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Sam Hunt marked a generational shift in country music, both in music and business. Hunt slipped hip-hop phrasing and modern R&B rhythms into country-pop, signaling a progression from the boisterous bro-country that had previously defined the 2010s. “Leave the Light On” introduced this blend in 2014 and it became a country smash, the first of five number one singles — a streak interrupted only by “Break Up in a Small Town” peaking at number two, even though it sold better than either “House Party” or “Make You Miss Me.” All this success paled in comparison to 2017’s “Body Like a Back Road,” which broke the record for most weeks spent at number one in 2017. Another significant thing about “Body Like a Back Road” is that it was released independent of an album, and Hunt didn’t rush back into the studio to deliver one, either. This signaled how so much of his rise was fueled by a mastery of the digital marketplace, realizing when he should release EPs or lay back and let an LP do the work. As much as his music, it’s this Internet savviness that marked Sam Hunt as the start of a new generation.
Initially, Sam Hunt didn’t plan to sing for a living. A native of Cedartown, Georgia, Hunt excelled at sports, specializing in football. His time as a high-school quarterback was acclaimed — he earned a nomination for Wendy’s High School Heisman trophy — and upon graduation, he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University in 2003. Hunt didn’t play much in either the 2003 or 2004 seasons, so he transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2005, where he graduated in 2007. During his time at UAB, Hunt began to teach himself how to play guitar and sing, so when his 2008 tryout for the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t go anywhere, he decided to head to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
Sam Hunt first made waves in the Music City as a songwriter, receiving his breakthrough in 2012 when he co-wrote the number one Kenny Chesney hit “Come Over.” Hunt seized on this opportunity and released the single “Raised on It” from a mixtape of original songs called Between the Pines in 2013, which helped give him momentum as a performing artist. Two big songwriting credits arrived in 2014 — Keith Urban‘s “Cop Car” and Billy Currington‘s “We Are Tonight” — but so did a contract with MCA Nashville. He signed with the label in January and released the digital EP X2C in August. Not much later, “Leave the Night On” — a sleek, R&B-inflected country-pop tune he co-wrote with Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally — was released as a single and it quickly became a staple on country radio, reaching the top spot on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and getting certified as platinum twice.
“Leave the Night On” was so successful that MCA decided to rush the release of Montevallo, Sam Hunt‘s full-length debut. Upon its release on October 27, 2014, Montevallo debuted at three on Billboard’s Top 200, and it was a fixture on the charts for the next two and a half years. Part of the reason it stayed on the charts is because it kept generating big hits. “Take Your Time” reached number one on the Country Airplay chart early in 2015, followed by “House Party” shortly afterward. All three singles stayed on the airwaves through the bulk of 2015, which meant MCA didn’t release another single until September of that year, when “Break Up in a Small Town” became the record’s fourth single. It only peaked at two, but “Break Up in a Small Town” sold more than “House Party.” While it was on the charts, the Between the Pines mixtape was reissued on the year anniversary of Montevallo‘s release.
“Make You Miss Me,” the fifth single from Montevallo, kept Hunt on the airwaves through 2016, but he didn’t release a new single until “Body Like a Back Road.” A smash upon its February 2017 release, “Body Like a Back Road” stayed on the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for 34 weeks, crashing the previous record held by Florida Georgia Line‘s “Cruise,” which topped out at 24 weeks. It also spent three weeks at the top of the Country Airplay chart. “Body Like a Back Road” was such a hit that Hunt decided to take his time delivering a second album, or even a second single from the second album. “Downtown’s Dead” finally appeared in May 2018, winding up peaking at 15 on the Country Airplay chart.” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic
Kip Moore often lies awake in bed at night. Melodies and lyrics swirl through his head. Sometimes they’ll dissipate as seamlessly as they first arrived. Other times, the singer-songwriter can do nothing but begin singing them aloud. It frees his ever-churning mind. It allows him to continually discover his own voice. It grounds him. Most importantly, for a man prone to bouts of self-doubt, it reassures Moore that his path is a righteous one. “I have a complete sense of calm right now,” the singer-songwriter says. “During this whole journey, as down as I’ve gotten at times, I’ve done this thing my way. I don’t have any regrets. I’m always looking ahead.”
The journey Moore speaks to is a monumental one: from that of a struggling Nashville musician to a massive country superstar with his mammoth 2012 debut album Up All Night; and an artistic adventurer with 2015’s sonically bold and critically revered second effort, Wild Ones.
Now Moore is set to release his most unflinching, distinct testimony yet: “I know how strong this record is. I know its capabilities,” Moore says of SLOWHEART, the country star’s evocative and profound third album due on September 8th. The culmination of an ever-evolving talent’s process of self-discovery, the LP is a warm and honest embrace of Moore’s rugged rock roots and a showcase for his innate poetic prowess.
“This album is growing into where I am now,” Moore says of a vivid album that bleeds with lyrical raw emotion and rings true with sonic warmth. “I’m never going to be one of those artists that’s trying to stay relevant. I’m going to grow as my music grows. I’m going to grow as a human being.”
Central to Moore is the knowledge that in SLOWHEART he’s created a collection of enduring, sturdy songs, ones that showcase his knack for rich storytelling and are not unlike the albums he was raised on. Over 13 tracks, Moore unfurls acute accounts of loss and longing (“Plead the Fifth”), confusion and conviction (“Bittersweet Company”), frivolous falsehood (“Blonde”) and always daring to dream (“Guitar Man”). “I want to be an artist that moves people to their core and that they hold onto forever,” he says. “That’s what got me into this; it was all for the purity of the music. I never gave two shits about money and fame,” he adds. “It was all about the songs.”
Arriving at his current place of “clarity and peace” required Moore to remove himself from the rigors
and oft-grinding politics of Nashville. Following the rigorous Wild Ones tour, the singer spent time traveling through Costa Rica, Hawaii and Iceland. He immersed himself in nature and self-reflection. “It helped me to really step away from the whole industry side of things,” Moore explains. He’d been previously quietly writing and recording new material, four or five songs, if only to put his thoughts down on wax. “It was a very organic process,” Moore recalls of the earliest days of SLOWHEART. When Moore returned home from traveling he learned his record label was ecstatic with what he’d created. “They just went nuts over the songs. It was so nice,” he says with a laugh. “It was just like ‘Hey man, go make the record you want. Nobody is gonna mess with you.’ So I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted,”
Moore, who produced the vast majority of SLOWHEART, adds, “So I was going to go in and finish this record the way I heard it in my head and not have one sense of doubt. If I loved it and I felt it I recorded it.”
This take-no-prisoners attitude is all over the album, and slathered atop a swath of brutally honest cuts: “The Bull,” written by Jon Randall and Luke Dick and anchored by a spiraling acoustic guitar lick, is Moore’s rejoinder to those who doubted him along the way. After Dick played him the song, “I flipped out,” Moore recalls. “I was like, “I definitely have to do this. This is exactly how I feel.” On lead single “More Girls Like You,” Moore comes to terms with the prospect of settling down, maturing, and living a more reigned-in life. “Well, I’ve been living like a wild old mustang/Out in Montana fields,” Moore sings with vigor and virtue. “Might’ve earned me a bad reputation/ But never stopped these wheels.” The song, he says, was inspired after he helped a father teach his young daughter to surf while in Costa Rica. “That is the first taste of the idea that I might be ready for my next chapter of life,” Moore offers. “It’s a very direct reflection of me evolving as a human being.”
The musician says he was intimately involved in the recording process for SLOWHEART like never before. “Before I might get quiet in the studio but now I’m not like that,” he says. “Now I know what I want and what I hear in my head and that’s what I want to be on the record.” Alongside his engineer, Dave Salley, longtime co-writers like Westin Davis and David Garcia, and his band, the Slow Hearts, Moore crafted the album exactly as he saw fit: live and decidedly un-slick. The sonic feel then, Moore says, is of “a band in a room just sitting down and figuring out a song and how it moves you. We kept all that warmth and air in the room. We didn’t try to suck any of it out.” To that end, Moore points to the six-minute reflective album closer, “Guitar Man.” Moore sang his entire vocal part live to tape as musicians Tom Bukovac and Dave Cohen unknowingly played the tender guitar lines in the adjoining room. “That’s why you hear me taking breaths and catching up with my phrasing,” Moore says with a laugh. “I loved it.”
The singer says he’s immensely proud: not only of his career, his album and his never-compromising attitude, but of the trust and dedication he’s fostered in his audience. That symbiotic relationship between Moore and his fans is never more apparent than during one of his reputation-making live performances. Moore views his shows as an emotional roller coaster with both he and his audience hanging on at every turn: the singer’s calling card, a Kip Moore show typically swerves from the raucous and rowdy one minute to the intimate and emotional the next. It’s led to a deep, profound and poignant bond between the singer and his fans. “There was a huge undercurrent of fan support that’s been building for the last couple years,” Moore says of him beginning to sell out massive theaters across the country during the Wild Ones tour and, in the process, tripling the size of his audience, many of whom who chant every word he sings right back at him.
“Through this whole experience I’ve had a sense of peace that I have a real fanbase that’s gonna stick with me,” he says. “I’m very in touch with my audience and they’re in touch with me. I know how they’re gonna feel about this project.
“What I’m doing now has deep roots that are not going to break off,” Moore continues. “There’s never been any gimmicks. I’ll get to where I want to go.” He pauses and lets out a knowing chuckle, “That’s because I’m going to do it the way I want.”
A native of Warner Robins, Georgia, Mercury Nashville’s Travis Denning vividly remembers the moment he realized he wanted to pursue music for a living. He was seven years old sitting in his Dad’s truck and heard AC/DC for the first time. From then on, he was hooked and devoured all types of music from country, pop, rock and heavy metal. Travis started playing local bars at the age of 16 and built a solid following from his distinctive songs and raucous guitar licks. He moved to Nashville in 2014 and within a year signed a publishing deal with Jeremy Stover’s RED Creative Group. After securing outside cuts by Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, Michael Ray and Chase Rice he caught the attention of Universal Music Group where he eventually signed a record deal in 2017. Travis just released his new single “After A Few” which he co-wrote with Kelly Archer and Justin Weaver following his Top 40 debut single “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs”. Travis was recently selected as a CMA KixStart Artist Scholarship as well as Opry NextStage recipient and will receive unique opportunities to participate in events as well as connect with industry professionals. The singer/songwriter has previously opened shows for Cole Swindell, Alan Jackson, Chase Rice, LANCO as well as Justin Moore and just launched his first headlining “Heartbeat Of A Small Town” Tour. When Travis is not touring, he is in the studio working on his debut album.
Adopted at three weeks old and victim to a freak heart attack at 19, surmounting ridiculous odds has always been ERNEST’s gift. He learned banjo and guitar before he was a teen but quickly developed a passion for Hip-Hop and R&B as well, citing Eminem, Ludacris, and George Strait as some of his earliest influences. Discovering an equally powerful love of songwriting, ERNEST began working alongside Nashville songwriting royalty like the Warren Brothers and soon earned cuts from Florida Georgia Line (“Dig Your Roots”), Chris Lane (“Big, Big Plans”), LOCASH, Jake Owen, Mason Ramsey, Morgan Wallen and more. Now set to begin his career as an artist, ERNEST will be unlike anything currently afloat in Music City. Hitting the road this fall after spending endless amounts of time in the studio, the Tropical Cowboy showcases his distinct sound on his Big Loud Records debut project, Locals Only, out now.