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Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line
In country music, there are the rule breakers and the rule makers – artists who defy trends to pave something new, something original, something maybe a little shocking at the time. Johnny Cash. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Alabama. Waylon Jennings. Garth Brooks. These are the forces who took the bones of an American musical legacy and burst through with their own unique voice – leaving, in their wake, the seeds of the future. And now, on the tail end of a whirlwind few years that catapulted them to the top of the charts and to the center of fans’ hearts across the world, is Florida Georgia Line, claiming their spot in the grand tradition of these Music Row renegades. How’d they do it? One simple mantra, really.

“ANYTHING GOES,” says the Georgia half of FGL, Tyler Hubbard. “It says it all. No boundaries, no genre, no rules.” Living according to their own doctrine, in their own completely singular creative space, has become the lifeblood of Florida Georgia Line. So much so, that when it became time make the follow-up to their smash trendsetting – not to mention chart-topping, 2X Platinum debut – HERE’S TO THE GOOD TIMES, there was only one option: ANYTHING GOES.

“There’s a little something for everybody in there,” says Hubbard. “If that helps shape where country is heading, or breaks down walls, then great. But it’s just what Florida Georgia Line has always done.”

Since forming in 2010, Florida Georgia Line has taken the songwriter skills honed from their early days in Nashville and shredded them to bits, all while simultaneously using the deep roots of country music to build something new and totally thrilling. From the most raucous party moments to unexpected self-reflective odes, FGL is an unstoppable powerhouse only looking to answer to themselves, and, perhaps most importantly, their fans.

“We’ve always been comfortable doing something that may or may not be accepted,” says Brian Kelley, the Florida side.

And ever since the two met while attending Belmont University, they’ve been following that credo – going from songwriting workrooms with nothing more than an acoustic guitar or two, to a headlining tour, crisscrossing the nation, collecting awards, bringing people up when they need to “Cruise,” lifting them out when they’re deep in the “Dirt.”

Except, of course, their music wasn’t just haphazardly accepted: it was embraced with open arms. Their signature anthem “Cruise” was certified 8X platinum and became the best-selling Country single ever (according to SoundScan) – and the remix with Nelly rocked both the charts and eager genre-taggers. With their Republic Nashville debut, FGL is the only artist in history to join legends Brooks & Dunn in achieving four back-to-back, multi-week #1 singles. They’ve taken the “anything goes” approach with them from day one – never once, however, compromising their vision.

“We’ve built this from the ground up,” says Kelley. “That’s something we never take for granted. Tyler and I are hands on with it all, from set list to email. Everything we do, we have put the FGL stamp on it. This is our love and our passion. We run it as a business…and a party.”

And FGL is indeed a party. ANYTHING GOES is full of odes to the good times, from the twang-reggae “Sun Daze,” to the wickedly delicious “Good Good” to the rowdy title track that’s both rock and bluegrass. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more serious, sincere moments: take the lead single “Dirt,” for one.

“It’s a little unexpected, sure,” says Hubbard. “But I think we we’re at a spot in our life where we wanted to show that side to people. It’s how we started as songwriters. We felt it was time to release something like that.” The fans agreed: it’s already been certified platinum for over one million downloads sold and topped both Country radio charts to become their fifth #1 single.

It’s some personal moments and milestones – marriage, engagements, loss and mourning – that spurred some of ANYTHING GOES ’ contemplative notes, like “Angel” or “Like You Ain’t Even Gone.” But it’s all part of FGL’s mission to show a complete package to their fans, and to be with them at every moment in their lives, from the good to the bad.

“We like to be serious, and we like to take people to church on a Wednesday night in our live set,” says Hubbard. “We like to have songs that mean something, that make you feel something. And, of course, we like to have it be party.”

Adds Kelley, “you can tell by listening that we felt no pressure. We wanted to push ourselves lyrically and vocally. It’s very evident in the sound and the vibe. We took the confidence that country radio and the fans gave us, and made it into something that is pure FGL.”

From coast to coast with national TV appearances, the FGL machine has been rolling nonstop, and sees no sign of slowing down. At the core, is the brotherhood between best friends and creative partners Hubbard and Kelley – theirs is a bond that exists past the musical realm. At the same time, they love to embrace the most thrilling minds working in Nashville today as writing partners, and recruited names like Rodney Clawson, Ross Copperman, Dallas Davidson, Chris Tompkins and Chris DeStefano to help pen the hits on ANYTHING GOES.

“The biggest thing for us was just staying in the creative zone,” says Kelley. “From the best writers in town, to a producer (longtime collaborator Joey Moi) who is like a wizard on steroids. Nothing was stopping us. This record is a representation of exactly where we are in our lives. Want to know me and Tyler more? Just listen to ANYTHING GOES.”

And, of course, they kept those country music renegades – Cash, Alabama, Skynyrd, Jennings – top of mind. But like those brilliant creative outlaws before them, the best way they could pay tribute to the rule-breaking tradition is just by being completely themselves.

“When you get in a creative space and you know your influences, that’s when you let your natural talent come out in ways that are organic,” says Kelley. “That’s when the freshness comes.”

Fresh, new: that’s ANYTHING GOES – a new force for Nashville, a new life for country music. And a duo that is totally unafraid to take risks and innovate, every step of the way.

“There are party moments, there’s loss, there are odes to amazing times on ANYTHING GOES,” Kelley adds. “Just lots of real life. Now THAT is country music.”

Little Big Town

Little Big Town
Hot on the heels of their wildly successful album Tornado, Little Big Town’s prescription for continued success and creative drive is in their sixth album, Pain Killer.

The two years since Tornado’s release have proven to be the most formative and motivational for the inspired family of artists, together since 1998. In the short time since Tornado, Little Big Town earned two number one radio hits with Tornado and Pontoon, a Grammy, two ACM and three CMA awards and an Emmy. They also found time to headline a sold-out tour, join Keith Urban across North America and host the CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock twice.

These hard-earned accolades and new opportunities provided a steady dose of inspiration at every turn, leading them to a fresh and very intentional approach to their latest studio album. They co-wrote most of Tornado’s songs as a group and knocked out production in a matter of weeks, whereas the road to Pain Killer was significantly longer in the making, and much more calculated.

LBT intentionally began writing and curating their songs early in their tour for Tornado in May 2013. They followed the creative energy wherever it flowed by splitting into different writing combinations.

“We decided not to lock ourselves into writing as a group. We wanted a more relaxed and free approach,” says Karen Fairchild. “There was no pressure to write as certain groups at certain times. We followed the inspiration instead of forcing it.”

“I don’t know that we would have written Tumble and Fall if the boys had been in the room,” she continues. “The writing process on that song was very therapeutic for all of us girls. Just as Faster Gun is a guy’ssong, it probably wouldn’t have turned out the same way had the girls been in the room.”

New voices, including Ryan Tyndell, Blair Daly, Jeremy Spillman and Shane McAnally, joined long-term LBT collaborators, such as Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Jedd Hughes and Natalie Hemby.

As a result, Pain Killer covers all new territory for LBT. The band and its writing and production partners favored multi-layered effects. They drew from amix of influences including vintage 50’s country, 70’s country, funk, groove, a cappella, bluegrass and straight up rock n’ roll.

This evolution of LBT's sound is the outcome of their free reign to write and craft as they chose, making Pain Killer as uninhibited as their creative process. “We don’t think about boundaries anymore. We let go of that because it doesn’t work for us. We do better when we’re freed up,” Karen says.

Phillip Sweet offers an enlightened perspective on songwriting. “You chase whatever idea starts the creative process. It might be a lyric. It might be a melody. Sometimes a song unloads on you and you have to catch it and hang on for dear life. [Writing Pain Killer] was a healthy competition and motivating. The best songs won. There was no ego involved in that.”

Pain Killer proves LBT has a strong command on the courage it takes to create. “We have learned to trust ourselves. It’s confidence and experience. We’re braver than we’ve ever been on this record,” explains Kimberly Schlapman.

LBT recorded 23 songs for Pain Killer, ultimately narrowing the album to 13. “The creative process is such a living thing,” says Jimi Westbook. “We’ve become good at acknowledging when it’s not working. It’s easy to try to force it, but we’ve grown to understand when to move on. There came a point when the song selection came together and felt right. It had a great personality.”

The bonds LBT and producer, songwriter and musician extraordinaire Jay Joyce formed when producing Tornado carried over seamlessly into the creation of Pain Killer. This relationship, combined with the unstructured writing process and the use of their road band in the studio,gave way to a new adventure in experimenting with sound.

Jimi makes an astute observation of Joyce, “He is such an amazing, creative person and fun to work with. He takes you places you don’t expect to go; and that’s exciting, musically. You feel a lot of freedom in that.”

“Jay is like a mad scientist. He uses our voices as instruments. Literally!” Phillip exclaims. “It was a deliberate choice to use our voices in ways we hadn’t before. It was exhilarating.”

Today’s recording standards are streamlined and corrected, manipulated and often times overpolished. Joyce makes music very differently, as found throughout critically acclaimed partnerships with artists such as Cage the Elephant, Amos Lee, Eric Church and Emmy Lou Harris.

“Jay doesn’t believe in a cleaned up, pristine track,” adds Karen. “Sometimes you don’t even know what layers exist. He will wake up in the middle of the night and go lay down some great, totally unexpected elements.”

Kimberly also enjoys Joyce’s creative drive. “He is very spontaneous when recording. He leaves a lot in. That’s good for us!”

One sign of a successful collaboration is simple: LBT still listens to Pain Killer and hears sounds and effects they never noticed before, an experience musical craftsmen the world over are sure to envy.

“Pain Killer has a lot of different sounds without sounding unorganized,” says Joyce. “It’s a more artistic album than LBT has done before. It has a lot of integrity.” The provocative album has something for everyone: A treatment for the broken heart or the shattered spirit, a rally cry for those exhausted by love yet still inspired by it, a testament to the enduring hope of a long relationship, a promise of perseverance and a shot of good, old-fashioned fun.

Pain Killer leads off with “Quit Breaking Up with Me,” a power pop anthem for those infamous on-again / off-again relationships that are plagued with drama and indecision. “It has so much attitude!” says Jimi. Written by Busbee, Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally, it’s laced with punk, a shot of rock and rolls with LBT’s characteristic country sass.

“Day Drinking”was the first song LBT wrote as a group for Pain Killer, along with Troy Verges and Barry Dean, and is the album’s first single. Its fanciful marching band and quirky whistles work together brilliantly to create a playful song of summer. “People are genuinely happy when they hear it,” adds Phillip. “Day Drinking” set the tone for the album, motivating LBT to innovate with each new song. Recently selected as “Song of the Week” by USA Today, this first single continues to climb the charts.

“Tumble and Fall,” written by the ladies of LBT and Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, is a promise to persevere in a relationship despite the challenges and offenses that naturally arise. “It’s a reminder to be humble. Be vulnerable. It’s a peaceful song,” Kimberly adds. Featuring Jimi’s vocals and Kimberly’s soaring harmonies, “Tumble and Fall” is both heartfelt and delightful.

LBT knew early on in song selection that “Pain Killer” would be the title track. “Music, like medicine, can be a vice, a drug, a muse. But in this case, “Pain Killer” refers to the love drug,” says Karen. It is the magic potion made real, solving all problems with one fell swoop and intoxicating in the best way. Written by Karen, Jimi, Blair Daly and Lindsey, it is an upbeat, reggae-tinged tune perfect for a road trip, best enjoyed while riding with one hand out the window or on the back of a lover’s neck.

Perhaps the most affecting, jaw-dropping track is the down-tempo “Girl Crush.” This attention-grabber is stripped down to a power vocal with sparse backing. Karen’s soulful voice finds a fitting showcase against a retro beat, echoing the sounds of Patsy Cline and her contemporaries. Written by McKenna, Rose and Lindsey, it is one of the few songs to which every woman can relate. “’Girl Crush’ is one of the most brilliant lyrics I’ve ever heard. It takes a modern phrase and turns it at the hook. And it’s empty in the right places. It gives me chills every time I listen to it because the raw emotion really comes through,” Jimi explains.

One of the more cinematic and barrier-breaking tracks is “Faster Gun,” written by Jeremy Spillman, Ryan Tyndell, Jimi and Phillip while in "dude mode" in the perfect place for men to be men – a man cave, conveniently located at the studio. “Faster Gun” is one of the best examples of new sounds and layers for LBT. It sounds like a Tarantino flick – raw and liberated. “I could see it playing in my head like a trippy, acid western. It’s completely different than anything we’ve done before,” Phillip says. “Faster Gun” is the track that showcases LBT in a totally new light.

“Good People” is a musical high five to partners in crime and is the glue binding all of the tracks together. “We fell in love with it the minute we heard it. It felt great and we needed a moment like this on the record. It brought it to life,” Phillip says. Joyce, Hemby and Spillman wrote the song which spotlights Kimberly’s pure-tone soprano. This track is a gift to any friend who not only knows where the secrets are buried, but helped bury them.

“Stay All Night” is upbeat, totally rockin’ and full of life. “I love the groove. The phrasing is rapid fire and very rhythmic. It’s funky cool!” explains Jimi. “I’m so excited it made the record. The girls have lungs for days!” Written by Jimi, Phillip, Brent Cobb and Jason Saenz, “Stay All Night” is the party song fitting for a no-holds-barred night out. Jimi’s vocals cranked the dial to 11 while Joyce tuned guitar strings to one chord and used the entire instrument as a horn. Full of personality, “Stay All Night” is a shining example of sonic details masterfully woven.

Another powerful showcase of Kimberly’s full and lively vocals is “Save Your Sin.” It was written by McKenna, Rose and Lindsey as a swift kick in the behind to someone less than worthy of another’s heart. The upbeat and pulsing track is just what Pain Killer needs. “Kimberly freaking killed it,” Jimi says. “It’s like the Foo Fighters meets country with a big screaming vocal.”

Written on the road in a dressing room by the whole band with Spillman and Tyndell, “Live Forever” features the traditional harmonies that first attracted fans and critics to LBT. “It is the epic love song,” says Phillip. “Live Forever” is a master class in harmonies. It is the beautiful and profound track that anchors the album and expands on the talent the world has come to expect from Little Big Town.

In contrast to the classic LBT song that is laced with romance and sweeping vocal harmonies, “Things You Don’t Think About” is “total sassville,” says Kimberly. Written by Hemby, McAnally and Ross Copperman, it begins with a sparse groove followed by a chilling down beat. “You feel this arresting, visceral energy the moment it comes on. It’s a killer song about not taking someone for granted,” Phillip adds.

Little Big Town deeply understands and respects the creative process. They know the challenges a creative spirit faces in an unforgiving music industry. With this is in mind, they set out with Spillman, Hemby and Joyce to write a wake up call, “Turn the Lights On.” This hard-driving, rock n’ roll hymn is especially for those brilliant minds that have to continually hear “no” before they ever hear the “yes” that changes everything.

It’s an inspiring and over-the-top reminder to anyone to get up off the mat and keep going. “Standing up for yourself as an artist is the hardest lesson to learn. Artists aren’t always nurtured once they become part of the business machine. It’s a lot harder for solo artists, but we have each other for the gut check,” says Karen.

The album’s coda, “Silver and Gold,” is a poetic, quiet song starring the characteristic LBT harmonies that have never been lost or lessened by time or circumstance. Karen, Kimberly, Joyce and Jedd Hughes penned it under the stained glass in Joyce’s church-turned-studio. Kimberly says, “Jedd Hughes is a poet and inspiration.” A simple, sonic masterpiece backed by a solo acoustic guitar, “Silver and Gold” is an encouraging reminder for a heavy heart that good still lives inside. “The vocals just wash over you,” says Phillip.

When reflecting on the entirety of Pain Killer, Jimi sums it up well. “Being in a studio, creating music and a moment that means something to people is magic. We love this record. The creative part of us is satisfied.”

With a keen focus on different vocal and writing configurations, LBT again astounds its fans and critics alike with harmonies that are typically found among voices sharing the same DNA. Their strengthening relationships and maturity earned over 15 years together all come together in this masterful production.

A remedy for everything that ails any listener, Pain Killer is an antidote of anthems and inspiration to heal even the most tortured heart. Itis one big love letter to Little Big Town’s fans.

Toby Keith

Toby Keith
The familiar maxim of the triple threat – singer, songwriter, musician – doesn't begin to cover it for Toby Keith, one of the modern era's most complete self-directed hit makers. And Keith's most recent months are a remarkably accurate representation of his entire career. In September 2017 he released The Bus Songs which went on to set a Billboard Comedy Albums chart record for a country artist by holding the No. 1 spot for 11 consecutive weeks. The collection of humorous, just-for-fun compositions includes two new songs “Shitty Golfer” and “Wacky Tobaccy,” whose accompanying music video features Willie Nelson and quickly became a surprise runaway viral hit. Throughout the past year, Toby performed at Sing Me Back Home: The Music Of Merle Haggard in Nashville and he took the stage at Carnegie Hall for The Cake And The Rain: A Celebration Of The Music Of Jimmy Webb in New York City where he performed Webb's classic, "MacArthur Park.” The Academy of Country Music also honored Keith with their Poet's Award for songwriting in recognition of his outstanding and longstanding musical and lyrical contributions as a songwriter throughout his career, and his songs' impact on the culture of country music. Rounding out the year full of music-related accomplishments was his 14th Annual Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic which raised $1.6 million, a record-breaking amount of funds for a single event in the Toby Keith Foundation’s history, to aid sick children and their families in Oklahoma.

This year, Toby honors the 25th anniversary of the release of his debut single with his aptly-named tour “Should’ve Been A Cowboy XXV Tour.” From the moment that song was released and shot up the charts to become his first No. 1, the engine driving everything has been the music. He writes it. He arranges and produces it. And he releases it on his own record label, Show Dog Nashville. At the core is his songwriting, as recognized in his 2015 induction into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in New York City. That year Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Willie Dixon, and other songwriters from all genres of music were also included in his induction class. The Nashville Songwriters Association International named him Songwriter/Artist of the Decade and he is a three-time BMI Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year. His songs have received more than 91 million BMI performances on commercial radio stations worldwide. Keith's albums have sold more than 40 million copies. His tours have drawn more than a million fans each year for more than a decade straight, with recent expansion into Europe and Australia. The awards are too numerous to count and include Artist of the Decade nods from Billboard and the American Country Awards, as well as the ACM's Career Achievement honor and twice their Entertainer of the Year award winner in back-to-back years. A musician's musician, he was a last minute illness stand-in for the late Merle Haggard a few years back and responded to Merle's query about which of the legend's songs Keith knew and could cover with, "All of 'em." And there have been some unexpected highlights along the way as well, including country's most impactful viral event, "Red Solo Cup," the video for which has received more than 46 million views and was named ACM Video of the Year. Toby's most rewarding experiences, however, have come from giving back locally, nationally and abroad. His golf classics fund the Toby Keith Foundation and OK Kids Korral, a cost-free home for families of children dealing with critical illnesses. His 11 USO Tours to date have enhanced the lives of nearly 256,000 troops and military families in 18 countries with more than 285 events, and have been recognized with the Spirit of the USO Award (2014). And when a tornado ravaged his hometown, Toby Keith was the face of the community and helped shoulder the cleanup with the 2013 OK Twister Relief Concert. Triple threat? How about singer, songwriter, musician, producer, entertainer, humanitarian, Oklahoman and patriot. For starters.

Maren Morris

Maren Morris

“Can I get a hallelujah, can I get an amen?” sings Texas-born, Nashville-dwelling Maren Morris on “My Church,” the lead single from her debut full-length, HERO. Though “sing,” however, might not be the most appropriate verbiage – she belts, more like it, in her dynamic range that can growl soulfully one moment and twangily howl the next. It’s an honest performance from an artist and writer who stands out for the singular point of view, sheer creativity and fearless approach to music she’s developed since she began performing and writing as a young child. Using the boldest colors from across many genres as her palate and country as her canvas, Morris’ stories are vivid paintings that can be gleefully fun, tearfully heartbreaking and a perfect balance of modern and timeless.

With HERO, her first LP for Sony Music Nashville, Morris starts with a bang, not a whimper: opening with a mysterious vamp full of swampy swagger, “Sugar” seamlessly blends the attitude of R&B with a catchy, countrified chorus. In other words, it’s Maren Morris in a perfect nutshell. “I don’t want to ease anyone into this record,” she says. “It’s not my personality. It feels so good to start the album out that way, and the music itself is not shy. But then it goes on to these really internal moments, too.” Indeed, she bounces from “Sugar” and the next track, the equally infectious, spitfire spirit of “Rich,” to the pristine glimmer of “I Could Use a Love Song” and later, the poignant balladry and awe-inspiring vocals of “Second Wind” and “Once.” It all results in one of the more inventive and engaging perspectives in country music to come along in years, conjuring a special, wildly different world where salvation comes through the FM dial and the stage is a place both to party and pray.

Morris built buzz at a breakneck speed with her self-titled EP, which introduced all of the diverse and dynamic sides that comprise her – from the confident, danceable swagger of “80s Mercedes,” to the island jam of “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry,” and the soulful confessions of “Wish I Was.” And, of course, the thrilling pop-country-gospel amalgam of “My Church,” a track about the spirituality that comes with to letting your body and mind be enveloped by the power of music.

“My Church” has risen fast and furious: it entered Billboard‘s Heatseeker’s chart at number one and has been bounding forward ever since, earning millions of digital streams and scoring Morris numerous accolades like an induction into CMT’s “Next Women of Country” and a spot as one of Rolling Stone Country‘s Artists You Need to Know. “Country listeners have been needing something meaty, and to know a song like ‘My Church’ can be played on radio and very quickly resonate feels amazing,” she says. “I think the message behind it is so universal – I don’t feel like it’s preaching, and it’s not at all judgmental. It’s not telling you to do anything but enjoy the moment.”

It’s an honest reflection on one of Morris’ most simple pleasures – driving along in her car, being absorbed by the power of music. It’s a theme that carries through HERO, too, an album named after a pivotal line in “I Wish I Was,” one of the most personal songs on the LP: “I’m not the hero in the story, I’m not the girl that gets the glory.” “After we wrote that song, it was a punch in the gut – emotional, cathartic,” she explains. “I was definitely not the hero there. But in the journey from that song to today, I have become my own hero.”

Born in Texas, Morris would often dominate the karaoke machine when her parents, who owned a local hair salon, would throw parties – and she’d belt LeAnn Rimes and Patsy Cline to the bewilderment of guests. Her writing prowess began with stories and poems in school and blossomed into lyrics when her father bought her a guitar at age twelve – and she took to it instantly.

“I started playing all around Texas – any bar or club that would let me in there,” she says. “I was the only kid in school that had a job on the weekends!” The albums that shaped her early life were varied – like Patty Griffin, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow – but she also grasped quickly that while she loved country and roots music, she felt most at home when bending genre lines. It wasn’t uncommon for her to spin both Clint Black and Chaka Khan, developing into what she calls a “gangster June Carter,” with a laugh.

At barely twenty, she moved to Nashville, leaving behind a resume that boasted three hits on the Texas Music Chart: and while many arrive in town with a dream of their name in lights, resting on the marquees of the biggest and brightest venues, Morris simply wanted to work on her songwriting craft. And it’s not that she didn’t have aspirations as a performer – Morris had actually already logged years doing just that. But being a celebrity wasn’t the goal – spending her days and nights in the writing room, working with as many cowriters as possible and composing hundreds of songs, was. And though she’d only play the occasional local gig at first, she still managed to build an audience based on her sheer talent, honest lyrics and a completely magnetic presence. Small shows led to big opening gigs: for Little Big Town, Sam Hunt, Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton.

As a working songwriter she scored cuts quickly, for artists like Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson. And she started shaping a community of likeminded friends leading a new charge in the country climate: the Brothers Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, Lucie Silvas. “It feels like a modern-day Chelsea Hotel,” she says of her very close, very talented pals. They became a tight knit circle dead-set on helping each other evolve into unique, game-changing artists.

Along the way, she slowly and carefully started building the bones to her career as a performer again. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to be an artist,” she says. “It was more, am I ready to face my point of view? I would have been happy just being a songwriter, but there was a voice in my head saying, you’ve got to sing these.”

It wasn’t an easy process, but it was a brave one, full of soul-searching and soul-bearing moments that lead her to HERO – an album dedicated to pushing boundaries both in music and in her own heart, finding that place where melodies can be both deliciously joyous and thoughtfully reflective all at once.

HERO is all about a journey,” she says. “A lot of these songs came from a place of honesty and redemption. I looked very carefully at my own life, and that itself feels very heroic.”

Sometimes it’s ok to be your own hero – and with HERO, it seems Morris is finally the girl who gets the glory.

Granger Smith

Granger Smith
In His Own Words:

My name is Granger Smith. Sometimes long, fancy industry bios are helpful, but other times you just need to hear from the guy actually living it, so here’s my story.

I was born and raised Texan, and I’m proud of that. I grew up along with two brothers, a couple of yellow labrador retrievers and parents that stayed together because they loved each other. My life changed when I was 14 years old and decided I would teach myself to play guitar. This was motivated by two things: I thought the guitar would make girls pay attention to me, and George Strait played one. By the time I turned 15, I was performing weekends on small town stages in North Texas, and doing my best as a fan club member to attend every George Strait concert within driving distance. Playing high school football was an important rite of passage for me, along with hunting and fishing, but the dream of a music career consumed me. At age 19, I was satisfied with enough songs I had written to make an album. As a freshman at Texas A&M, I was able to scrape together some studio money by pre-selling the album to friends around campus. For being just a kid, that album did pretty well. It landed me a songwriting deal with EMI Music Publishing in Nashville, and the following year, I took the leap to Tennessee.

My time in Nashville was important. I absorbed the craft of songwriting from some of the best, learned my way around studios and recording gear, (which paid off for me later) and cut my teeth on countless stages as both a singer and as a steel guitar player for other singers. After four years, I had a shelf full of song demos, a little bit of music business know-how and a strong conviction to move back to Texas, finish my degree at Texas A&M, and start a band.

Moving back to College Station meant basically starting over. The gigs were hard to book and when they did, nobody showed up to watch. But I was happy and felt creative. I saved money by making albums out of my house and using my band. We wore out vehicles and went from two pickup trucks, to a suburban, to a van and then another van. The trailers we towed got bigger, and ever so slowly, so did our crowds. I learned how to use a camera and some editing software for making homemade music videos and we made lots of them.

My little brother, Tyler joined me in 2008. He traded a pretty good job at the bank to jump in an old van and sell t-shirts in honky-tonk dive bars. I think he did it not only because he shared the same vision as me, but also because his competitive nature was excited about proving a bunch of people wrong. And that’s exactly what we did. Together we conspired and worked from the ground up with the goal of not only building an artist, but a brand. We embraced social media, searched for real connections with fans, studied our predecessors and ignored our doubters. The good shows helped pay for all the bad ones, and the songs that sold helped fund all the others that didn’t. We put communities first, knowing that without the people, we were without a job.

We created alter-egos through videos to help promote the music and that’s where Earl Dibbles Jr. came from in the summer of 2011. It started as a short, funny video that my brothers and I filmed out where my parents live in Central Texas, but it turned out to be something that completely changed the shape of my career. I actually like to think of it as an “intentional accident” because as planned, the video went viral and became a huge promotional tool for my music. But we had no way to know if it would actually work, especially since many of my videos before it never caught fire.

In the early morning of April 16, 2013, I woke up and checked the iTunes store on my phone with tired eyes. I was absolutely shocked to see my new album, Dirt Road Driveway sitting at #1. Things were rapidly changing on the road, too. We were seeing sold out shows in markets we had never played, and a passion in fans unlike anything I had seen before. After independently releasing 7 studio albums, 1 live album and 2 EPs, I finally signed my first record deal in 2015. I met some great people at Broken Bow Music Group (BBR Music Group) in Nashville who sought us out, believed in my dedication and wanted to take what I was already doing, and magnify the message. We worked together not only as colleagues, but as friends unified on the same mission. Within only weeks of the signing, my debut single “Backroad Song” was a hit at mainstream country radio faster than any of us expected.

A few years ago, I was standing with my boots in red, sandy, Iraqi soil watching a beautifully majestic Middle Eastern sunset, when one of my band members asked me, “Can you believe music got us here?” No, I can’t. What a journey it has been since I decided to chase this crazy dream. We’ve played 10 countries, 3 continents, even the White House a few times, and I still can’t believe it all started with a few guitar chords. In my song called “Sleeping On The Interstate,” I wrote, “Connecting map dots like poets and prisoners, trying to live more like a lover than sinner, slave to dreams so far away.” That’s me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the music business, it’s that you don’t really choose this life, you are this life. That’s the truth no matter if you’re selling albums or not. I do what I love and love what I do, and there’s no sweeter freedom than that.

Tyler Farr

Tyler Farr
Columbia Nashville’s Tyler Farr released his highly anticipated sophomore album, Suffer In Peace, in 2015 making its debut in the top 5 on both the BILLBOARD Top 200 Albums and BILLBOARD Country Albums Charts. Previously with the release of his debut album Redneck Crazy, which released in 2013, Farr landed at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and #5 on the Billboard Top 200 making Farr the only solo male country artist in the last 10 years to have his first two studio albums debut in the top-5 on the Billboard 200 Chart. Tyler’s first single off the newly released Suffer In Peace album, “A Guy Walks into a Bar,” proved to be Farr's third No. 1 hit and is now RIAA Certified GOLD. Farr’s #1, platinum-selling title-track “Redneck Crazy” projected Farr forward to celebrate back-to-back #1 singles, including his first #1 as a songwriter, with his Gold-certified hit “Whiskey in my Water.” The Missouri native’s dry wit and energetic live show have earned him industry recognition as a 2014 CRS New Faces of Country Radio and 2014 Music Row “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” nominee, as well as rave reviews for his coveted opening slots touring with Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert and Lee Brice.

Joe Nichols

Joe Nichols
As Joe Nichols began work on a brand new batch of old-school country music, he found himself looking back for inspiration. Back to his early career, back to true friends and the simple perfection of pure country music … back to things that never get old.

“Full circle is the term I would use,” the Arkansas native says about his new project, fittingly titled Never Gets Old. “The whole theme of the record is ‘Let’s get back to where it all began for me. Let’s get back to where my passion for music began.’”

From 2002’s Man With a Memory on, Nichols harnessed that passion as a steady hit maker, racking up six Number Ones and eight Top 10s, including chart-topping modern classics like “Brokenheartsville” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” He’s a four-time Grammy nominee, an ACM, Billboard, CMA, and CMT Award winner, and his last album offering, Crickets, kept the success going, sending both “Yeah” and “Sunny and 75” to Platinum-certified Number One status.

But then four years went by – the longest span between releases of his career – as Nichols dug in to reconnect with his calling. In Never Gets Old, he’s done just that.

“Instead of us making something that’s built for instant success, the idea was ‘Let’s make something we’re gonna be proud of 30 years from now,’” Nichols explains. “I’m thinking less about what will work, and more about what I love.”

What Nichols loves has always been obvious. Growing up around friends who were into anything but country, he was different. Nichols was pulled in by the realness of singers like Merle Haggard and Marty Robbins, Don Williams, Keith Whitley and George Strait, and that connection would inform his whole career. Even now with Never Gets Old, he’s happy to go against the grain.

“Hopefully the stuff we’re doing lasts a lot longer than today’s typical country record,” he says. “But I think the irony is that retro sounds are actually what’s fresh and new right now. All we had to do was what felt natural.”

Doing what felt natural has never been easier, as Nichols returned to the approach of his early albums. Working with Crickets producer Mickey Jack Cones and longtime collaborator and friend Brent Rowan– fiddles and steel guitar tempered tasteful modern sounds on nearly every mix, while that understated (but unmistakeable) baritone felt “better than it’s been in 10 years.”

Saying his goal was to sing with the most feeling possible and let whatever came out of his soul land on the record, Nichols ended up with 12 tracks that bound between spirit and sentiment, courage and cleverness, romance and rowdy fun, all wrapped in the throwback style he’s spent a lifetime pursuing.

Lead single and title track “Never Gets Old” points the way. Written by Connie Harrington and Steve Moakler, Nichols says it reminds him of the mid-’80s country era, a song that “wasn’t necessarily deep, but it was meaningful.”

With a swaying front-porch groove, it features laid-back acoustic guitars and accordions that waft in with the breeze, as Nichols ponders the moments that keep love fresh – like watching his wife laugh, holding her hand, and ending each day in a tender embrace. Nichols says he knew it was special when all three of his kids started singing along the first time they heard it.

Tracks like “This Side of the River,” “Billy Graham’s Bible,” and “We All Carry Something” are charged with soul-stirring power, while “Diamonds Make Babies” and “So You’re Saying” inject the project with heartwarming fun.

But it’s a bit of carefree craziness adapted from his live show which is sure to leave listeners with the biggest smile – an honest-to-goodness country cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hip-hop favorite, “Baby Got Back.”

What began as a joke between Nichols and his band years ago went on to become a beloved moment onstage, and now it caps off Never Gets Old, proving that whatever this veteran song stylist sings, it’s gonna sound country. Nichols and his team invited comedian Darren Knight and his “Southern Momma” character to revamp the iconic spoken-word parts, and what came out in the studio was so much fun it had to be included on the album.

“Everybody was laughing that day,” he says. “It was out-of-the-blue and we never thought we’d put it on a record. But when it was done I was like ‘This is nuts, but this actually kind of feels like it should have been a country record ... a goofy one, but still.’”

When Joe Nichols released his debut album, he was barely 20 years old and trying to put his youth behind him. Looking back now, he laughs at that thought, but some things never change. Back then he was scrappy and defiant about his quest to revive traditional country, and that drive remains. In fact, he says it’s one of those things that never gets old.

“I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he says. “With my first album, there was this apprehension of ‘Is country music ready for a traditional country record?’ It was a little bit scary, but we went for it, and with Never Gets Old I still feel the exact same passion – it’s like ‘Let’s give it to them anyway.’ Now, I think country music is ready.”

Eric Paslay

Eric Paslay
EMI Records Nashville breakout country artist, Eric Paslay, delivers a powerful punch as a renowned, Platinum-selling, hit songwriter and dynamic performer. Paslay has celebrated five No. 1 hits including “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (Eli Young Band), “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” (Jake Owen), “Angel Eyes” (Love & Theft), “Rewind” (Rascal Flatts) and “Friday Night,” the smash lead single from his critically acclaimed self-titled debut album. The Temple, Texas native earned nominations for GRAMMY Best Country Song, ACM Song of the Year and CMA Song of The Year for “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” in 2013 and earned his first GRAMMY nomination as an artist in 2016 for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “The Driver”- a collaboration with friends Charles Kelley and Dierks Bentley. Most recently he was honored with an ACM Song of the Year nomination for “She Don’t Love You” at the 2016 ACMs in Las Vegas. A true artist’s artist, USA Today calls Paslay “flat out-brilliant” and American Songwriter names him an influencer of country music.

Paslay has joined friends Chris Young, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley on tour in 2016 and embarked on a full year of touring in 2017- both headlining theaters and clubs, and playing fairs and festivals. On the road he has been sharing new music with fans from his forthcoming sophomore album.

Drake White

Drake White
ABOUT DRAKE WHITEImmediately shooting to No. 1 on the iTunes Top Country Albums chart upon release, Drake White’s debut album SPARK (BMLG Records) has earned praise both commercially and across his loyal following. The 2016 Taste of Country Fan Choice Awards Album of the Year is a 12-track labor of love that showcases his exemplary songwriting with a rock-infused, organic Country sound and signature foot-stomp. His latest offering, “Makin’ Me Look Good Again,” hit the top spot on SiriusXM’s The Highway with its deeply personal lyrics and pulsating groove. Fans from all genres voted Drake as’s GRAMMY “Artist of Tomorrow” earlier this year as he continues to stun crowds with his incredible live show and soulful voice. Drake, along with his band The Big Fire, has previously toured with Superstars including Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Toby Keith and more. It is no wonder that the Alabama native was featured in Entertainment Weekly’s New Artists Who Will Rule 2017, Rolling Stone’s 10 Country Artists You Need To Know, Billboard’s Hot New Country Artists to Watch and was chosen for CRS New Faces. Major corporations have also taken notice with Geico showcasing his song “Heartbeat” in their national television campaign. Drake recently embarked on his first headlining SPARK TOUR 2017 and joins Kip Moore on the road this fall. For the latest updates, visit

High Valley

High Valley
Country fans are no strangers to the uncanny musical connection of a family band, but they’ve never heard anything like the duo High Valley – and that’s simply because brothers Brad and Curtis Rempel never knew how country was “supposed” to sound.

Growing up in La Crete, Alberta — more than 2,500 miles from where they now live in Music City — Brad and Curtis were completely cut off from the world of pop culture throughout their early lives.

“It’s not that we weren’t allowed to have a radio,” lead singer and songwriter Brad, explains. “We had radios, but you turned them on and heard a lot of static from an AM station 300 miles away. When it was cold enough you could hear the farm report, the price of grain and the occasional old school country song. We finally got FM in our town when I was in 10th grade.”

While their upbringing didn't exactly acquaint them with the Billboard 100, it’s that insulation that helped cement their musical ideals and love of simple, classic country, allowing High Valley’s music to feel simultaneously fresh and timeless. Dear Life, their recently released major label debut on Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville, is an album that fuses tradition with wide-eyed musical exploration, stays true to their family-first value system and celebrates resilient positivity.

High Valley learned to become skilled digital citizens, building an avid fan base that is actively involved in selecting the duo’s songs through the High Valley app and connecting with each other via social media. As a result, they have amassed more than 43 million song streams worldwide – including 22 million for first single “Make You Mine.”

Likewise, they are the first country act to broadcast live on Twitch.TV in the United States and their song “Young Forever” scored placement on EA Sports’ Madden NFL 17 Soundtrack. The band has been selected for “Ones to Watch” recognition by Rolling Stone Country, Spotify, Pandora, CMT and Taste of Country. And they’ve been profiled on CBS This Morning for their unique and inspiring story and performed on NBC’s Today Show.

“You could say it’s weird that we come from the upbringing we do and make this kind of music,” Curtis admits, “but if you analyze Dear Life and the messages on it, you can almost tell that we were brought up the way we were.”

“That’s why the record was called Dear Life,” says Brad. “Because that song for me was trying to write a journal entry to God and my life and say, ‘I really have loved every mile of this road.’”

Saying their biggest compliment is when a fan describes their music as “old-school and modern” at the same time, “Make You Mine” is an excellent introduction to the rest of Dear Life. For example “She’s With Me,” the newest single from Dear Life, is an anthemic opening track that begins as something ancient and ends ahead of the country curve, also announcing High Valley’s desire for their music to be positive and family oriented.

“My life is not perfect, but I’ve experienced dark things with positive results at the end of it,” Brad says. “The opening line of the entire record says ‘When the devil’s knocking at my door,’ and I wouldn't say that’s a very positive idea, but the conclusion of the whole song is ‘Holy cow, she’s been with me through the thick and thin,’ and that’s been my experience with my wife.”

“Families are a tough thing in today’s world,” Curtis agrees. “They fall apart all the time, and if we could leave our mark by doing our little part and trying to bring families together, I think that’s great.”

Meanwhile, the title track “Dear Life” is a foot stomping thank-you letter inspired by watching children grow, “Don’t Stop” offers steady encouragement to persevere and the hand-in-hand “Memory Makin’” asks the question, “Do you believe that there’s a meant-to-be?”

“Roads We’ve Never Taken” shows their energized and optimistic outlook with plucky, banjo-rolling abandon, while the chanting gang vocals of “Young Forever” were dreamed up during a family beach trip to Pensacola.

“Nothing makes you feel more young than chilling on a beach and throwing a football around in the waves,” Brad says with a smile. “It’s like ‘Man, if we could freeze this weekend and stay young forever, it would be perfect.’”

The Rempel brothers have already scored six Top 10s, three Gold certifications, played to 15,000 seat arenas opening for Shania Twain and earned multiple awards show wins – including Canadian CMA Group of the Year. And now with their major label debut, a fall tour with Martina McBride and a headlining U.K. trek on the way, it’s true that High Valley inhabit a much different world today than the one they were raised in. But some things remain the same, and that is the central theme of one of the album’s most powerful tracks, the hard-charging backroad rocker, “I Ain’t Changin’.”

“That was a very important song for me because of our upbringing,” Brad explains. “The chorus is like ‘I ain’t changing the way I talk, I ain’t changing the way I pray, I ain’t changing my last name.’ Yeah, I’m in a big city now, not in the middle of some field somewhere…”

“But that doesn’t change the core of who we are,” Curtis jumps in.

Brad continues. “I remember coming to Nashville six years ago and thinking about 100 different things that would blow my mind – and they’re all happening. I don’t want to wake up one day and say ‘Wow, I’m completely different than what I was.’”

If anything, Dear Life is evidence that Brad and Curtis shouldn't worry about losing their way. Their calling is a strong one – to bring positive and original family-friendly energy back to the country landscape – and they’re following it with passion.

Lindsay Ell

Lindsay Ell
Named one of The Huffington Post’s “Top Country Artists to Watch,” Lindsay Ell is a triple threat:  accomplished musician, unique vocalist and songwriter. The Calgary native learned to play guitar while traveling with her father to country-bluegrass camps as a young girl. Ell honed her craft as a musical stylist and songwriter after being discovered by BTO and The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman (“American Woman” / “Taking Care of Business”) who discovered her at the age of 13.  The multi-instrumentalist was soon touring alongside the likes of Luke Bryan, Buddy Guy, The Band Perry and Keith Urban, as well as wowing audiences as Carrie Underwood’s guitar player live on the “50th Annual CMA Awards” and holding her own alongside icon Melissa Etheridge on Skyville Live. A 2016 CMT Music Award and multiple Canadian Country Music Award nominee, Ell exhilarated audiences from coast-to-coast as part of the 2016 CMT Next Women of Country Tour, Brad Paisley’s 2017 and 2018 WEEKEND WARRIOR WORLD TOUR, and will soon join Sugarland’s STILL THE SAME TOUR. Ell’s first full-length album The Project debuted at No. 1 on the Country Album Sales Chart in August 2017 and was recently lauded as Billboard’s ‘Best Country Album of 2017.’ Ell’s current single “Criminal” was the Most Added song at Country radio on its impact date and is currently Top 30 and fast-rising.

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Seth Ennis

Seth Ennis
Seth Ennis may have been raised a proud Georgia boy, but the young singer-songwriter is as worldly as the most seasoned traveler — and it shows in his eclectic brand of country music, a sound inspired by his hero Vince Gill, the pop-punk bands he followed each year on the Vans Warped Tour and smooth R&B stars like Usher. Despite being just 24 years old, the multi-instrumentalist (he’s a natural-born drummer) has experienced a lot of life. Seth spent his formative years on a military base in Japan, cut his teeth as a touring musician while living in Raleigh and commuting to Nashville, and has now put down roots in Music City, where through perseverance and a dedication to his craft he landed a record deal with Sony Music Nashville.

As he likes to tell it, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time — and having the raw talent to stand out. “There was a battle of the bands competition here in Nashville and when one of the bands dropped out, I got the call,” Seth says. “I called my players together and we killed it.” With the victory, Seth secured a coveted performance spot at CMA Music Festival and caught the eye of Sony, as well as one of the competition’s judges, producer Corey Crowder. Crowder is now in the studio with Seth, both of them co-producing Seth’s debut album.

With the progressive musical risks of current pop music, the finesse of traditional country, strong R&B influences, and a healthy respect for organic sounds (he is a bluegrass fanatic), Seth’s music is poised to establish him as a fresh new voice in the genre, one with a rare global worldview.

“Country music is not that big in Japan,” he admits with a laugh while describing his type of music. “If I were raised in Georgia my whole life, I’d probably sound a lot different than I do. But because of how much I moved around, and all the cultures I experienced, my sound is especially diverse.”

It’s one that will fit right in on country music’s evolving landscape, where production has become just as key as songwriting. Fortunately, Seth excels at both.

“Production is so important to me, and I like to think I have an ear for it. I’m really picky,” he says. “And songwriting is something I’ve gotten better at since moving to Nashville and learning from great writers like Ben Hayslip and Rhett Akins. The best song always wins, even if it’s not my own. I have incredible respect for the writing community.”

For his debut single "Woke Up in Nashville," Seth wrote with tune smiths David Hodges and Blair Daly, creating an autobiographical account of his journey to Music City to pursue his dream as a singer-songwriter.

Fittingly, the song begins with Seth loading up his father's truck and driving north from Georgia. In the studio, Seth played every instrument on "Woke Up in Nashville," from guitars and bass to drums and piano. He even sang his own background vocals.

Being self-sufficient in the writing room and in the booth is important to the young singer, but he's excited to collaborate in the encouraging country community. Seth is adamant about maintaining his own sense of identity. While he may unabashedly profess a love for pop melody and rock & roll energy, he’s a country disciple.

“Country is how I was raised. Its stories are about me,” he says. “But Nashville is also a melting pot right now, so I’m thinking huge: What can I do to play internationally? How can I have my songs heard globally? It’s about dreaming big.” Which has certainly steered him right so far.

Muscadine Bloodline

Muscadine Bloodline
There’s a new force making major waves in country music. Natives of Mobile Alabama, Gary Stanton and Charlie Muncaster came together to form Muscadine Bloodline in early 2016. With three single releases under their belt and a schedule full of shows spanning from coast to coast, they’ve hit the ground running from day 1. Nashville took notice the first time these two stepped on the stage and it’s no surprise the rest of the music world is quickly catching on. Charlie’s contemporary vocals complimented by Gary’s harmonies and masterful guitar licks make MB a powerfully refreshing mix of talent, passion and unfiltered authenticity. Infamously undaunted by the big stage, their sound intertwines the brash irreverence of early southern rockers with the seductive quality of 90s country love songs. Captivating hooks heard in songs like “Movin' On” and the aggressively anthemic “WD-40” stand as a testament to MB’s wide ranging music-making capability. Every song and every show is a moving experience but at the same time, unmistakably Muscadine Bloodline.