Kelsea Ballerini's breakout hit, "Love Me Like You Mean It," is just a taste of the country-pop sound in her imaginative catalog. The Knoxville, Tennessee native has dedicated the better part of the last decade to creating inspiring music, based on her life, to motivate others to live without fear of their emotions. Due May 18th, her full-length debut, The First Time, has Kelsea's credit behind every song. The album radiates positivity while exploring all facets of the human experience. She is a true poet, and The First Time reflects that.
Kelsea's refreshing approach to music is rooted in a vulnerable place. Turning to songwriting to help her through her parents' divorce, she first discovered Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy." Captured by the lyrics and the story, Kelsea knew she had found a creative home in country music and continued to uncover strength and inspiration from artists such as Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and the Dixie Chicks.
"Life got rocky when I was 12," Kelsea says, "and this gift of songwriting just fell into my lap. It was literally this blessing that came at the perfect time. And for me, it's always been that steady thing in my life that I can always go back to." Songwriting propelled Kelsea forward. At 15, she moved to Nashville with her mother to pursue music. Her fresh sound builds on her East Tennessee upbringing and musical influences ranging from Britney Spears to Kelly Clarkson to Frank Sinatra.
Kelsea's vision, ambition, natural talent, and genuinely positive personality became abuzz on Music Row. "I would meet with anyone that would meet with me," Kelsea says. "I always approached meetings not expecting anything but just asking for advice. That way I never left disappointed."
Black River Publishing VP Celia Froehlig signed the burgeoning artist to a publishing deal in 2013. That December, at the company Christmas party, Black River Entertainment CEO Gordon Kerr offered Kelsea a record deal in the form of a wrapped present.
Kelsea's self-titled debut EP quickly gained her a loyal following and introduced fans to the hit single "Love Me Like You Mean It." With the release of The First Time, the twelve-song collection showcases her lovable, playful side with the catchy "Dibs" and "Yeah Boy." Kelsea sings of getting stood up by a former flame in the ballad "The First Time," while "Looking at Stars" is her fun-loving spin on a romantic dirt road date.
Kelsea delivers a head-spinning performance in the fiery fan favorite "XO," which calls out a man who's still hung up on his ex. In the striking "Stilettos," she gives perspective on the quiet pain that women endure. The ballad takes inspiration from the Pinterest quote that reads, "Strong women wear their pain like stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, all you see is beauty."
"Peter Pan" is loaded with Neverland imagery, and addresses how running from love affects personal growth. Kelsea sings in the chorus, "Always going to fly away; Just because you know you can; Never going to learn there's no such place as Neverland; You don't understand; You'll never grow up; You're never going to be a man; Peter Pan."
Kelsea proves stronger than the heartbreak of her parents' divorce in the revealing "Secondhand Smoke." "Square Pegs" celebrates being yourself in a world where you can choose who you want to be. "Sirens" warns of the dangers of falling for a heartbreaker, while the youth anthem "Underage" paints a portrait of life before the age of 21.
With a bold approach to life, Kelsea's connection to her fans comes from an unapologetic authenticity that is refreshing. "Letting yourself feel whatever you need to feel, not protecting yourself from emotion and dealing with it is what makes people, people," Kelsea says. "It's what makes writers good writers. It's important to me to be vulnerable and transparent -- that's when people relate to music best. It's not sugarcoated and it's not super pretty. It's just real."
That realness has garnered the support of superstars, media and fans alike. "Driving around with the @KelseaBallerini EP on repeat," Taylor Swift tweeted in early March. "So lovely." Little Big Town posted, "We've gotta #GirlCrush," and Dustin Lynch shared, "Hey @taylorswift13 you were right … @KelseaBallerini is on fire!"
Newly crowned one of CMT's "Next Women of Country," Kelsea is featured on several "ones to watch" lists for 2015, including Billboard, Country Weekly, Rolling Stone Country, The Huffington Post, and Spotify. NBC's Today Show spotlighted "Love Me Like You Mean It" on "iHoda," Hoda Kotb's Playlist. USA Today, The Washington Post, Just Jared, and many more have glowing pieces on Kelsea.
Recently, Kelsea made her Grand Ole Opry debut and is currently co-headlining CMT's inaugural "Next Women of Country" Tour. "Dreams do come true. I'm seeing it first hand. While I want to do it all, the arena tours and award shows, most of all, I just want to put out good music that matters." The First Time is Kelsea's first big opportunity to do that. "When I signed the record deal, in my heart I thought, ‘what do you want to say to the world? Because now, there are people who are going to help you say it.'"
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.”
Dustin Lynch occupies a unique place in today’s country music. Thanks to his classic sensibilities, he’s been heralded as the heir to George Strait’s throne. Yet with one listen to his newest hit, “Where It’s At,” it’s obvious the young Tennessean knows how to combine his traditional influences with an edgy intensity that places him at the vanguard of today’s contemporary country scene.
It’s that ability to fuse his country roots with a progressive musical vision that makes Lynch one of today’s most successful young artists. His self-titled Broken Bow Records debut hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and the lead single, “Cowboys and Angels,” exceeded platinum sales status while earning Lynch a legion of devoted fans. His follow up single, the sexy up tempo “She Cranks My Tractor,” became a No. 1 video on GAC’s Top 20 Country Countdown and the accolades continued to pour in, among them Rolling Stone heralding Lynch as “The New Hat in Town” in the magazine’s 2013 Best of Rock issue. Lynch’s career momentum continued as he opened for Keith Urban on his recent Light the Fuse Tour and earned critical praise from American Songwriter, Billboard, Country Weekly, Elle, The Los Angeles Times, People and USA Today, to name a few.
At the heart of it all stands a young man with an abundance of raw talent and an unwavering work ethic that seized his moment and made the most of it. “It’s crazy what music can do,” Lynch says with a smile. “I’ll do a show and have people come up to me in tears because they are getting to share a story about how my songs have affected their life. That’s so inspiring. I know now that a song can really affect someone’s life and that’s what makes me want to keep doing the best I can do.”
After the tremendous success of his debut album, one might expect Lynch to be nervous about recording his sophomore project. Instead he approached the task with confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. “For me, it’s all about the songs,” he relates. “I’m so confident in these songs, I can’t wait for this album to come out. As a songwriter I want to see what people gravitate towards.”
With it’s upbeat lyric and insinuating groove, people are already gravitating toward the lead single “Where It’s At.” “It just came to life when we were recording it,” Lynch says. “Musically it’s a new groove that we haven’t done before and it’s a sweet song. It says there’s no better place on the planet than with somebody you love. It’s a great message. That’s what I like to do with my music - hopefully impact people in a positive way.”
In recording the new album, Lynch again teamed with Brett Beavers and Luke Wooten, who produced his debut, and also worked with Mickey Jack Cones (Jason Aldean/ Joe Nichols). “Mickey has brought a whole new arsenal of tools to the game and took me to a new place vocally that I haven’t been,” Lynch says. “Brett, Luke and Mickey all have their strengths and I get to have the best of both worlds, so it’s awesome. We’ve got a great partnership.”
As a result, Lynch has crafted a musically inventive and lyrically substantive album filled with memorable songs – and he’s never sounded more seasoned and confident. “Hell of a Night” percolates with an edgy energy while “Sing it to Me” is a song Lynch describes as sexual chocolate. “It’s a song that’s so sexy,” he grins. “It’s about a person that’s poison but you just can’t get enough.”
Another highlight is the beautiful ballad “Your Daddy’s Boots” that chronicles the feelings of a groom as he watches his bride dance with her father, hoping he can fill his boots. “I wrote it with Tim Nichols and Josh Leo, who I wrote ‘Cowboys and Angels’ with. There is some sort of magical thing that happens with those guys,” Lynch says.
“Middle of Nowhere” explores a complicated relationship that Lynch says more closely mirrors his own life. “It’s about being stuck in the friend zone and wondering if you should take a friendship into no man’s land where there’s no return,” he explains with a smile. “Once you kiss a friend, you’re not a friend anymore. All of a sudden you are something bigger and hopefully better, but sometimes it ends up crashing and burning pretty hard. So there’s that fear factor.
Though he didn’t write “What You Wanna Hear,” Lynch says he can relate to the tune penned by Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip and Ashley Gorley. “I’m definitely a down home guy. If I have a day off, I’m driving the country roads just chillin’ out or going home to turkey hunt and going fishing on the river.”
Growing up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Lynch lived the kind of rural life celebrated by country music and his album reflects those roots. “ ‘After Party’ is me,” he says. “It’s me and my crew back home. We lived for the weekends and Friday night football games. We lived for going out to Lazy Branch Road. We’d go cruising there and then we’d get to the boat ramp where we’d build a fire and drink beer that we snuck away from somebody’s house or bought with a fake ID. We’d play music and try to meet some new girls from the next county over.”
His parents urged him to attend college and get his degree (he graduated Pre-Med from David Lipscomb University) but music was always his dream. He grew up listening to his heroes--- George Strait, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. “They are such icons and seem so untouchable, but I thought, ‘Man that would be awesome to be like them.’ You just start taking steps,” Lynch says. “I took a step and got in a band in high school. I took a step and came to Nashville and talked my way into the The Bluebird Café. I took another step and recorded a little five-song album in a basement in one day. These are little milestones and you don’t even realize they are huge building blocks to where we are today. It’s always something I dreamed of doing. I’m just glad I was dumb enough to give it a shot.”
Dustin Lynch is living the dream he worked so hard to achieve and he’s happy to walk the line between country music’s past and it’s future, a link between it’s most honored traditions and it’s edgier new direction. “I want to do everything I can possibly do to be the best I can be,” Lynch says. “I never give myself a day off. If you have a list of things that I’ve accomplished, I probably couldn’t tell you a tenth of them because it’s always about what’s happening next. Every time we take that stage is a nice little pat on the back, a nice little present. I love what I’m doing right now. Musically I’ve been blessed to be able to walk a line that is a bit more traditional, but I can sprinkle some newer influences on top of that. I wear a cowboy hat. It’s who I am and weirdly enough, in country music cowboy hats are few and far between right now. I’m glad it’s that way. The door is open for a young guy like me to come in and carry that torch. I’m happy to do so.”
He’s a passionate singer with a unique sound who grew up in Appalachia, and you’ll be hearing Morgan Wallen before 2016 is over. Wallen moved to Nashville in July 2015, not sure what he would find, but convinced that he should at least give his dreams a legitimate shot. Less than a year later, he’d already been signed to Big Loud Records, recorded some initial tracks with producer Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen) and hit the road on his first radio promotion tour.
It might appear that Wallen’s on the fast track, but it took him a while to get there. Born in Sneedville, Tennessee (a town that also lays claim as the birthplace of bluegrass pioneer Jimmy Martin), to a hard-rock-lovin’ preacher and contemporary-Christian-devoted teacher, Wallen showed his musical interests early, singing in front of the local congregation at age three and asking for a violin for his fifth birthday. He would soon switch to piano and later add guitar to his arsenal, though he never really imagined it was possible to make a career of it.
“I didn’t think that was realistic because I had no clue about how the music business worked,” Wallen says. “Even living three hours away, I had no idea about Nashville.”
Instead, he focused his efforts on baseball, and he was pretty good at it. Playing shortstop and pitcher for Gibbs High School in Corryton, the same school where Kenny Chesney graduated. Wallen earned an offer to continue playing at a major college.
But fate intervened. While pitching during his senior year, he felt a pop in his right elbow and would undergo a tendon replacement procedure. While he was able to continue playing guitar and piano, it proved to be the end of his baseball career.
“Looking back, I’m glad it happened the way it did, because I really actually loved music more than I ever did baseball,” he says.
The kind of music almost didn’t matter. Rock, hip-hop, country – he loved it all, particularly the emotional connection that it created between the musician and the listener. But when he wrote, the music was invariably country.
“Writing music was a way for me to get my feelings out,” he says. “I don’t really express my feelings very much, and I guess it was just a way for me to let some of that go. It’s my safe place.”
His mother signed him up to audition for NBC’s The Voice, convinced that he’d do well. Wallen had no idea what to expect – he’d never seen the show – but he was chosen by Usher and was later stolen by Adam Levine. The last song he performed during his run, a cover of Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay,” helped him steer him toward his creative destiny.
“Honestly, I was just trying to figure out who I was,” he reflects. “I was trying to figure out me as a person, me as an artist. It was one way to do it.”
During his time in California, Wallen met Sergio Sanchez, the lead singer and writer for Jive Records’ hard-rock band Atom Smash. While Sanchez initially served as Wallen’s vocal coach, they hit it off and started co-writing regularly in Knoxville. Sanchez brought the music to the attention of producer Paul Trust and partner Bill Ray, who in turn produced an initial batch of songs. From there, things moved quickly. Wallen’s managers, Dirk Hemsath and Mike Bachta of Working Group Artist Management, set him up to play for William Morris Endeavor’s Kevin Neal, agent for Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line. Neal signed him on the spot. Hemsath and Bachta next sent demos to Big Loud Shirt’s Seth England, hoping to land some co-writing opportunities with songwriters at the publishing company. England was so impressed that he brought Morgan in to audition for his partners in Big Loud Records: Craig Wiseman, Clay Hunnicutt, Kevin “Chief” Zaruk and Joey Moi. They signed Wallen to both the label and the publishing company.
Wallen started woodshedding as a songwriter, working with the likes of Wiseman (“Live Like You Were Dying”), Rodney Clawson (“Dirt”), Chris Tompkins (“Drunk On A Plane”), the Warren Brothers (“Highway Don’t Care”), Tommy Cecil (“Home Alone Tonight”) and Matt Dragstrem (“Sippin’ On Fire”). Meanwhile, Big Loud proved that it was big-league – while Wallen worked on his own music, the label’s first-ever single, Chris Lane’s “Fix,” went into the Top 15 and continued climbing, an unheard-of start for a brand-new label. Wallen hopes to build a similar story. He headed out on a promotion tour of radio stations in the summer of 2016, giving him a chance to start playing for people again after spending so much of the previous year in writing rooms and the recording studio. The end goal is to be on a stage, making that emotional connection with his distinctive sound. But it takes time to get there. “We’ve just really been trying to get the focus on the music,” he says. “If we don’t have that, then there’s no point in playing.”
Growing up in Kernersville, North Carolina, Chris Lane listened to all of the requisite country music staples: Alan Jackson, George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks. But as a child of the Nineties, he was also shaped by the smooth pop and R&B sounds of artists like Justin Timberlake, Usher and the Backstreet Boys. Now, as he prepares to release his anticipated debut EP for Big Loud Records, Lane has drawn upon those influences to create music for the modern country fan.
He also learned something about himself in the process: he's a damn fine falsetto singer. Working with über-producer Joey Moi, Lane was putting the finishing touches on a half-dozen songs in the studio when he absentmindedly began singing in the upper reaches of his register. Moi spun around in his chair.
"Joey said, 'What was that you just did? That was incredible,'" Lane recalls of his and Moi's eureka moment, which prompted them to go in search of songs that highlighted Lane's falsetto. "I sang this style my whole life, but we just didn't have the material to showcase it. Now the falsetto has become my sound and I hope it separates me from what other artists are doing."
His new single "Fix" showcases that impressively natural singing style. Written by Sarah Buxton, Jesse Frasure and Abe Stoklasa, the song is a vibrant jam, about finding that one person who gives you exactly what you need. Lane delivers it with a southern voice and a sophisticated touch, announcing the arrival of a new brand of country star — one with a keen ear for what fans are listening to today.
"The average country fan grew up the same way I did. And guys like Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line did too: listening to all different kinds of music, especially dance and pop," Lane says. "The songs on my EP build on that and lend themselves to making people want to move."
Along with "Fix," other standouts include the romantic escape "For Her," the heartbreaking "Drinkin' Games," which Lane co-wrote, and the simply titled "Cool," which cleverly mines old-school nostalgia. The magnificent "Stolen Car," however — with its infectious "had to have you" refrain — is Lane at his all-out best. It's a song that Buxton (Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy," Florida Georgia Line's "Sun Daze") wrote especially for the versatile vocalist and calls to mind the pop finesse of Timberlake and the musical savvy of Keith Urban.
"I am such a huge fan of his," says Lane of the singer-guitarist. It was after witnessing Urban in concert, in fact, that Lane was inspired to learn the guitar and become an entertainer. "If you want to be the best of the best, you look to Keith Urban."
With more than 500 shows to his credit in just a few short years, Lane has shared the stage with Florida Georgia Line, Jerrod Niemann, Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett, and will join Dustin Lynch's 35-plus cities Hell of a Night Tour this fall.
Still, Lane is very much his own artist — and one savvy enough to truly put his audience first. "When I'm writing, recording and making music, I'm doing it with them in mind," he says of his connection to the crowd. "I feel like I am the fans."
If there's one thing that stands out about Olivia Lane, it's her pure, unbridled energy. It's reflected in her big, dynamic voice; in her performance, which bursts with passion and levity; and by her simple presence, which can dissolve you in laughter and make you grin from ear to ear. Not every day does an artist come around able to so effortlessly meld a freewheeling spirit with poignant, inspirational songs and an irrepressible drive, but Lane's one of them. Because she knows as well as anyone how easily music can inspire a smile.
"A lot of my material is about following your dreams," Lane says. "About being inspired. Life is wonderful, and why not sing about it?" She certainly lives that ethos: Lane's been following her dream since she was a small child, singing songs for her parents in their Houston living room. Her mother, a regional Texas singer, was the ultimate roll model, encouraging her daughter by playing her the greats – Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Elvis – and making sure she could express herself in any way possible. "She noticed I was this crazy, energetic child with a loud voice," Lane recalls, laughing. "So she put me in community theater and choir and completely opened up my world."
Now, Lane's more often found collaborating with producer partner Ilya Toshinskiy (Sheryl Crow, Luke Bryan and many others) or frequenting the Nashville writing room, but she'll never loose sight of her roots, or her family. That's because her journey is a huge part of her story, and a true testament to her commitment to her art. At sixteen, she convinced her parents to let her move to Los Angeles, just so she could be in an environment that challenged her to push forward. "I moved to LA because I wanted to move to an entertainment capitol," she says. "Then I went to college out there at USC and did theater, and started songwriting, and completely fell in love with it. I said, you know what? I could probably do this for a living."
It was this love of country music and songcraft that pushed her to go to Nashville – she came to Tennessee on internships while in college, and then, right after her graduation, she packed up her car and drove cross-country to make her relationship with the town official. Immediately, she started getting to know writers and spending time in writing rooms, composing songs like "Steal Me Away" (written with Lee Thomas Miller and Toshinskiy) from her Love Thing EP, that introduced the world to who Olivia Lane is: a bold, brave, positive force ready to shake up the country music scene with her songs.
Lane holds her relationship with Toshinskiy – and everyone on her team – as a vital part of her evolving picture, and selecting whom to work with wasn't something she took lightly. As optimistic as she is, she's also a careful businesswoman who holds the careers of Reba and Dolly Parton up as the gold standard, and grasps full control over her bigger picture. "It was really important for me to find a producer who would believe in me," she says on Toshinskiy. "I wanted someone who would work with me on development, but still keeping Olivia, still keeping the essence of who I am."
Part of that essence is her vast ability and in-depth musical knowledge, which she takes huge pride in – referencing everything from Michael Jackson to classic country greats. She's often been compared to Jennifer Nettles and Sara Evans, which certainly are welcome. But she's as quick to point out a Frank Sinatra tune as she is a Sugarland song. "I love the big voices, like Trisha Yearwood," she says. "But my fourth grade teacher would play us Frank Sinatra after recess in an effort to calm us down and, of course, the annoying Olivia would learn 'World On a String' and belt it out, which my teacher would hate! I love everything, from Katy Perry, to Stevie Wonder to Patty Loveless. I just find it all so inspiring. Because as a kid, I would lock myself in my room and listen to music for five hours until dinnertime. I'm still that kid."
Now at home in Nashville, Lane's been focusing on her next phase: co-writing more songs, touring (she's opened for Wynonna, Frankie Ballard, LoCash Cowboys and many more) as well as hosting a local music series called Diva Jam at listening rooms around town. Ever the open book, she shares every minute with her fans through YouTube videos and social media. "I want to be very open with my fans and friends," she says, "and be open in my life - because life is great. If I can make someone's day with a selfie, then that's just amazing."
Lane's sound is a combination of country elements – mandolin, banjo, lyrics sweetly laced with Texas twang – with a pop energy and locomotive rhythms that capture her every-moving spirit. The title track of her EP, "Love Thing," is a mid-tempo ode to looking for rollercoaster sparks in love set to plucky strings; while "Steal Me Away" is a thumping, sing-along about letting life take you away with its every adventure.
"Country music, everyone has their own definition," she says. "For me, it's a lifestyle and it's true lyrics. If you're writing something that's true to you then that's country. How I grew up, my lifestyle and stories – that's number one to me. Stories are everything."
And certainly, Lane's always collecting stories. From her adventures on the road, to life in Nashville, to writing songs with the city's best, she's always on the lookout for life experiences to fuel a lyric, or just make her smile. As she sings on "Steal Me Away" to an infectious strum, "normal is overrated, I want fun and complicated." She's all that and more.
"I'm gonna change your tomorrow, tonight," sings Craig Campbell in his new single. Though he may be telling tales of romance and the sparks that happen after dark in “Tomorrow Tonight," Campbell's never taken a backseat to anything. He’s certainly never taken a backseat in his career as one of country's brightest rising stars who exists in a perfect sweet spot between tradition and modernity; neither as a songwriter; nor as a family man. He's always been the kind of person to change his own tomorrow, tonight.
That doesn't mean the road to "Tonight" has always been easy. There have been bumps along the way for the Georgia-born artist, on his path from the small town of Lyons to Nashville's Music Row. But through radio hits like "Keep Them Kisses Comin’," "Fish" and "Family Man," and countless shows, he's kept his eyes on his mission – to bring his fans true country music with a spin all his own, through timeless songs that tell his life story. And with "Tomorrow Tonight" (co-written with Justin Wilson and Vicky McGehee) Campbell's ready to share the next chapter: where that timelessness meets the here and now.
"It encompasses all of what I love about country music right now," he says of the track. "It has a balance of what you think of as more traditional, and also more modern sounds. I really believe in finding a way to meet in the middle – it lets me be proud of the music I make and am writing. And I feel like there is a great spot out there for music like this right now."
Ushered in by cascading guitars and a sweeping mid-tempo chorus that could fit just as easily into the arms of a chanting arena as an intimate living room, "Tomorrow Tonight" effortlessly embodies the neo-traditionalist tag he has come to personify. While some country artists are truly vintage, resurrecting a bygone era, and others are infusing their sound with rap or electronica, Campbell is what happens when these worlds meld in harmony. He loves singing about romance and fatherhood; but he also likes being playful, sexy, even funny at times. "Tomorrow, Tonight" is the perfect amalgam of all these sides – catchy and loose with an unshakable emotional drive and a chorus that you can't help but sing along to.
"There are a lot of sides to me that people haven’t yet seen," he says, currently at work on his third record. "You can expect some great music with a little more energy, and a lot more fire."
He'll certainly show these other sides on his forthcoming LP, which signals a whole new era for Campbell – new label, new songwriters, new producer (Jeremy Stover, known for his many successes with Justin Moore) and a new outlook that lets him explore all the facets of his unique niche in the country landscape. And the timing is perfect. While the genre shoots off in directions left and right, Campbell's a singer capable of melding both the old and the new into something purely special, purely his own. There's a palpable energy in the tracks, from "Hangin'" which fuses a honky-tonk spirit with a full-throttle, hard-rock energy, to slinky vibes of "Upstairs" that's edgier – and naughtier – than anything he's done previously. The guitars are bigger, the sound rounder, the vision more complete. It's Campbell like he's never been heard before, but it's actually the truest to himself yet.
Campbell's kept pushing even through the difficult times, back when his original record label folded. "It was very deflating," he admits, but he kept persevering. His sophomore LP, Never Regret, gained him comparisons to Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Clint Black, and "Keep Them Kisses Comin’" climbed into the Top Ten of Country radio. It wasn't long after the shuttering of his former label Bigger Picture that his current home, BBR Music Group's RED BOW, snatched him up nearly instantly. RED BOW recognized that it was crucial to keep that classic-country-bred, smooth-as-molasses voice singing.
Growing up in a strong Southern Baptist home, Campbell fell in love early with the sounds of Country radio, and built a foundation not just as a singer and performer, but as a songwriter. It was a conversation with Luke Bryan, for whom he once played keyboard, that really helped him set his priorities clear. "He said, 'man you need to be writing songs, and you need to be writing with different people, twice a day,'" recalls Campbell. "That's where you can define yourself as an artist, with people writing songs that tell your story. And nobody is going to sing them better than you.'"
That dedication to the craft made him not only understand the importance of crafting songs like "Tomorrow Tonight" with trusted collaborators, but also to keep writing, constantly. It's an ethos that recently led to Garth Brooks himself cutting his track "All American Kid" for Man Against the Machine. "That was such a huge, huge honor," said Campbell. "I didn't believe it was happening, even when he was recording it."
"Tomorrow Tonight," is the blueprint for Campbell's road ahead, full of songs that tug at heartstrings, push boundaries and seep in with infectious melodies. "All the songs we are writing are all very committed and current," he says. "But it's still me, singing. That's the main thing I want people to say, at the end of the day: that I'm a great singer, who truly loves country music." Tonight, tomorrow, and forever.
Margaret Roberts and Iliana de Boisblanc believe it takes kismet to make a fashion brand come together. After moving from Nashville—where she was lauded for her couture designs—Margaret headed to New York and then L.A. where she realized something important: There was no such thing as the perfect legging. In New York, she had to layer up in the ice cold winter (and then suffer in the heated air); in LA, she was too hot in her tights and had to constantly wash them. Surely there was a better way?
There was, but it took inspiration and a bit of divine intervention for the ultimate legging to be born. Margaret met Iliana de Boisblanc, who helped her find the ideal high performance fabric for their new brand of leggings: Minxx. The high-end collection combines the durability of extreme sportswear with the stylishness of the runways for the perfect legging: Chic, wearable, flattering, and innovative.
“Leggings have always been a staple in a woman's closet,” Margaret said. “We wanted to offer high-fashion into today's trending active wear while still looking edgy and chic in the most comfortable way. Our obsession with the comfort and fashion sensibility in leggings, is something that both my mom and I have always looked for in every brand.”
For the designers, coming together, finding the fabric, and designing the right looks was all a matter of life lining up just right. Which is why they summed up such perfection in a name.
“Minxx in my vocabulary is a term of endearment I first started calling my dog, and integrated into my life to those that I love,” Margaret said. “It started out as a pet name and it is the perfect word in my opinion to describe that perfect item that becomes a part of your essential wardrobe.”
Here’s why God made RaeLynn.
Because country music needed her.
Because America needed to fall in love.
Now, following up on the success of her 2014 gold-certified debut single “God Made Girls,” with the release of her Warner Bros. Records/Warner Music Nashville debut album, there’s one more reason: Because the time has come for her to blossom as an undeniable force of nature with roots deeply planted in tradition and a finger on the pulse of life.
On Wild Horse, we hear that same warmth and accessibility and sense the same buoyant personality that ushered her into the spotlight on NBC’s “The Voice.” But she was only 17 years old then, her appeal defined in part by her innocence and openness to all that lie ahead. She’s still young but at 22 she can apply a deeper dimension to those qualities. That same Texas twang colors her voice; add to it a new sophistication, a broader palette, with a maturity in her ability to deliver a performance, and you’ve got something special.
You’ve got Wild Horse, the next step on RaeLynn’s path toward true stardom.
“I grew up listening to singers whose voices were a little eccentric like Duffy and Ingrid Michaelson, along with Shania Twain and The Civil Wars,” said RaeLynn. “When I first moved to Nashville I use to try and make my voice sound different, but I finally realized it already sounded different.” Along with her distinct voice and a writing style that is rooted in her upbringing, she distills a sound that is unquestionably her own.
That uniqueness comes though immediately on Wild Horse. She co-wrote almost every song on the album and shows no fear in tackling any subject with honesty and sensitivity.
On the wistful and reflective “Young,” she sings with a self-awareness that’s rare among artists her age: “I’ll live while I’m young / I’ll forgive while I’m young / The best is yet to come / so I’ll live while I’m young.” Written with affection about her new husband Josh Davis, “Say” celebrates good guys too tongue-tied to act smooth: “You don’t have to say that you want me with anything but your eyes,” she sings playfully and affectionately. “I can hear everything you can’t say.” On the title track, RaeLynn extols her fierce independence — and the fact that she’s found a man who respects and encourages it.
And, there are moments where she goes deep beneath the surface on Wild Horse. Her heartbreaking single “Love Triangle” captures and conveys the pain of divorce through the eyes of a child. This, too, RaeLynn wrote from experience.
“When I was 3, my mom and dad got a divorce,” she says. “I grew up being that kid who was relaying information back and forth, walking on eggshells, knowing that when I’m with my dad I can’t talk with my mom because it would trigger things. As I got older, I realized that I shouldn’t have had to worry about that when I was 6 years old. I should have been playing with Barbies and having a good time. Instead, I was waiting with my little white suitcase that had Minnie Mouse on the front for my dad to come and pick me up.”
These feelings remained fresh when at age 18 she got together with Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins for writing sessions. “The day we wrote this song I almost cancelled because my parents were bickering and I was pulled into the middle of it and I was upset,” she remembers. “And, I’m so glad I went because we created something magical that day. Jimmy and Nicolle shared their stories too — we all come from different triangles, I guess you could say. It’s a powerful thing when a song raises its hand four years after you’ve written it…you know it’s special. I still cry every time I hear it. It’s my favorite song I’ve ever written.”
The song has drawn immediate reaction. “Her sense of color and texture takes a familiar story and passes it through a process that makes every detail scream with emotion,’ says Billy Dukes of Taste of Country. “She could be an Instagram filter,” he continues and… she doesn’t say things like everyone else.” Rolling Stone called it”…a potent new single.”
For all the music RaeLynn will write and record for decades to come, Wild Horse will be remembered as the seminal moment where America was introduced to a voice of a generation. “This album is different from everything I’ve done before because so much has changed in my life,” she says. “I moved out and lived on my own. I got married to the man I love. I went through a period where I didn’t have a label and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I’ve had to evolve.”
This project draws from RaeLynn’s recent past as well. “When I came to Nashville, I lived on Nicolle Galyon’s couch. She and her husband Rodney Clawson gave me a room. We wrote every day with Jimmy Robbins — this is before they both had No. 1 records. We believed in each other and we built this amazing friendship. It’s so cool to see how God works, to have them as producers four years later for Wild Horse. I would trust them with anything.”
“When I recorded Wild Horse I had no bugs in my ear, nobody telling me what to do,” she continues. “I’ve shaken everything off. With this music, I’m completely myself. I want to keep making music that resonates with fans and touches people and makes them feel like they’re on top of the world. Even if it takes a couple of records to get there, I’m gonna do it.”
She already has.