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Back when Matthew Ramsey was a teenager, and falling increasingly ever more in love with music, nothing was so exciting to the blossoming singer-songwriter as hanging in a garage with his buddies and jamming out until a fully fleshed song revealed itself.
“That was just such an amazing feeling,” the Old Dominion frontman recalls with childlike wonderment. So infectious was that feeling and practice to Ramsey that he’s carried it with him to the present day: “It’s so incredible be able to sit in your room with your instruments and your bandmates and feel that chemistry and follow it wherever it goes,” the singer says of the tight-knit way he and his globe-dominating band — which includes singer-guitarist-songwriter Ramsey, guitarist-songwriter Brad Tursi, bassist Geoff Sprung, keyboard-guitarist Trevor Rosen, and drummer Whit Sellers — have forever believed that at the heart of their massive success lies their collaborative spirit and, to that end, have crafted each of their acclaimed albums and chart-dominating singles as a truly cohesive unit.
It’s certainly proved a winning method: since breaking onto the country music scene in 2014, Old Dominion — recognized as the Group of the Year at the both the 2018 and 2019 ACM Awards and the reigning CMA Vocal Group of the Year — have notched seven No. 1s at country radio, surpassed one billion on-demand streams, singles “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” and “Written in the Sand” earning Platinum certifications and “Hotel Key” earning a Gold, from their Gold certified sophomore album Happy Endings, and headlining arenas and amphitheaters across the globe on their super-successful “Happy Endings” and current “Make It Sweet” tours.
In early 2018, when Old Dominion regrouped to begin writing and recording what became their lyrically self-aware and effortlessly melodic stunning self-titled third LP, they once again fed off each other and their tight-knit relationship to craft their most striking songs yet.
“We went in there with whatever instruments we happened to own ourselves, we wrote, we recorded and that’s what we sounded like,” Tursi recalls of the band’s initial studio session for their highly-anticipated new 12-track album, due on Oct. 25 via RCA Records Nashville. “It was just honestly, so refreshing.”
The five musicians that comprise OD — the ones who navigated Nashville for a decade before breaking big earlier this decade; who cut their teeth playing bars together for years before their modern-day sold-out arena and stadium gigs; the partners who long ago realized their collective talents far outweighed what they could do on their own — have always known they’re only as strong as the sum of their parts. Offers Rosen, “We’re a band of songwriters but more importantly, we’re a true band.”
The group’s goal in entering the studio blind? To see what emerged when they collaborated in such a pure, honest and no-nonsense way.
“And so we went into the studio to see if we could write a song and record it on the same day. All five of us in the studio old-school style with no plan,” Ramsey offers of their initial gameplan for the LP.
A few hours later, Old Dominion had successfully brainstormed, written and recorded a breakthrough song: “Make It Sweet, one of the group’s most frank and sincere songs yet, and, as it would turn out, their latest No. 1 single.
Looking back now on the early days of them piecing together their new album, a multi-day run that also saw them writing and recording the soothing kiss-off “Hear You Now,” the band says it assuredly kicked off the next chapter in their ongoing legacy and, more importantly, colored the creative palette for the entire album. “Those sessions quite simply set the tone for the whole album,” Ramsey says. “Everything felt right.”
It’s this collaborative spirit, and moreover the sense that these five men have now reached a point in their career where little else matters so much as joining forces to craft authentic songs, that defines their forthcoming eponymous LP. Where they came out with guns blazing on their first two albums, the tracklisting for each a veritable wrecking crew of radio-friendly sing-along smashes, the band pulled back the curtain for their latest album and exposed a vulnerability that, while long lurking beneath the surface, had yet to fully reveal itself.
“We’re commercial-minded songwriters and the first album we were really going for that,” Ramsey admits of 2015’s gold-certified Meat and Candy. “That’s ingrained in us and that’s going to always be a part of us. But we’ve always been really good at hiding real messages and emotions in poppy songs. We’re not hiding anymore. Now we’re putting it all out there.”
To that end, Old Dominion, the group’s most honest, mature, and forthright album yet, is defined by its creators’ openness and lack of pretense. It’s hard heard most notably on career-defining songs including the soul-baring piano ballad “My Heart is a Bar” and the effervescent rocker “Smooth Sailing.” And on the raw and genteel plea “Some People Do,” Ramsey sings like a wise man comforting his better half (or perhaps his younger self): “Some people decide to grow up/ But it’s never good timing/ Most wouldn’t forgive what I put you through/ But I’m here tonight, hoping some people do.”
Of opening up in personal ways on this album that he now admits his younger self could never have fathomed, Ramsey says, “I listen back to these songs and it’s like I’m watching glimpses of my life. And that’s something I haven’t really been able to do much before. Yes, we’re having all this success and there are a lot of things going great for us but in the end we’re people and we’re struggling just like everyone. We have family issues and personal mental issues. This album has moments on it that are much more therapeutic to me as a person. And before, I never felt like we were in a place to do that.”
The band members collectively agree only because they feel so embraced by their rabid and ever-growing fanbase did getting more personal on this album feel appropriate. “It’s obvious our fans genuinely love the music,” Rosen says. “It’s not ‘Oh, I know a few of those songs on the radio.’ No, they dive into the music with us. And that’s what helps create that community. They feel invested in this thing alongside us.”
As one of the most dynamic touring bands currently working, Old Dominion feel nothing short of incredibly grateful to share their work with fans every time they take the stage.
Says Sprung, “Our live shows definitely dictate how our albums have sounded and how they’ve progressed. That’s a big thing that happened on this last one too. Every time we go back in we’re leaning on the last year and a half or two years of playing together at least four or five times a week for all that time. Or when we are in the studio and are picking songs or are deciding how we are going to present those songs to our audience we are picturing the live show. We are going ‘How is this going to translate?’ We got this huge set of training wheels when we started on the Kenny Chesney tour that 20-minute slot in those stadiums because all of a sudden we had the ability to visualize how our songs were going to be presented to 20 or 40,000 people at once. Will this affect people all the way in the back? Most bands at our level don’t get the chance to visualize that when you’re crafting the album or getting singles set up.”
“That’s the primary reason why we’re here,” says Sellers.
“We make no bones about our journey to get here,” Ramsey adds. “That’s part of our entire show now. We sit down on stools and we tell people the journey we took from the beginning to where we are now. And it makes them feel like a part of it all right along with us.”
From the Sunshine state, rising country singer Michael Ray made trips to Nashville to check out the music scene and get advice from professionals in the entertainment industry. The advice he got from that trip? “Don’t move. The way the music industry’s going to become, you’re not going to be able to get a record deal just doing a showcase anymore. You’ve got to bring something to the table.
Surprisingly, this is exactly what Michael needed. He has been built off of his Southeastern soil, like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. So, Michael went back to Florida, put a band together with some friends and they started to play. He then returned to Nashville three years later to claim a record deal, a publishing contract and some unexpected, yet exciting, opportunities along the way.
Scott Hendricks, Warner Music Nashville’s executive vice president of A&R, and Michael’s producer, calls Michael “country with an edge.” “Michael, he’s got it all,” said Scott, known for his work with Brooks & Dunn and Opry members Blake Shelton and Alan Jackson. “He sings well. He’s a really seasoned entertainer. Girls find him not hard to look at. He’s got the drive, the motivation, the work ethic, the right attitude going into this thing. He’s been great to work with in the studio, just getting better and better every time we’re recording. He takes it seriously, and we do have really high hopes for him.”
Michael was raised in rural central Florida, but his friends would say he grew up hunting alligators, fishing, and walking back roads. The child of a family full of musicians, he began his professional career before he was a teenager, graduated to the bar scene as soon as he could drive and hasn’t let up on the pedal since.
Where does he think it all started? “My grandfather used to do a Sunday morning gospel show on the radio with my second grade teacher,” Michael states. “When I was 9 years old I wanted to learn how to play. I started playing guitar with my grandfather. Two, three nights a week we’d play community centers, Moose Lodges, assisted living homes, the VFW. I grew up with him on very, very old country music, I grew up playing Porter Wagoner, Bobby Bare, Earl Thomas Conley, Merle Haggard, Waylon – that was my first introduction to country music.”
“He is all about energy, energy, energy, both in his music and how he presents it on stage,” Hendricks said. “There aren’t very many moments where you’re going to have time to rest when you watch him because there’s a lot of energy he’s putting out.” Michael developed ways to make his music known to the audience. He continued to ask club owners and promoters with his pitch: “Dude, I’ll play for free.” He put together his first band after returning from that early trip to Nashville and got his first break playing the Boots N Buckles Saloon in Lakeland, Florida, opening for Jason Michael Carroll. That night, a DJ, later known as Sara Michaels (WPCV-9), approached him after the set and took a CD with her. The next day a friend called to announce he had been on the radio. She would play his music everyday during rush-hour. Michael adds, “Right between Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean.” Ray then came to the conclusion he’d hit the mark he was aiming for: “There was nothing else I could do there on my own. I didn’t know how to take that next step.” He continued to travel the states and getting a manager of his own. Michael has continued making his name known throughout touring with Chase Rice and Sam Hunt.
“Now he’s stretching the boundaries from state to state to state to stretch those fan bases,” Hendricks said. “Some guys kind of stop when they get here. This guy is a road warrior. He’s out there all the time, playing wherever they will allow him to play to build his fan base. We just need to get those fans some food, some new music to have.”
Jordan Davis is a Shreveport-born, Nashville-weathered creative soul with his feet firmly planted in two different eras. The imagery in his songs relies on the same specificity behind such classic, lyrically- driven songwriters as John Prine, Jim Croce and Bob McDill. But the tech-tinged production and silvery phrasing in those same songs embodies the genre-defying musicality of such current acts as Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Lady Antebellum.
Kris Kristofferson would likely brand Jordan a walking contradiction – repurposing a phrase he once applied to Johnny Cash – and Davis would heartily agree.
“The thing that is weird to me is the pure songwriting fan that I am compared to what I love production-wise,” Davis notes. “I love these huge, big sounds – big drums, loud guitars – but my favorite show to go to is John Prine or Jason Isbell, you know just standing up there with a guitar. They’re seriously opposite ends of the spectrum, but I think that marrying the two, there’s a cool way to do it.”
Working steadily on his debut album for Universal Music Group Nashville, Davis is welding those two ideals nicely. The jangly, skittering “Singles You Up,” the picturesque come-on “So Do I” and the propulsive “Take It From Me” each mix those elements in varying degrees, some leaning heavier on the production, others focused more on the lyrics, but all of them held together by Davis’ unique, laidback phrasing. His easy-going nature and focused interpretation of the world around him is easy to identify in those songs, the same way that Jim Croce’s personality came through in some of the music that influenced him.
“Those songs take on so much more life if you find out how introverted he was,” says Davis. “He really just wrote songs because they let him say what he wanted to say. You hear a song like ‘I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song’ – that probably was him not knowing how to say it, but he knew he wouldn’t screw it up if he sang it. Those songs are awesome.”
Davis’ appreciation for competing musical ideas harkens back to his upbringing in Shreveport. The Louisiana city is overshadowed nationally by New Orleans, whose jazz and funk culture are the stuff of legend. Just a couple hundred miles to the east of Shreveport is Mississippi, the hotbed of gut-bucket blues, while just over the border to Shreveport’s west is East Texas and its deep association with hard country and honky-tonk.
Writing and playing music was a passion that was passed down in the Davis household. His uncle, Stan Paul Davis, wrote two Top 5 titles for Tracy Lawrence in the 1990s – “Today’s Lonely Fool” and “Better Man, Better Off” – and his dad often wrote songs as a hobby between taking Jordan and his brother, Jacob, to Shreveport Captains minor league baseball games.
“Music was around so much, it was just part of our everyday life,” Jordan says.
In fact, because music was always around, Davis hadn’t really thought about it as a career
possibility. He majored in resource conservation at LSU in Baton Rouge and thought he would pursue a job that would protect the world’s physical attributes.
“Conserving the beauty of what makes the country so awesome is important,” he says. “It’s easy to think that it’s gonna be here forever, when really we need to take care of it. Louisiana’s losing land as it is – you know, the state’s disappearing year by year – so it’s definitely a passion of mine.”
But so was music. After his graduation from LSU, Jordan got an entry-level environmental job, but he spent plenty of time dreaming of Nashville, where his older brother had already moved to become a songwriter. Jordan periodically sent unfinished songs to his brother, and when Jacob played one for a music executive, he urged Jordan to come to Music City.
It was not an easy process for Jordan. He struggled to find people to write with and instead, he tended bar regularly at Ellendale’s – a Southern restaurant in Nashville’s Donelson neighborhood. He continued to hone his songwriting craft on his own; the songs were unusual, mixing his long-running affinity for classic singer/songwriters and modern country radio. Davis heard repeatedly that he was the only person who could perform them and make them work.
His decision eventually paid off and after receiving a publishing deal in June 2015, UMG Nashville announced on Leap Day 2016 that the company had signed him to a recording contract. Paul DiGiovanni – a Boys Like Girls guitarist who’s worked with Blake Shelton, Hunter Hayes and Dan + Shay – quickly became one of Davis’ regular co-writers and his producer. “Paul would build a demo and have it done in a day, and you couldn’t listen to it enough,” Davis says.
DiGiovanni helped capture the anthemic quality in “Take It From Me” and the party attitude in “Singles You Up,” but also built an appropriately slinky frame for Davis’ conversational “So Do I.” Their working relationship is an ideal pairing, as Davis adjusts to his new creative world. As solid a place as music has held in his life, it’s been only a couple years since he started thinking of himself as an artist as well as a songwriter.
“Still to this day, I could tell you who wrote the song before I could tell you who cut it,” he says.
Being an artist means rethinking his creative soul just a bit. It’s one thing to write a story song to play in a coffee shop, but it’s another to generate the kind of big-sounding piece that resonates with an arena full of people. Davis is up for the challenge.
“Marrying the two is tough because I’ve never until recently had to think about writing a song and how it’s gonna go over live,” he says. “That’s a completely new thing that’s come into my writing.”
But he’s seen plenty of signs that he’s making the transition. Few were as obvious as when he played an afternoon set at the start of a New Year’s Eve bash in Jacksonville, Florida. Four guys traipsed across the lawn with beers in hand during the show, and as he sang, Davis watched them stop and huddle, then wander up to the front of the stage, where they remained fully engaged for the rest of the set. Clearly, he had won them over.
“They could have easily kept going,” he says. “That was a brand new song, it was the first time we had ever played it live, and it caught ‘em and brought ‘em back. That’s the kind of connection I try to make.”
With a creative foot in two places, Davis is well positioned to make a long-term connection. His songs are so musically engaging that they easily attract attention. But they’re also deep enough to hold a listener through repeated exposure. Some of that is accomplished through the sense of physical place woven into his stories. From the street performers and moss hanging from the trees establishing the humid heartbreak of “Leaving New Orleans,” to the painted white lines and late night security cop transporting the listener to a concrete ballroom in “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot.” Jordan Davis has a unique ability to create a sense of place in his songs with his knack for relentless hooks and subtly smart lyrics
By melding classic lyric-writing with modern musical texture, Davis is similarly staking out his own spot on the creative map. The cool melodies and understated delivery bring you in. The soul in his characters keep you in place. In Jordan Davis’ place.
Georgia native Lauren Alaina captured America’s hearts when she competed on Season 10 of American Idol. In 2017, Lauren followed up her No. 1 debuting first album, Wildflower, with the release of the critically-acclaimed Road Less Traveled. The album landed on multiple end-of-year “Best Of” lists including Billboard, Rolling Stone and Amazon, and it became the top-streamed female country album release of the year. Praised as “full of life lessons and uplift” (PEOPLE), the collection of 12 songs all written by the young star includes Lauren’s first No. 1 hit, title track “Road Less Traveled.”
The “sassy Southerner with killer pipes” (PARADE) has shared the stage with superstars including Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Martina McBride. Lauren recently joined Cole Swindell on the Reason to Drink Tour and is currently on tour with Jason Aldean for this summer’s High Noon Neon Tour.
Lauren is this year’s ACM New Female Vocalist of the Year and performed on the Apr. 15 broadcast live from Las Vegas. She was also nominated for ACM Vocal Event of the Year for “What Ifs,” the double-platinum-selling No. 1 collaboration with her childhood friend, Kane Brown. Lauren is one of CMT’s Next Women of Country and she received her first CMT Music Award for Breakthrough Video of the Year with her No. 1 smash “Road Less Traveled,” This year she received her second CMT Music Award for Collaborative Video of the Year, with Kane Brown. In addition to performing on the 51st Annual CMA Awards, 2017 saw Lauren earning nominations for CMA New Artist of the Year, several Teen Choice Awards and Radio Disney Music Awards.
When you grow up in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Louisiana, a 20-minute drive from the nearest town, you learn a few lessons early on. Chief among them is this: If you want something done, you’ve got to make it happen yourself – even if it’s becoming a bona fide Country star. Just ask Curb Records talent Dylan Scott.
“You have to work at it if you want it,” the hitmaker says. “You can’t sit back and expect someone else to make it happen for you, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”
Scott has lived by that mantra his whole life, and lately he’s been rewarded for the effort. With his romantic, PLATINUM-certified #1 hit “My Girl,” GOLD-certified Top 5 smash “Hooked,” and Top 5 breakout album DYLAN SCOTT, he’s transformed real-life experience into chart-topping success, sold out some of the nation’s most famous venues on headline tours, and performed for millions on national TV. And now with his electrifying NOTHING TO DO TOWN – EP, a new chapter begins – one that proves no matter how far Scott comes, he won’t forget where he started.
“You gotta stay true to your hometown roots,” he says. “And I think the way you do that is to just be you.”
Lucky for him, Scott’s roots run deep in Country music. His father played guitar for stars like Freddy Fender and Freddie Hart, regaling the youngster with stories from the road and encouraging a love for soul-bearing icons like Keith Whitley, Alan Jackson, and Tim McGraw. Scott was still in high school when he arrived in Nashville to chase his own dreams, but his drive to succeed was obvious from the start.
He began writing songs with anyone who was willing, and hit the road hard for up to 200 shows each year. Then, after a blistering rise through the Country ranks, his bootstrap-pulling work ethic paid off. “My Girl” shot to the top of the radio charts in the summer of 2016, earning Scott his first-ever PLATINUM certification and revealing an artist with a knack for hot-and-heavy sensitivity plus a strong connection to fans, having surpassed 200 million views on YouTube alone with intense social media support.
Fans got the message, and Scott’s self-titled album debut landed at #5 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, helping boost his digital totals to over 600 million on-demand streams with sales topping 4 million to date. He made a triumphant Grand Ole Opry debut and commanded crowds exceeding 20,000 fans spanning his nearly sold-out NOTHING TO DO TOWN TOUR 2019. The addictive passion behind “Hooked” earned Scott another smash, becoming a GOLD-certified #2 and propelling him to be selected among Country Radio Seminar 2019’s New Faces of Country Music® Class of 2019 – a coveted industry honor recognizing him as one of the most promising artists of the coming year. But even amidst all that success, Scott is still looking home.
Produced once again by Matt Alderman, Curt Gibbs, and Jim Ed Norman, NOTHING TO DO TOWN – EP fuses a hard-charging romantic edge with themes inspired by family and Scott’s youth in rural Louisiana over six fresh tracks – five of which were co-written by Scott. Fusing a hard-charging romantic edge with themes inspired by family and Scott’s youth in rural Louisiana. The set delivers everything from laid-back tenderness to danceable, chest-thumping thrills.
“Country is what I grew up on, but at the same time I listened to Pop and Hip-Hop and everything else,” he says, adding that his job as an artist is to evolve and welcome inspiration anywhere he can. “When you see fans smiling and forgetting about the work week and whatever’s going on in their life, that’s what it’s all about to me.”
With the album’s title track, the singer-songwriter takes a lifetime of small-town memories and puts them to verse. Co-written with Alderman and Cole Taylor, “Nothing to Do Town” celebrates the way Scott grew up – namely, making his own fun and being proud of where he came from. Chosen as the album’s first single, the up-tempo party-starter marked the biggest add date at Country radio of his career thus far, hinting at another hit in the making.
Meanwhile, more of Scott’s personal truth is revealed by the grooving “Look at Us Now,” marrying propulsive beats to a family-focused message inspired by the long-standing relationship between him and his high school sweetheart-now wife Blair.
“I just like to write songs people can relate to,” he explains, saying Blair and the couple’s young son, Beckett, continue to form the foundation of each track. “[Blair and I have] been together since we were 15, so she’s inspired it all. It’s just stuff that’s inside of me.”
What’s inside of him also includes “Nobody,” a soulmate–soundtrack framed by piano and dedicated to significant others who can still turn heads – and the knowledge that no matter what, they’re still coming home with you. “You Got Me” comes off like a breezy, front-porch anthem, while “Honey I’m Home” takes shelter in the warmth of true love – scoring points for its chill-bump-inducing chorus hook along the way – and “Anniversary” stands out as a steamy, R&B-inflected candlelight jam, complete with silk sheets and rose petals.
Together, those tracks mark the turning of a page for Scott, an artist whose red-hot rising stock is proven by the fact he just scored his first ever award nomination – up for Best New Country Artist at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards. Things are about to get even crazier for Scott, as the dedicated father and family man can now say with certainty he’s making his dreams happen. But according to him, the lessons instilled by that “Nothing to Do Town” won’t fade.
“I tell people I grew up knowing what I wanted to do, and now I’m doing exactly that,” Scott says. “I’m in the spotlight a little bit now, but with the way my parents raised me, it’s not about being famous. This is all about the music and the fans.”
For breakthrough country artist Jimmie Allen, a simple phrase sums up his view on life and music: Never give up.
A native of Southern Delaware – the region he describes as the “slower, lower” part of the state, and locale of Mercury Lane (the namesake of his debut album) – Allen has carried that mantra with him through good times and bad, whether than meant living in his car or rocking amphitheaters on Toby Keith’s Interstates & Tailgates Tour.
“I didn’t quit, I never will,” he says. “Stuff ain’t easy, and you shouldn’t quit either. There’s a big difference between busting your ass, and sitting on it.”
For Allen, musical dreams and a love of true-to-themselves artists like Alan Jackson, Aaron Tippin, Montgomery Gentry, and Jason Aldean brought him all the way to Nashville – and eventually around the world for an Armed Forces Entertainment tour of Japan.
But it was actually a nightmare which turned this promising singer into the artist he is today. After a series of bad breaks Allen was forced to live in his car, too proud to ask for a bail out. For months he worked multiple jobs and finally saved enough for an apartment but hit then another snag – Country music wasn’t ready for him.
“People were just trying to help,” he says now. “But they wanted me to change my sound and told me I had to lose my boots. The turning point came when I stopped listening, and finally let my music be a natural reflection of who I am.”
Since then Allen has been following his own compass, and it has lead him somewhere special. Now signed to BBR Music Group/BMG, his diligence is paying off. Kicking off 2018 being recognized on nearly every “Ones to Watch” list, this year has proved to be a turning point in the singer’s career as he raced through milestones that most only dream of—earning a standing ovation while making his Grand Ole Opry debut, cracking the Top 20 with his first-ever single and checking off many major bucket list items in between.
“I don’t regret the hard times,” he explains about his trials. “I think each thing you go through adds a layer, whether it’s a layer of toughness, perseverance, motivation, or just a layer of wisdom. At the end of the day you come back to what you know, and what’s embedded in you.”
What’s embedded in Allen is a powerful, soulful sense of groove – “If my body don’t move in the first four seconds, it ain’t for me,” he says – a love of deep messages and a knack for razor-sharp hooks.
Those driving forces formed the bedrock Allen’s debut self-titled EP, a cutting-edge mix of country, rock, R&B, and pop which digital streaming fans across all genres instantly latched onto when it dropped in October 2017.
“The response to my EP was incredible, I remember being onstage one night last November and nearly fell speechless as the entire crowd sang ‘Underdogs’ back to me for the first time—I’ll never forget it, it was a true ‘pinch me’ moment, especially because that song has become somewhat of the anthem for me and my journey.”
Mercury Lane, Allen’s first full-length album, delivers upon the same infectious groove that struck fans in his EP. Kicking off with dance-worthy tunes like “American Heartbreaker” and “Make Me Want To,” listeners will get an immediate helping of Jimmie’s signature playful sound. Rounded out by more introspective songs like “Wait for It” and “High Life,” as well as tracks like “Boy Gets a Truck” and “Love Me Like You Do” that allow his buttery smooth vocals to soar, Mercury Lane showcases the many sides of Jimmie Allen.
Family, as suggested in the heartfelt ballad “Warrior,” is a concept clearly central to the story of Jimmie Allen. Carrying a piece of them, wherever he goes, Mercury Lane takes its name from the street he grew up on as an homage to the origin of his story and the people that molded him.
“Mercury Lane is where my journey began. All of the fundamental life lessons that shaped my values, I was taught on that street—its where I learned about love, life, how to believe in myself, the concept of never giving up, following your dreams and being a good person. I credit my time spent there with my family for shaping me into the man I am today.”
Allen’s hard-won dreams are finally reality, but he knows he can’t rest now. Often found in his back pocket is a scarf from his late grandma which he carries to stay motivated.
“To me it serves as a constant reminder of where I came from, what it took to get me here, and my drive to keep pushing forward,” he says.
With that attitude, it seems like this is just the beginning for Allen.
Growing up in Jackson, Tennessee, Brandon Lay lived out the songs of John Mellencamp, Alan Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. He played sports during the day, fixed up cars after school and eventually wrote down his experiences in song, telling not only his story, but the story of other kids raised in small town America.
Now signed to EMI Records Nashville, he’s able to share those songs on a grand scale, beginning with his autobiographical debut single “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers.” Inspired directly by Brandon’s life, the song spells out right in its title the three chief influences that shaped him. There was always country music on the radio, he played basketball, football and baseball, and his dad spread the gospel on Sundays as a minister.
“Between going to church and playing sports, there was always a lesson to be learned,” says Brandon. “And country music lyrics are all about life lessons. All of that helped me figure out who I am in the world and what I wanted to do.”
At first, he thought his path would lead him to sports, but music won out, thanks in part to a guitar teacher who inspired him in college and the luck of where he was born – halfway between Memphis and Nashville. “Growing up in Jackson, you were hearing out of each ear: rock & roll and R&B to the west in Memphis, and country to the east in Nashville,” he says. “But country is the only genre I wanted to be a part of. Being where I’m from, I understand it, and I think most Americans can relate because it is so specific. The most satisfying feeling as a songwriter is when people come up and say, ‘I know exactly what you meant in that line.’ Country does that like no other genre.”
Brandon’s commitment to music was cemented, however, when he performed at his first open-mic night – at a cinder-block roadhouse near the Tennessee River. He sang jukebox staples “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” and despite an initial crowd of only eight people looking on, he returned every week and discovered he had a knack for commanding an audience’s attention, just like his father.
“There are parallels between what I watched my dad do every Sunday morning and being onstage as a country singer,” Brandon says. “He was able to tell stories and relate to people, and seeing him connect with people had a lot to do with my songwriting.”
Brandon is expert at detailing the small-town existence in his songwriting. He wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks on his debut album, a project he’ll unveil somewhere down the road – for the time-being, he’s building an audience by releasing a series of two-song EPs, beginning with the one-two punch of “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers” and the thumping cruising jam “Let It.”
“Songwriting comes from every direction for me. I always have titles and melodies in my phone,” he says. One new song, called “Yada Yada Yada,” was half-written while Brandon was singing the wordless melody into his phone while traveling. “But,” he adds, “I love writing in the studio.”
Other than perhaps the basketball court, there’s nowhere Brandon feels more at home than in the recording studio. Upon signing a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in 2013, he absorbed all he could about studio production, and when it came time to cut his own music, teamed up with producer Paul DiGiovanni to co-produce all of his songs, a rare feat for a “new” artist.
“It was important for me to have a thumbprint on my music as an extension of the songwriting process. Working with Paul, we were able to bridge that gap, and it
personalizes the project for me,” he says. “We cover a lot of ground in the songs, but I’m somewhere between Eighties country and Nineties rock. I like big guitars and big drums and it has to translate on the stage.”
The empowering “Back on the Wagon” contains both, balancing bombast with some plucky strings. The tale of getting over a failed romance, it’s a fresh look at heartbreak, with the hurt narrator regaining his confidence through nights out riding around with friends.
“Wilder Horses” marries synth with acoustic guitar to create the most cinematic of Brandon’s songs. Written with Ross Copperman and Jon Nite, the track embodies the musical halfway point where Brandon grew up. “The verses are bluesy like Memphis, and the chorus is very Nashville,” he says.
And “Break Down on Me,” the oldest song on the album, draws directly from his hobby of tinkering with trucks and cars. “In high school I had a ’92 F-150 that would always seem to break down on a two-lane road on the way to school, and there was no way getting around it. Everybody would see me. That’s what gave me the title,” he says of the track, about offering a caring shoulder to a girl. “It’s me saying, ‘I know things are bad for you now, but I’m good at fixing things. Lay it on me.'”
With his album already finished, Brandon – who cites Class of ’89 alums like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as country heroes – is focusing on taking the songs on the road. He’s already opened for artists like Dierks Bentley and Old Dominion, and is playing fairs and festivals around the country, bringing his story of “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers” to fans who may have grown up the same way.
“I knew coming out of the gate as a new artist that my first single had to say a lot about who I am and where I come from. Hopefully, people will hear it and fill in their own blanks,” Brandon says. “That’s my goal: for listeners to know that every line I’m singing, I’ve lived, and for them to find their own story in my songs.”
Filmore is a Country Music singer/songwriter based out of Nashville, TN.