cat in country music."
"I always dreamed of being able to make a record like this. I wanted to explore all the possibilities of a song and work with a producer who was among the best and who could teach me," he says. "What makes me different is that I write all these songs, and I write them from the heart. I've lived them."
Which is exactly why his fans are willing to go along for the ride and invest so much in an artist who speaks to their way of life. To Corey, While the Gettin' Is Good is his way of opening up his heart, along with his wallet, and paying them back.
"I'm going to take the goodwill they've given me and continually invest it into making better and better records that reflect who I am and my vision," he says. "They've entrusted me with a lot, so I'm trying to be the best steward I can be."

Austin Moody

Even though Austin Moody was writing songs at 15, the bluegrass musician from East Tennessee never thought he’d make his living chasing that dream. Already enrolled into the JROTC, the young man who grew up on a family farm believed his future was in flying planes in the Air Force.

Life, though, has a way of leading the ones meant to make music to Nashville. And Music City’s business practices has a way of testing one’s love of music, turning people away from what they’re meant to do, before ultimately bringing them back – more resolved and committed to the songs they’ve written and music they’re supposed to make.

“When I came to Nashville and got a publishing deal, it was everything I thought I wanted,” the quiet musician says with a laugh. “But it didn’t make me feel the way I thought it would, and it didn’t really give me what I thought it was supposed to.”

Like so many talented young people, Moody fell in with people who knew more, but didn’t understand his vision. Raised on Alan Jackson, Don Williams, Johnny Cash, George Strait and Earl Scruggs, with a strong pull to the simple universality of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Moody’s country isn’t aligned to today’s country radio… and that’s where the divergence sets in.

“I sang ‘Folsom Prison’ at my Grandmother’s funeral. It was her favorite, and all that fast stuff,” he explains. “Growing up in Roper boots, a John Deere belt buckle, my t-shirt tucked in my jeans, I was a farm kid, and there weren’t that many of us. But that doesn’t mean the music – even the country music – didn’t rock.”

Starting on banjo at 9, showing sheep and cattle through the county extension 4-H chapter, Moody took to playing music in local bands as a way to have fun. Going to see Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives at the Carter Fold with Charlie Tomlinson, a 70-year old friend and band leader, who tried to give Stuart a copy of Moody’s homemade CD after the show, it wasn’t long before a guitar was pulled out of Tomlinson’s truck – and the teenager was singing his songs for the Grammy-winning icon.

Trips to Nashville to write clouded the waters. The Air Force was left behind. Then, like so many kids with a headful of dreams, the waters clouded again – and Moody knew he needed to hit the road. Getting into the 1990 Ford F-250 pick-up he’d rebuilt after his dad left it to rust in a field, the deep-voiced singer headed west and south.

Mexico was his ultimate destination, but finding himself was the real goal. Along the way, he ran into a hippie couple from Washington State in a remote desert, and remembered the joy of music. As the trio made friends, hiked and played guitars, a voice came across the barren land – and a mystic-fellow they called “Odd Rodd” wandered up, saying he could sing you a song and tell you your life.

Odd as it was, the song he sang captured the essence of Moody’s conflict. It also showed him the way to turn and the things that mattered.

“Make the song in your heart, the song that you sing”

“I’m headed west hoping to be blessed
But God I’m in the desert and you’re reminding me it’s all just a test.
I left behind an old heart and an old mind
I’m riding for love trying to find my own kind.”

Upon returning to Nashville, Moody recognized his trail was one he would have to cut himself. Severing his previous business connections, he continued playing touring on his own, building the base of fans who would ultimately fund Hollywood Horses.

Dreaming out loud with guitarist Justin Weaver, the pair believed there was a way to take the straightforward approach of the Heartbreakers and fuse it to the post-classic songwriting that was emerging from his collaborations with Tommy Conners, a veteran Texas writer. More Lone Star, more Laurel Canyon than mainstream country, the songs begged to be recorded with the spark of a live band.

Legendary producer Keith Stegall was attracted to the roots of Moody’s writing. Iconic songwriter/multiple CMA Musician of the Year Mac MacAnally responded to the honesty of the young 20-something’s writing. Together the pair agreed to go to Muscle Shoals to record with the core of Moody’s road band, plus Highway 101 lynchpin Cactus Moser on drums and session vet/Jeff King in the band.

Whether it’s the bar-room forward perspective-in-the-divisive world “Who’s Got The Time,” the ghostly shimmer of “Hollywood Horses,” the small town boy and big city girl soul stumble of “Lay It Down,” the redemptive benediction of “This Old Guitar” or the sweeping pledge of love “I’ll Be Back For More,” the dozen songs create a song cycle that suggests Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger or Stuart’s The Pilgrim. More than a literal story, it is a series of postcards and snapshots from Moody’s coming into his own after love, loss, disappointment and fighting for his music.

The postmarks come from vast locations, but they’re all very real places along the way. Big Bend, Mexico. Kingsport, Tennessee. Santa Monica, California. Luckenbach, Texas. San Angelus, Washington. Sheffield, Alabama. Malakoff, Texas – and yes, Nashville.

By the time the phases and stages of reckoning and awakening have been passed through, Moody, who spent his Tuesday nights playing at a classic country jam at the cash-only, smoker friendly Betty’s in West Nashville, finds himself “Up In Luck.” It is a revelatory moment. Not just of survival or knowing one’s music is to be fought for, but realizing the strongest truth exists in its most organic form.

“I knew we needed players who would mesh into a whole,” Moody says of the unorthodox approach. “We were all in a room, watching each other, feeling these songs. I was singing with the band, knowing they’d respond in a deeper way as players to each other and to what was really driving these songs.”

Even the red dirt leaning towards the mainstream “Summer In Austin” suggests the intersection between Texas music, roots rock and what’s on the radio. A little nubbier perhaps than most sleek radio confections, it offers the same kind of conviction and transparency as Chris Stapleton while landing somewhere thinking young men all eventually end up.

Moody understands. The lanky guitarist who trained horses to pay his way while living in California remembers, “Keeping my Mom up at night,” during his wild child high school days, as well as his father’s stunned bewilderment when his son walked away from being an Air Force flier. That ability to let go even saw Moody almost relinquishing his pursuit of music.

“I got to where I was so fed up with all of it,” he marvels, “I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t come to Nashville to be famous, and the music means more to me than just being on the radio. It’s so easy to sell out, because there are so many opportunities to chase things that don’t matter. But that’s only if you don’t start with the people and the music in mind.

“See, I wanted to make music people could put themselves in, and see themselves living. Every one of these songs is something I’ve done or been through, so I know what happens – and I can save people some time, or just let them know they’re not the only one going through it. To me, playing hard and recording songs like this the way we did is what really matters. To me, that’s all there is.”

Well, that – and the faith of Mac McAnally, Keith Stegall, Odd Rodd, the old hippie couple, Mr. Tipton his high school English teacher, a road band whose stuck with him and the fans who keep turning up wherever he plays.

“I had to leave to find it, and I had to leave to record it,” Moody says. “But I never forgot my roots, or the music I was raised on. I’m a country artist. It’s who I am, and how I was raised. But it’s so much more than that: it’s what I do and it comes through in everything I sing.”

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