Major league baseball players aren’t the only ones scoring big hits during this long, hot summer. Several of country music’s top male artists have been making their mark on the charts, and in some cases, charting higher than their rock, R&B and hip hop counterparts.
Of course, the summer of country fun kicked off with Brad Paisley’s May 25th release, This Is Country Music, which debuted at No. 1 on the country chart and sold 153,000 the first week, making Paisley the male country act with the biggest first week of sales in 2011.
Trace Adkins’ Proud to Be Here, RCA Records’ Chris Young’s new disc Neon, Blake Shelton’s Red River Blue and Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night, also hit the streets August 29.
But success hasn’t been relegated to the relative newcomers. Randy Travis, who celebrated his 25th year in country music this year, released the duet album, Anniversary Celebration.
Recipe for Success
One of the reasons country music fares so well, even in today’s tough economic climate, is that themes of faith, family and fun resonate so strongly with American consumers. The hit single that has been driving sales of Adkins’ album is “Just Fishin,’” a poignant song about father/daughter bonding. The video features the youngest of Adkins’ three daughters, six-year-old Trinity. For a heartwarming look at the strong bond between a young girl and her family, watch gmc's World Premiere Original Movie: Trinity Goodheart, Friday at 9 & 11 pm et. Plus, check out Shane & Shane's new music video: "The One You Need."
“I’m a pretty crusty old guy and have a pretty thick bark,” admits Adkins, a native of Sarepta, La., who began his career singing in a southern gospel quartet.
“When a song like that can touch me and move me, I just figure it’s probably going to break through just about anybody else’s shell too. That’s my measuring stick for songs like that.”
It’s been a rough summer for Adkins and his family. He and his wife, Rhonda, lost their Brentwood, Tenn. home on June 4 to a fire caused by a faulty power strip. He was on his way to Alaska for a gig and to do some fishing. Rhonda was returning home from shopping when she saw the smoke. The girls were home with a sitter and luckily they had been trained in fire safety and had picked a safe place outside the house to run to in case of an emergency, so no one was harmed.
“It’s been a traumatic thing for them, but hopefully they’ll take [away a lesson of not being] materialistic. Things could literally go up in a puff of smoke. The important thing is that we’re all together and we’re all okay. I hope I can continue to impress upon them that is the most important thing.”
The family has been living at their farm outside Nashville and looking for a place to rent closer to the girls’ schools until they rebuild. Following the fire, concerned fans wanted to help. Adkins thanked them, but directed them to aiding families who had suffered through this summer’s tornadoes and flooding.
The tall, deep-voiced entertainer is also a well-known supporter of our country’s military. One of the songs on the new album he’s proud of is “Semper Fi,” a salute to the U.S. Marine Corps. The song was written based on a desire to do shows for the troops, but an inability to gain clearance to travel to the dangerous areas they’re stationed.
The New Kids in Town
Mixing lighthearted summer anthems with more substantive tunes is a formula that has worked well for Adkins, and some of the younger artists are employing the same tactic. Eric Church, whose third Capitol Nashville album, Chief, sold 145,000 copies the first week it was available, debuting at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums and topping the all-genre Billboard 200 chart.
“Homeboy” is the tale of a wayward son from the perspective of a brother asking him to come home. In the final verse, Church sings: “You can’t hold back the hands of time/Momma’s goin’ grey and so is Daddy’s mind/I wish you’d come on back and make it alright before they’re called home, boy/Homeboy, Come on home, boy.”
Church, who was voted the Academy of Country Music’s 2011 Top New Solo Vocalist, doesn’t do Facebook and isn’t on Twitter, preferring to let the music speak for itself, which makes the amazing sales of Chief even more impressive.
“I’m not a guy who runs songs up and down the chart,” says the North Carolina native. “You’ve really got to invest in my songs and ‘Homeboy’ was the same way. That’s not background music or a feel-good song. It’s a serious song.”
“It’s really surreal. In my wildest dreams I didn’t think we’d sell this many records,” he says. Church is currently out on tour with Toby Keith, which will wrap up in October, and he’ll be home for the birth of his first child, a son.
“We’ve got a bunch of names, but haven’t picked anything,” he says. “We’re going to take names in, but I think you have to look at the baby before you name him,” says Church, who admits he can’t wait to see his little boy.
“It’s enough anticipation for me,” he says with a laugh. “Let’s get it over with. She’s 7 ½ months now. I’m ready.”
Luke Bryan, who also records for Capitol Nashville, released his third album tailgates & tanlines on August 9, selling 145,296 units and topping the country album chart, landing the No. 2 slot on the Billboard 200. (The top spot was taken by Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaboration, Watch the Throne.)
Bryan is the proud father of two boys, Bo, 3 and Tate, 1. Though he's known for tender ballads like the No. 1 hit “Do I” and fun, feisty up-tempos like “Rain is a Good Thing,” he also likes to record songs that reflect his rural roots growing up in Leesburg, Ga.
“I like ‘Harvest Time’ cause it puts me in Leesburg and that time of year is really special down there,” Bryan says in talking about songs on his new record. “I like [the song] ‘Muckalee Creek’ for the same reason. I feel like I could play those two songs and there’s my bio. There’s everything you need to know about me.”
Bryan enjoys seeing people respond to his music. “I moved to town to make fun music that makes people have a good time, and I just felt like this was what I came here to do,” he says. “It’s cool when you kick into a song live and the second you kick into it, you see the energy go across the crowd.”
Just a Regular Guy... With a Lot of Friends
Jake Owen takes connecting with his fans a step further than most, frequently Tweeting his whereabouts and inviting people to join him for a drink or dinner.
“The same way I like to connect with my fans on stage in that entertaining, interactive way, I also like to do that with Twitter,” says Owen. “You can’t be around these people all the time, but they can keep you in their pocket on their cell phone. It’s really like having a friend at any given time.”
Owen has an infectious smile and genuine enthusiasm for his music and his fans. During CMA Music Fest, he invited fans to meet him at the dock to go for a ride on his boat.
“I’m just a normal person. I just happen to play guitar and sing songs three or four nights a week,” he says. “I love the feeling of making someone’s day.”
Owen, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., originally considered a career in professional golf, but injured his shoulder in a wakeboarding accident. While recuperating from surgery, he took up the guitar and found his calling in music. He wrote or co-wrote everything on his first two albums – 2006’s Startin’ With Me and 2009’s Easy Does It, which spawned such hits as “Yee Haw,” “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” and “Startin’ with Me.” The title cut of his new album, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” has become his fastest climbing hit to date.
Currently on tour with Keith Urban, Owen recently played Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
“Even thinking about it now I get that burning feeling in my eyes a little bit,” he tells watchgmctv.com, “because I just remember being this kid with a dream when I moved here. I remember walking downtown, on Broadway with my mom, just kind of wandering around saying, ‘Where do we go? I don’t know anyone. What do we do? Is this where people go when they come to Nashville? Is this where you get found?’
“I’ll never forget walking into a little store and buying a western shirt with some roses on it. The guy behind the counter looked at me before I walked out and said ‘Son, are you new in town?’ My mom said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said ‘Well, do me a favor, find yourself a good church.’ I’ll never forget that guy saying that, and I remember walking up and down Broadway that day thinking how cool it would be to play at the [arena] ond day. So the other night, to sit there on stage and look out at a sold-out crowd, and see people in the front row with a Jake Owen t-shirt on... it’s hard to put into words.”
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.
A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.
Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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