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“Singer and songwriter Luke Bryan comes by his country influences naturally: he grew up in Leesburg, Georgia, a small town 100 miles from the Alabama border where his father grew peanuts and sold fertilizer for a living. Bryan helped his family work the farm when he was young, but in his early teens he developed a passion for country music, picking up his influences from his parents’ record collection, listening to the likes of George Strait, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Alan Jackson, and Merle Haggard. When he was 14, his folks bought him his first guitar, and a year later, his playing and singing were strong enough that he started sitting in with local bands at a club featuring live country music. At 16, Bryan started writing songs with the help of a pair of local tunesmiths who had enjoyed some success in Nashville; he planned to head to Music City to try his luck after graduating from high school until his brother died in an auto accident. Wanting to offer emotional support to his family, Bryan opted to attend Georgia Southern University instead, though he didn’t give up music. He continued writing songs, formed a band, and was playing gigs on campus or at nearby watering holes most weekends while pursuing his studies. He recorded a self-released album, which he sold at shows during this period, but was reluctant to take the plunge and devote himself to music full-time until he returned home to work in the family business after receiving his degree. Bryan‘s dad, confident of his son’s talent, made him an offer: he could either move to Nashville or be fired.
In the early fall of 2001, Bryan pulled up stakes and relocated to Nashville, where his heartfelt songs of country life earned him a contract with one of the city’s many publishing houses. In his free time, Bryan continued to perform at local clubs, and after an A&R man from Capitol Records saw him perform a set of his original material, he was given a record deal. Capitol released Bryan‘s first widely distributed album, I’ll Stay Me, in the summer of 2007, following it with Doin’ My Thing in 2009. Doin’ My Thing peaked at number two on the country charts — and at number six on the Top 200 — and it spawned two number one singles: “Rain Is a Good Thing” and “Someone Else Calling You Baby” (while “Do I” hit number two). Bryan returned with his third album, Tailgates & Tanlines, in the summer of 2011, its release preceded by the single “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).” That song was the first of four Top Five country singles pulled from the album: “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and “Drunk on You” both hit number one, while “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” peaked at number three. This success kept Tailgates & Tanlines in the charts well into 2012, and Bryan supported the record with steady touring.
Early in 2013, Bryan compiled his four Spring Break-themed EPs since 2009 as the album Spring Break…Here to Party; it promptly became his first number one album on the pop charts. Bryan solidified his standing in country music by winning ACM’s prestigious Entertainer of the Year award in June. That August, he released his fourth studio album, Crash My Party, which hit number one on the country charts and the pop charts. Each of the first four singles from the album — the title track, “That’s My Kind of Night,” “Drink a Beer,” and “Play It Again” — steadily climbed to number one on the country charts during 2013 and 2014. Bryan chose to close out his series of Spring Break EPs in 2015 with the release of the aptly titled Spring Break…Checkin’ Out; the collection went to number one on the Billboard country charts and three on the Billboard 200. Next up was Bryan‘s fifth full-length album, Kill the Lights, which appeared in 2015 as well. Another number one hit on the Billboard 200; it saw Bryan once again working with producer Jeff Stevens (Jody Stevens was also brought aboard as a co-producer), but unlike Crash My Party, the record saw a heavy dose of originals from Luke: he received writing credits on roughly half of the album’s 13 songs. Kill the Lights debuted at number one and was eventually certified platinum, partially on the strength of the hit singles “Kick the Dust Up,” “Strip It Down,” “Home Alone,” “Huntin’, Lovin’ and Fishin’ Every Day,” and “Move.” In the autumn of 2016, Bryan embarked on his third Farm Tour and released the EP Farm Tour: Here’s to the Farmer to commemorate the occasion. The following February, he sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and was announced as the newest judge on American Idol. Later that year, Bryan released the single “Light It Up,” which peaked at number one on Billboard’s Country Airplay charts. It was the first single from What Makes You Country, which arrived in December. In 2019, Bryan resumed his seat as an American Idol judge, while releasing the singles “Knockin’ Boots” and “What She Wants Tonight.”” – Mark Deming, AllMusic
You can’t step up as one of country’s most exciting new stars without knowing exactly what you’re about. Lucky for Big Loud Records breakout artist Morgan Wallen, that quality runs in his blood.
With his debut album, IF I KNOW ME, the hit maker behind “Up Down” (ft. Florida Georgia Line) and “The Way I Talk” lays his cards out on the table: Work hard. Love hard. Party down. Respect the past and make your own future. … Know yourself.
“I’ve never been the type of person who’s good at getting my feelings out, so for me music is a way to do that,” Wallen explains. “I just hope people get to know me and see my true colors.”
Still only 24 years old, those colors have already started to show. Working with a vocal blend which marks the spot where interstate blacktop changes over to gravelly, Smoky Mountain backroads, Wallen’s a rock and hip-hop loving country boy with a sound straight out of the modern South.
He mixes boondock bangers, amped-up anthems and sensitive, shade-tree poetry like a one-man playlist. He’s a fireball onstage, thrilling stadium crowds with superstars like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and headlining his own 2018 Up Down Tour. He’s a chart-topping songwriter with his name on tracks like Jason Aldean’s “You Make It Easy,” a Grand Ole Opry performer and an artist on the fast track with over 100 million Spotify streams, earning the respect of legends like Bill Anderson and country’s new generation at the same time.
Born and raised in the tiny, two-stoplight town of Sneedville, Tennessee, Wallen began singing in his father’s church at 3 years old and was writing songs by 18, melding a variety of influences right from the start. Sneedville is the home of bluegrass icon Jimmy Martin and Wallen went to the same high school as Kenny Chesney. But while his mother loved Christian music and he was into rap, his dad was a hard rocker all the way – laying the foundation for his son’s own fearless creative identity.
“It’s not something you would expect – a Southern Baptist preacher who loves Bad Company – but I think that’s part of what makes him genuine,” Wallen explains. “He wasn’t the kind of preacher who was throwing judgment toward anybody. He just found a way that helped him and he wanted to help other people, and if he liked a little rock-and-roll, then so be it. I looked up to it all.”
That willingness to break the mold peppers IF I KNOW ME, filled with equal parts confident charm and heartfelt vulnerability. Wallen co-wrote 6 of the album’s 14 tracks, working with established country hit makers like Craig Wiseman and Jessi Alexander, up and comers like Michael Hardy and crossover-rap tunesmiths like Ernest K. and Ryan Vojtesak (Kanye West, Young Thug, Post Malone).
Produced by studio ace Joey Moi – who also helped FGL, Jake Owen and Nickelback develop their bold sonic presence – Morgan didn’t bother trying to classify his work by genre. Instead he focused on feel, with swagger and sensitivity, heartbreak and desire all taking their place.
“Like a lot of people my age, I didn’t necessarily grow up listening to country music … I grew up living it,” he says. “The songs I wrote came from the heart, and I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on outside of what I’m doing. I just try to stick to what I know and what I love.”
With the album’s slow-burning title track, what Wallen knows and loves comes into view. Anchored by a tight, Top 40 club beat and a gotta-have-you theme, the song is all rhythm and quick hitting come-ons as Wallen looks to start a romance that lasts longer than just one night.
“It’s perfect for my first album,” Wallen says. “Like, ‘If I know me, then here’s what you get.’”
His anthemic 2016 breakout, “The Way I Talk,” takes a drawling look at putting your money where your mouth is, while “Up Down” – the irresistible thumper that features Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line – feels like typical Friday in Wallen’s mountain-valley hometown. Climbing up country radio, SiriusXM and digital streaming charts alike, it’s full of distorted twang, pounding drums, sly vocals and references to “Holdin’ it down here in ‘B.F.E.’”
“Some people have asked me, ‘What’s B.F.E.?’ And if you don’t know, you just don’t know,” Wallen says with a laugh. “I love a good time, I love to drink a little bit, I love being with my friends and I love fishing. Life is hard enough already, so if you can find a song that takes you away from that for three or four minutes, it’s a blessing.”
“Had Me at Halftime” scores with a heartfelt Hail Mary, “If I Ever Get You Back” updates the feel-good spirit of ‘90s country, and “Redneck Love Song” grooves with a blue-collar promise of everlasting love.
Meanwhile, “Happy Hour” toasts a relationship that was doomed from the start, mixing on-the-rocks lyrics and melodies into a potent, pure-country anthem. “Chasin’ You” smolders with the residual heat of a top-shelf bourbon, and “Whiskey Glasses” fuses sludgy guitars to a concept that’s basically a low-down, broken-hearted play on the idea behind beer goggles.
But with its booming beat, swampy guitars and sideways lyrics all about the country-boy good life – plus a nod to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s archetypal country-rocker, “Fishin’ in the Dark” – “Whatcha Know About That” lies at the album’s thematic heart. It’s a place where being true to yourself is more important than playing by someone else’s rules. And that’s something Wallen knows all about.
“The song pays homage to the past, but I’m damn near rapping in part of it,” he explains, honored that the Grammy-winning Dirt Band – envelope pushing game changers in their own right – gave the track their support. “That’s one thing I love about country music right now. You get to express yourself and do what you want, and I think that’s why country is bigger now than it ever has been.”
Capitol Records Nashville’s Caylee Hammack constantly felt like a self-described “hippie in a hillbilly town” in her tiny hometown of Ellaville, Georgia. “I used to pray every night as a kid, ‘God, just please make me different. Don’t make me like everyone else,’” she remembers.
Hammack is indeed refreshingly different. She’s a country expressionist, a grungy firebrand and a spiritual seeker. And at only 24, she has already packed a full life into just a few years, using fake IDs to get gigs around South Georgia, turning down a college scholarship for a love that burned out just a few months later, sleeping in her car when she arrived in Nashville and then losing her home in an electrical fire.
“My dad has always said that the most beautiful and strongest things are forged in the fire,” she says. “Iron is nothing until you work it in a fire. Glass cannot be blown without intense heat. You can’t make anything beautiful or strong without a little heat.”
Tested by the fire, Caylee Hammack has been molded into an artist with incredible depth and a powerhouse voice that can effortlessly veer from fiery and demanding to quiet and vulnerable. Her life experience and relentless curiosity have coalesced into a country cocktail that’s rooted in tradition but expands with shards of modern pop and rock. Her self-penned songs tug on her own life story – bad decisions, secret affairs, broken hearts, a quirky family lineage – as she invariably turns the lemons of her daring life into sonic lemonade.