Season 6 Artists

Season 6 Artists

Joe Jackson

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Joe Jackson was born on August 11 1954 in Burton-on-Trent, England, but grew up in the South Coast naval port city of Portsmouth.  A skinny, asthmatic kid, he loved books and originally wanted to be a writer.  At age 11, though, he joined a school violin class in order to escape the humiliation of Sports periods in which it was very often him, rather than the ball, which got kicked. Much to his own surprise, he found himself fascinated by music and eagerly studying music theory and history.

A couple of years later, Joe had switched to the piano, mainly because of his new ambition: to be a composer.  His first efforts were pieces for piano and small groups of instruments.  Within a few more years, though, he was writing songs, and leaning more towards the pop world.

At age 16 Joe played his first paying gig, as pianist in a pub next door to a glue factory just outside of Portsmouth.  This was followed by other pub gigs (in which he was often trying to entertain crowds of drunken, bottle-throwing sailors) and accompanying a bouzouki player in a Greek restaurant.

At age 18 Joe won a scholarship to study Composition, Piano, and Percussion at London’s Royal Academy of Music.  During the three years he spent there, he broadened his horizons further by working with a Fringe theatre group, studying Jazz with John Dankworth at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and playing in pop cover bands with names like Edward Bear and The Misty Set.  By the time he left the Academy, he was the co-leader and songwriter of Arms and Legs, a proto-punk outfit which released two singles on the MAM label before burning out somewhere around 1976.

Joe then took a detour through the Cabaret world, as pianist and musical director first for the Portsmouth Playboy Club and then for singing duo Koffee N’ Kreme.  The main purpose of this was to save money to make demos of his own songs.

By 1978 Joe was living in London and hawking an album-length demo, with his own band (Graham Maby, Bass; Dave Houghton, Drums; Gary Sanford, Guitar) standing by.  That demo  –  already called Look Sharp  – eventually found its way to American producer David Kershenbaum, who was in London in the capacity of talent scout for A&M Records.  Joe was immediately signed and Look Sharp more professionally re-recorded in August ’78.  The Joe Jackson Band finally started to play regular gigs and the album was released in January 1979.

 

Joe Jackson’s story up to this point is much more fully, fascinatingly, and hilariously recounted in his book A CURE FOR GRAVITY.  From here on, though, it becomes more a matter of public record. Look Sharp (containing the hit Is She Really Going Out With Him) was followed within a year by the very similar I’m The Man (containing the hit It’s Different For Girls) and in 1980 by the darker, more reggae-influenced Beat Crazy. At the end of 1980, drummer Houghton decided to quit, and Joe decided to dissolve the band and try something new.
In 1981 Jackson recorded Jumpin’ Jive, a ‘musical vacation’ paying tribute to Swing and Jump Blues artists such as Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway.  Returning to songwriting, Joe spent a large chunk of 1982 in New York. The result was Night and Day, a more sophisticated and melodic record built around keyboards and Latin percussion, rather than guitars. With a new guitar-less band, Jackson hit the road for a whole year, and the album became his biggest success, spawning the hit singles Steppin’Out, Breaking Us In Two and Real Men and going platinum in the US. During the tour Joe also somehow found time to write his first film score, for James Bridges’ Mike’s Murder.  (He would go on to write several more, including most notably for Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker in 1988).
Now based in NYC, Jackson’s next album Body and Soul (1984) was in a similar vein to Night and Day but featured a horn section (which, along with the Blue Note-inspired cover art, led many people to wrongly assume he’d made a jazz record). For Big World (1986) Jackson stripped everything down to a 4-piece again, and recorded live, direct to 2-track master. In 1989 he went in the opposite direction with the majestic, semi-autobiographical Blaze of Glory, and toured with an 11-piece band.  Laughter and Lust (1991) was more like a mainstream (though still idiosyncratic) rock record, but yet another lengthy world tour left Jackson exhausted and at a creative dead end. As he sees it, his workaholic phase  –  which also included several film scores, a live album (Live 1980-86), an instrumental album (Will Power, 1987), guest appearances with Suzanne Vega, Ruben Blades and Joan Armatrading, and endless touring  –  was over.

Joe’s work during the rest of the 1990s was his most challenging and eclectic: the gentle, soul-searching Night Music (1994), the ambitious and original song-cycle based on the Seven Deadly Sins, Heaven and Hell (1997), and the album Joe considers his most underrated, Night and Day II (2000). The turn of the century saw a burst of creativity: Jackson won his first Grammy (Best Pop Instrumental Album for the non-traditional, non-orchestral Symphony No.1) and published his book A Cure For Gravity. Described by Joe as not an autobiography but ‘a book about music thinly disguised as a memoir’, it was well-reviewed and has been translated into German and Dutch.

In 2003 Jackson astonished everyone, including himself, by re-forming the original Joe Jackson Band for a stunning new album, Volume 4, and a lengthy tour. The reunion was always intended as a one-off, but it also produced a live album, Afterlife, in 2004.

By this time Jackson was living mostly back in London. He made quite a few solo appearances, including on an unusual triple-bill tour with Todd Rundgren and the string quartet Ethel. He sang and played piano on Rickie Lee Jones’ It’s Like That and William Shatner’s Has Been(produced, arranged and co-written by Ben Folds). He made his first film appearance, as a pub pianist, in The Greatest Game Ever Played, which also features some of his music. He was also awarded a Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Music and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Portsmouth.

Around this time Joe started working with writer Raymond Hardie and director Judy Dolan onStoker, a musical theatre project about Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. Though Stoker has been workshopped, performed a couple of times for small invited audiences, and attracted a lot of interest from theatre companies around the world, it has yet to find the backing for a fully-staged production.

In 2006 Joe turned his attention back to pure songwriting and did a short Trio tour with Graham Maby and Dave Houghton. Having failed to happily re-establish himself in London, he moved to Berlin, where his next album Rain was recorded in 2007. Consisting of ten powerful, timeless new songs, Rain creates a surprisingly epic sound with just voices, piano, bass and drums. The trio toured for the next three years, and played more shows than any other J J lineup, including Joe’s first visits to Mexico, Israel, Croatia, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Turkey. A live album, Live Music, was released in 2011.

Joe Jackson’s most recent project is a tribute to one of his greatest musical heroes, Duke Ellington. The Duke is an often radical re-interpretation of fifteen Ellington classics, arranged into ten tracks, and featuring an eclectic roster of guest artists including Iggy Pop, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and other members of The Roots, Sharon Jones, Steve Vai, and jazz violin star Regina Carter, who joined Joe on the subsequent tour.

Jackson is currently living in Berlin but returns frequently to both New York and Portsmouth. He is working on new material for a new album in 2015.

Kip Moore

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For the past couple of years, Kip Moore has spent most of his time on the road, building one of country music’s most loyal audiences show by show and plotting what would become his sophomore album, Wild Ones. He was a road warrior, living out of a tour bus with his bandmates and playing more than 200 shows per year. For a songwriter who’d grown up in a quiet pocket of southern Georgia, performing to crowds across the world — crowds that knew every word to his best-selling debut album, Up All Night — felt like a dream come true. Somewhere along the way, though, the highway became a lonely place. The routine was always the same: pull into town, play a show, pack up and leave. There was no stability, no comfort. Things weren’t much easier at home in Nashville, where Moore —whose first album had sent three songs to the top of the country charts, including

“Beer Money” and “Hey Pretty Girl” —found himself receiving plenty of unsolicited advice from people who wanted to keep the hits coming…at any cost. “Once you start having a little bit of success,” he says, “all of a sudden, there are a lot of opinions about who you should be, what you should be doing, how it should be marketed. A lot of those opinions are great, but Wild Ones was influenced by me saying, ‘This is just who I am. I’m not gonna do what other people are doing. I’m not chasing a trend. I’m gonna do the kind of music I wanna do, and the kind of music I think my fans wanna hear, and that’s the end of the story.'”

From amphitheater tours with Dierks Bentley to his own headlining tours across America, Moore has spent the last three years learning what, exactly, his fans want to hear. He’s a genuine road warrior, armed with a live show that mixes the bombast and wild desperation of Bruce Springsteen with the rootsy stomp of Merle Haggard. It’s a sound built on space and swagger. A sound that bangs as hard as it twangs. A sound caught somewhere between blue collar country music and stadium-sized rock & roll. And that’s the sound that Moore’s fans, who’ve already catapulted him to PLATINUM-selling heights, want to hear.

When it came time to create new music for his second album, Wild Ones, Moore didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. He just took a look around, taking stock of the world as it flew by his bus window at highway speed. “Everything that’s taken place over the last two years —this traveling circus, these shows, the band, the toll that the road can take on you but also the exuberance it can bring —it all inspired the record,” he explains. “It’s a record about what we’ve gone through, and I wanted the music to match the intensity of what we do every night onstage. We never go through the motions, no matter how tired and exhausted we are.” Moore wrote or co-wrote all of Wild Ones’ thirteen tracks, often teaming up with songwriters like Dan Couch or Weston Davis. More than a few songs were born on the road, where Moore found himself coming up with new ones during soundchecks, inside backstage dressing rooms, and in his bunk at night. He’d arrange the songs, too, coming up with bass parts, guitar licks and drum patterns in addition to the melodies. Sometimes, he’d write some lyrics, scrap them, then write a completely different set. The emphasis wasn’t on creating the largest catalog of songs in the shortest time possible; it was on funneling the feeling of a Kip Moore concert into a single album, no matter how much time it took. Driven forward by electric guitars and gang vocals, “Lipstick” is the album’s most heartfelt tribute to the road, with each verse rattling off a list of the favorite cities Moore and his bandmates have played in the past. Other songs, like “That Was Us,” take a look backward, sketching a picture of the archetypal small-town Saturday nights that filled Moore’s teenage years in Georgia. “Magic,” anchored by one of the anthemic, open-armed choruses of Moore’s career, is loud and lovely, and “Comeback Kid” packs its punch the opposite way: by dialing back the volume and delivering quiet praise to the underdog in all of us. Befitting an album that was largely inspired by —and written on — the road, Moore recorded Wild Ones during quick breaks in his touring schedule. He’d book one or two days of studio time, then hit the road for three months, then return to Nashville and book more sessions. Gradually, the album started to take shape. Brett James, his longtime friend and ally, co-produced the project. “We created a lot of space in this record,” Moore says proudly. “It’s not a bunch of people playing all over the place. We tracked a lot of the record with just a three-piece band. If you go to most Nashville recording sessions, there’s gonna be six or seven people in the room. But we recorded this one with less people, just to allow the fans to actually listen to what’s going on. It makes everything sound bigger.” “Big.” Perhaps that’s the best description for Wild Ones, a super-sized record inspired by the grit, grind, and glamour of the live shows that have helped make Moore a country favorite. For Moore, going big was the only option. “I’ve always felt like the guy whose cards are stacked against him,” he says. “I’ve always been the underdog, but I also say, ‘You can count me out for a minute, but don’t think I’ll stay down for very long.’”

Darius Rucker

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It’s right there in the title—Southern Style.

“To me, the South means a laid-back lifestyle, beaches, family, and being able to have a good time when you want to,” says Darius Rucker. “In Charleston, where I’m from, nobody’s in a rush to get anywhere. And there’s a mentality that there’s room for everybody.

“So with these songs, I wanted to bring out the way I live, the way my friends live, and all the things that are important to us.”

The results, Rucker’s fourth solo album as a country artist, reveal a sound and a spirit that bring him closer than ever to the genre’s fundamentals. From “Homegrown Honey” ’s country-girl-gone-uptown to the back-porch party in “Dixie Cup,” the thirteen songs on Southern Style are filled with the instruments and images that define a region and its musical traditions.

“I knew that I wanted to do what great country songs do, which was to write and record songs that you just couldn’t deny,” says Rucker. “You never know until after you have the songs, but tracks like ‘High on Life’ started steering us to where we wanted to go. In the end, this might be my country-est record so far, and that really was the first thought.”

The title track and first single illustrate Rucker’s intentions. Gently rolling and irresistibly hook-filled, it’s a precisely detailed celebration of modern Southern womanhood in all its dimensions; “You can love her, you can hate her/But you’ll damn sure never change her,” he sings of the sun-kissed girl, a “Billy Graham fan like her mother” who “loves Lil’ Wayne and Lynyryd Skynyrd.”

Rucker’s three previous albums—Learn To Live; Charleston, SC 1966; and True Believers—all topped the Billboard Country Album chart, spinning off six Number One singles. But a few events in the last couple of years may have helped him dig even deeper into his country roots, even in the face of new trends that have been pushing the music into a more pop direction.

First was his induction into the Grand Ole Opry in 2012, after Brad Paisley broke the news to Rucker in the middle of a show. Then came his triumphant version of “Wagon Wheel,” the Old Crow Medicine Show song initially based on a sketch by Bob Dylan (with an assist from his tour partners and labelmates Lady Antebellum). The song hit Number One on the Country charts, and won the GRAMMY Award for Best Country Solo Performance.

“ ‘Wagon Wheel’ was one of those great anomalies in a career—you have to just be happy with something like that and go on and try to make another record,” says Rucker. “But it did help me realize that fans really do want country music from me. With everything happening in the music, on the radio, ‘Wagon Wheel’ showed that you can still have big hits with real country songs.”

Darius Rucker first attained multi-platinum status as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Hootie & the Blowfish, Since re-introducing himself to the world as a country artist, his musical life has had a truly remarkable Second Act. In 2008, he released Learn to Live; the album’s first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” made him the first African-American with a Number One country song since Charley Pride in 1983. It was followed by two more singles that topped the chart—”It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright”—and earned him the New Artist award from the Country Music Association. His 2010 follow-up, Charleston, SC 1966, included two more Number Ones, while True Believers contained another four hit singles.

Following his first Christmas album, Home for the Holidays, when it came time to work on a new album, he and long-time producer Frank Rogers went in deep. “We wrote 50 songs, so it was really fun,” says Rucker. “I fell in love with so many demos, it was a matter of sitting down and having to throw things out—and that was the tough part, because there was so much great in these songs.”

When they came up with “Good for a Good Time,” they knew they were on the right track. “That was what I was looking for,” he says, “a big, old-fashioned, sing-a-long drinking song. I’m older now, I’m a dad, I don’t go out that much. But if it’s a good song, a song I really want to sing, I can still channel the old Darius, the one who’s always ready to party. I think that’s the signature song on the record.”

Vocally, Southern Style sees Rucker expanding his range and pushing his limits. “I definitely took a bit more chances in my singing,” he says. “I didn’t record everything in that very low key; a few of the songs are up in a higher key, and it was fun hitting those notes.”

As a songwriter, Rucker also challenged himself this time around, with some of his most personal efforts to date. “So I Sang” is the confession of a man who’s always felt more comfortable expressing himself through melody than through speech, even at such turning points as his mother’s funeral.

“That’s the most honest song I’ve ever been a part of,” he says. “When you hear that, it’s telling you what my life was really like growing up. When my mom died, I couldn’t speak, I just remember singing in church with the choir, and then going home and putting on Al Green’s ‘Tired of Being Alone,’ which was her favorite song. That song is just me singing about me.”

Even after it seemed that Southern Style was finished, Rucker had a lingering sense that he wasn’t done yet, and that he could lean even harder into its countrified side. He pulled out the demos and decided to record some more of the songs with producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, Zac Brown Band), eventually adding five new tracks.

“The record had been evolving for so long,” he says, “I just wanted to go back in to some of the things we threw out, to see if they were great.” One thing that got called off the bench was “Baby I’m Right,” a bright swing duet with young vocal powerhouse Mallory Hope—“I kept going back to that one, and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t cut it. I’m so in love with that song!”

For all of the different facets of Southern Style, perhaps the song that best fulfills Darius Rucker’s intentions is the bittersweet “You Can Have Charleston,” set in his beloved hometown. “That song is all about the place—the topsails and steeples,” he says. “Even though the guy in the song is leaving, you can tell how much he loves the city. It describes Charleston so well, and when you get to that chorus, it’s just unbelievable.

“That is my south, my favorite city in the world,” he says. “It’s such a big part of who I am. I was born there, and I never plan to leave.”

George Ezra

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At 20, George Ezra has seemingly sailed in to his position as one of pop’s most talked about new artists. Even he seems unsure how it happened. The hype around the Hertford-born singer with the booming, bluesy voice certainly hasn’t gone to his head. Of his appearance on umpteen One To Watch lists for 2014, he remains refreshingly non-plussed.
“I keep being told that this is my year,” says Ezra. “Which is nice, but problematic, because I’m planning to be around in 2015 and long beyond.”
With his second EP, Cassy O, just released and a debut album, Wanted on Voyage, due in June, Ezra has continued to do as he has since moving to Bristol aged 17 to study songwriting – get on with making music.
“The way I approach songwriting is to tell myself to just shut up and do it,” shrugs the singer. “It’s the same with performing. I don’t get nervous; I just get on stage and sing. I have no airs about being a musician. I make clear that I’m a bloke with a guitar, nothing more. Then if anything goes wrong, I look like less of a knob.”
In January, Ezra took off on a completely sold out UK tour that lasted almost two months, with barely a day off. When it finished, he headed for Europe, where his song “Budapest” was rapidly becoming a hit, reaching the top10 in no less than nine countries on the continent. In Italy he stepped out of a radio station to find fans holding up photos of himself to sign.
“It was weird,” says Ezra. “A couple was in their 30s and it was a Tuesday afternoon. All I could think was, Don’t you folk have jobs to be at?”
There was never a plan to make music a career, nor does it feel like a job. That Ezra landed a record deal while in his first year at college was entirely unexpected. Of the performance on internet channel Bristol Couch that got him noticed, Ezra mostly remembers the couch.
“It was inflatable, so they could carry it around,” he recalls. “But when it was blown up, it looked like leather. If you actually required a sofa, it would probably be a good buy.”
By the time he signed to Columbia aged 18 he had, he says “only four or five songs – and I’d done twice that number of gigs. It was really early doors. I’d just met my manager and we’d decided to leave it a year before trying to contact anyone.”
But Ezra’s gloriously gutsy and ridiculously catchy blues, country and folk-infused pop was already making waves. BBC Introducing had fallen for Angry Hill, a song Ezra had uploaded to its website in early 2012 and which later appeared on his debut Did You Hear The Rain? EP. Last summer, he played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury and watched, wide-eyed, as fans filled the tent and sang along to his lyrics. In autumn, “Budapest” – from that debut EP – was put online as a free download and picked up and played by a host of DJ fans at Radio 1, long before his record label had even sent them a copy.
A couple of songs on Wanted on Voyage date back to Ezra’s college days. A lot of the album was inspired by a solo trip around Europe last summer. “Budapest” is, in part, about not making it to Budapest, but equally a surreal subverted take on the age-old notion of making sacrifices for a girl. Cassy O is about wishing the trip wouldn’t end.
“I went to Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Malmo, Vienna, Milan and Barcelona,” says Ezra. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything for a long period of time entirely by myself. And I loved it. It turns out that I quite like myself.”
Ezra took a guitar and occasionally busked, but mostly he travelled, saw the sights and filled journals with his experiences – what he’d seen, conversations he’d overheard, what was going on in his head.
“It was my way of dealing with the pressure of having signed a record deal,” he says. “I panicked a little. The problem was I was living in Bristol, traveling to London or supporting other artists on tour and not seeing anything new. It would have been fine if anyone had wanted songs about First Great Western trains and how expensive their sandwiches are. Otherwise, something needed to happen.”
Back in Bristol, reading the journals, songs began pouring out.
“When I read what I’d written, it felt like someone had handed me lyrics that were already almost finished,” here calls. “Suddenly, writing the album was easy.”
Wanted on Voyage was recorded between early November and mid January in Clapham, south London with producer Cam Blackwood. With its ‘What are you waiting for?’ refrain, album opener “Blame It On Me,” set to a skiffle shuffle, sums up the singer’s mantra of just getting on with the job, while “Listen To The Man” is a woozy, bluesy, summery-sounding lesson in self belief. Sonically, Wanted on Voyage’s most surprising song is the perky, electronica-driven “Stand By Your Gun,” which could be The Blue Nile doing disco. The funniest lyrics –and there are plenty to choose from – are probably on “Drawing Board,” a fantasy retaliation aimed at an ex when a relationship goes sour.
“It’s definitely a fun sounding album,” says Ezra. “Probably because it was such fun to make. I don’t like to say what my songs are about, but on quite a few, I take the piss out of myself, including ‘Cassy O,’ which is me laughing at myself for having such clichéd thoughts. ‘Listen To The Man’ is just a daft song that’s great to play live. On ‘Leaving It Up To You,’ I sing falsetto in the chorus, which isn’t that easy for someone with such a deep voice. On stage, I say I got girls to sing it for me, which is bollocks, but sounds pretty cool.”
All of the songs on Wanted on Voyage have been played live for months. Ezra plays guitar, bass and keyboards on the album, but didn’t attempt the drums. ‘Blame It On Me’ boasts Wanted on Voyage’s only strings – a single cello note.
“The best thing we did in the studio was use two ‘80s keyboards to make lots of strange sounds,” says Ezra.“What could be a weird beat on ‘Did You Hear The Rain?’ is actually three loops we found and mixed together –someone beat boxing, someone playing didgeridoo, and another I can’t remember. We fed loops through distortion, then made beats out of it. There are tons of that going on in the songs, which were fun in the studio, but now that I’ve got a band, is a ball ache to try to recreate live.
So it’s not all been plain sailing, and Ezra is aware there will be more challenges to overcome, but he’s keeping a relaxed attitude to it all – he’s got his head screwed on right, this one.
“Still, if it all goes wrong, I’ll be laughing as much as everyone else.”

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Brett Eldredge

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Country up-and-comer Brett Eldredge has always been drawn to singers, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s heard the Illinois native’s soulful, distinctive baritone. “I always gravitated towards big voices, because as a kid I had this big voice coming out of me,” says Eldredge. “I was hooked on the way that somebody could tell a story through the tone of their voice.” With a Country Music Association Awards’ nomination for “New Artist of the Year,” his single “Don’t Ya” climbing to No. 1 on the country charts, new single “Beat of the Music” most added at radio in its first week and debut album Bring You Back having just released on August 6 on Atlantic Records, Eldredge is finally getting the chance to share a story of his own.

Ray Charles, Ronnie Dunn, and Frank Sinatra were the “big voices” that influenced Eldredge in his younger days. When his parents bought him a guitar and a small sound system, he didn’t immediately take to the instrument – “I never could sit still long enough to learn it,” he admits – but the sound system and its wireless microphone became a cornerstone of his early musical training. By age 15, Eldredge was a performer in demand for local functions. “I really grew to love the feel of the crowd,” he says.

There was no question that the passion for performance would carry him to Nashville, but Eldredge says his move to Music City after college made one thing clear: He was going to have to pick up that abandoned guitar. “I saw people on stage playing these songwriter nights, just them and a guitar,” he says. So Eldredge locked himself in a room to practice, and eventually started writing songs of his own. “It took me a while to finally get a hold of the guitar, but once I did I was hooked,” he says. “I think being a student of singers works to my advantage, because it taught me how to phrase things. I had melodies all over the place in my head.”

He’s since moved on to writing with some of Nashville’s greats, including the legendary “Whispering” Bill Anderson, who taught him that one of the tricks to being a great songwriter is to “just keep writing,” Eldredge says. Two of the singles he’s released so far certainly prove his range, from 2010’s poignant “Raymond” to his No. 1 single “Don’t Ya,” an up-tempo flirtation that ponders the mystery of romantic relations, and showcases the sexy growl in Eldredge’s voice. His writing chops are also gaining recognition with the hit TV show “Nashville” using the Eldredge-penned song “Adios Old Friend,” country star Trace Adkins cutting his song “Watch the World End” (feat. Colbie Caillat) and the Country Music Association featuring him in their esteemed songwriters series in New York City. “You can create something from nothing,” is how Eldredge describes the joy of writing. “That’s the coolest thing in the world to me.”

But it’s during his high-energy performances that Eldredge says he feels the most alive – as Taylor Swift fans discovered last spring when he opened 19 dates on the superstar’s The RED Tour. “Everything it takes to get to wherever I’m going to play – every airplane and car I ride in – is so worth it once I’m able to get up on that stage,” says Eldredge. “I want everybody in the crowd to feel the energy that I’m feeling from them.”

And when Bring You Back hit stores in August, it was in many ways the culmination of a journey that started with a little kid, a big voice, and a story to tell – and in many ways, says Eldredge, it’s just the beginning: “This new music is me, and it’s taken every song I’ve written up to this point to get to where I am,” he explains. “I feel better about my music now than I ever have felt, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”

Eldredge just wrapped up his first club headlining tour, the “Bring You Back” tour, and will be joining both Keith Urban and Billy Currington out on the road in 2014.

Ronnie Dunn

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“It’s what it’s always been:

a middle American cowboy perspective.

It’s different from everyone else,

because it defines how you’re made, what your DNA is.

That’s where I come from: it’s all I am, and I bring it all.”

 

Ronnie Dunn is not kidding. The full-throttle vocal blowtorch who put honky tonk on steroids in 3-time Entertainer of the Year duo Brooks & Dunn doesn’t flinch when he talks about music, and he knows just where the sweet spot is. To him, you work from what you are, then you build out in sundry ways to make it more.

 

Of course, it’s easy when you’re the son of an Oklahoma wildcatter who was a hard-scrabble honky tonk singer on weekends and a deacon’s daughter who sought redemption the way her husband believed in Saturday night. Add the ferocious vocal chords and ability to eviscerate a song’s underpinnings – and Ronnie Dunn becomes the kind of authentic texture that can’t be constructed, only rendered by living.

 

Beyond the CMA and ACM Awards for Song of the Year for “Believe,” the sold-out concert tours – including their legendary Neon Circus, dubbed by one critic Bubbapalooza – and 23 #1 hits, Dunn ignited a roadhouse revolution harnessing his life in and around Tulsa, as well as Bible college in Texas, and putting it to song.

 

“That guy people keep talking about – that’s me,” he declares unapologetically. “That was me, and what you heard, that’s my life. You can’t separate who I am from what we did, just like you can’t take who I am out of the songs I’m writing now…”

“Sure, you grow and you change, but you remain the person you are – always. I’m gonna come with songs I feel are country, no matter what else is on the track or in the melody. I never saw coming out of Brooks & Dunn and being something radically different because I was me in that duo. “How I sing, those songs – they were always me.”

 

With “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas,” a more urgent misdirection on indifference in the face of heartache than John Waite’s classic “Missing You,” Dunn arrives. Evoking the talismans that defined Brooks & Dunn, including metaphors that aren’t obvious, but spot on, he shows songs are more than checklists and hooks.

 

“I’m hellbent on being a good singer! That song that isn’t hardcore or traditional, maybe when it comes up, it is. I know what sets me on fire, and that’s what I want to do.”

 

Dunn has always broken ground, done the unorthodox, pushed the envelope.  It can’t be done by formula – or assembly-line process. Instead time lets the music rise, but that doesn’t mean creating is a passive experience for the man who carved out the #1s “Hard Working Man,” “Used to Be Mine,” “Boot Scoot Boogie” “Neon Moon” and “Hard Working Man” before ever coming to Music City.

 

“I’ve been writing by myself,” he says of his current creative process. “All the early hits happened that way, before the road and the whine of diesel engines backstage and keeping up with a career made co-writing necessary. But I think it’s truer when you get the time and space to write on your own.”

 

He’s also been tinkering in his storied Barn, playing with unlikely things and seeing how his music can again push the envelope. A hip-hop song gets honky tonked, a massive pop hit is given a classic old school bar-room jukebox treatment. Laughing, he concedes, “I wrote one called ‘She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.’ It might have a steel guitar or some fiddle on it.”

 

Dunn tapped former Neon Circus tourmate Jay DeMarcus to team up for some sides, believing in collaboration, intriguing things can happen. If Rascal Flatts smooth power-balladry seems the antithesis of what Dunn’s about, the hybrid they’re creating is hitting a sweet spot.

 

“Our vision is very different, but he’s highly creative – and he’s got the chops,” enthuses Dunn, the man seeking to make his mark of his own. “But that difference keeps the room spinning in just the right way.

 

“Allison Jones (Big Machine’s SVP of A&R) threw it out early when we were talking about co-producers, and I was like ‘Let’s go slow, and let the songs dictate.’ But Jay’s got a great way of communicating to the players, and we’re getting a lot of energy out of HIS tracks. Getting the players fired up isn’t as simple as you think, and that’s been something Jay and I have been able to do. Crazy stuff, but it’s crazy good.”

 

With “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas” out and moving, Dunn’s energy is split between supporting his single and finishing his Icon debut. Acknowledging, “Sometimes it’s undefined and eclectic, which leaves room for magic to happen. As a writer, I want songs that reflect the human condition and heartache.

 

“What is this is gonna be? We’re figuring it out. There’s so much I’m legitimately excited about, because it’s different enough from what I’ve done. That’s the part when you’re an artist: to grow and find new places, but stay true.

 

“Beyond that, it’ll be a fast car with a fast singer coming at you hard.”

BØRNS

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Like you, like all of us, Garrett Borns craves most what he cannot have. Anticipation, fantasy, longing—in some ways, these emotions of desire are more powerful than any trophy. But it’s not like we have a choice in the matter; love, as it’s been said, is all chemistry. In fact, it’s mostly a tiny chemical messenger called dopamine that pulls our heartstrings and drives our acts of romance. And so that’s just what the rising maestro BØRNS titled his debut full-length album of majestic, lovelorn anthems.

“Dopamine is released when you are longing for something, the desire of a reward—it’s the fantasy in your mind,” says BØRNS. “The old ‘you want most what you can’t have’ expression. A lot of the songs on the album are about wanting her but not being able to have her: ‘come back to me’ or ‘I wish I had you’ songs. All the songs are inspired by a chemical connection to a lover, so dopamine is the all-encompassing theme.”

BØRNS, a Michigan native who spent time in New York before landing in his new home of Los Angeles, is a preternatural talent. He understands instinctively how to connect the intricacies of a melody to the sensual receptors in the human ear, and how to conjure up a song from its building blocks to reach the heavens. Working with the producer Tommy English, in 2014 BØRNS released the Candy EP, a shot of sunny, sweet, sweeping adrenaline to the pop music landscape that put “10,000 Emerald Pools” (produced by Kennedy) and “Electric Love” on playlists across the world. The latter even famously earned a fan in Taylor Swift, who tweeted about the song’s immediate gravity to her millions of followers. Recognizing something special, the Borns-English pair quickly began work on an album, writing and recording in between the steadily growing live shows, and with the stage in mind. Enamored of and inspired by his new home on the west coast, BØRNS injected much of that sunshine vibe into the new music.

While recording Dopamine, BØRNS was drawn to a stack of vintage Playboy magazines lying around the studio, and he became captivated by the classiness and seductive, suggestive advertisements and editorial messages from that bygone era. And as the son of an advertising firm owner, BØRNS acknowledges that the ability to connect a message simply and directly to an audience has been with him his entire life, which comes through in his lyrics.

“I’m inspired by the pairing of words and phrases together to be clear, concise, and simplified,” says BØRNS. “Those ’60s and ’70s era Playboys, the way they’re put together with film photography, the articles, the way they advertise products—they know how to explain it to you situationally. ‘You’re lounging on your balcony as the sun is slowly setting, drinking a Mai Tai, and there she is…’ Everything is very sensual and clever. Flipping through those influenced the mood of a few songs on the record.”

One such number is Dopamine’s “Holy Ghost,” with its twinkling keyboards, Zapp-funk pops, synthesized drum rolls, and precise, macho riffs. In a confident, yearning falsetto, BØRNS sings: “Let me satisfy your soul/I’m not a saint but do I have to be/Baby, you’re my holy ghost/and I need you close, come back to me.”

“American Money,” a song for which BØRNS had written the verses on acoustic guitar before bringing it into a session with English, is a twist on a common thematic standard in modern music: cash. “The chorus came out of ‘The paradise in your eyes, green like American money’; like saying, ‘Darling, you look like a million bucks,’ it’s the green in her eyes, the greener pasture, she is the promised land. And when Tommy put this darker, down-tempo hip-hop beat behind it, the song took this moodier route.”

While the mood of Dopamine is very much about love and its chemical pathways, it is not always overt or obvious in its approach. BØRNS admits he never sets out to write a certain type of song, but rather lets the sentiment flow out of him in the moment. “I guess love, or longing for connection, is something that naturally happens when I’m writing,” he says. “I want to keep the songs poetic, in a pop-song context, but to still be able to be poems without the music, and live with visual imagery. I like how things look on paper as much as they sound.”

Look to “The Emotion” for an example of such a context: “Shadows fill my mind up/Zeroes tell me my time’s up/I lost count so long ago/Maybe my heart’s numb/Don’t hold my hands accountable/They’re young and they’re dumb.” That a BØRNS song can carry in it such profound simplicity and far-reaching layers of grandness is a testament to the true lightning in a bottle at work. He sings about that same contained electricity in “Electric Love,” which he calls simply “the fantasy of a girl in the enchanted forest of my mind”: “Drown me, you make my heart beat like the rain/Surround me, hold me deep beneath your waves.” The song’s early success has been impressive, but it may only be just beginning to rise, with syncs and shares continuing to skyrocket. “I never expected so many people to connect to it,” says BØRNS, his awe and pride sincere and palpable.

On his thoughts about finishing Dopamine, BØRNS is quick to share the joy and credit with others, especially his producer, English. “I couldn’t be happier that I made my first album with someone I consider such a good friend,” he says. “Tommy is so talented and we put a lot of thought, hours, blood, and sweat into this. It came from a very honest place that I really believe in artistically. It’s a good feeling to go to LA, a completely foreign land, and form a strong musical bond.”

The bright, majestic, lovelorn anthems of BØRNS are sure to pull our heartstrings and drive our acts of romance throughout 2015 and beyond.

Steven Tyler

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Steven Tyler is the iconic songwriter and prolific voice of the best-selling American rock band, Aerosmith. Tyler is considered one of music’s most recognizable and dynamic frontmen and has been cited by Rolling Stone as “one of the greatest singers of all time.” Tyler and Aerosmith have sold more than 150 million records worldwide, he has won four Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, four Billboard Music Awards, and an Emmy Award. In addition to having nine number one hits, 25 gold, 18 platinum and 12 multi-platinum album certifications, Tyler, along with the rest of his band members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2013, Tyler was awarded with the Founder’s Award at the ASCAP Pop Awards and was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Tyler and Aerosmith recently finished their North America “Let Rock Rule” tour with Slash. Currently, Tyler is working on his upcoming highly anticipated solo project.