Country Music Association’s 2012 “Entertainer of the Year,” five-time Male Vocalist of the Year winner and GRAMMY nominee Blake Shelton continues to add to his superstar status. With 17 consecutive #1 singles, Shelton owns the record of successive #1 singles in the modern era, and has a total of 22 #1 singles.
His new album, If I’m Honest, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Album Sales Chart and the Billboard Country Album Chart. If I’m Honest has already yielded the #1 smash single, “Came Here To Forget,” and his new single “She’s Got A Way With Words.” The album features three songs written by Shelton which include the gospel tinged “Savior’s Shadow,” “Friends,” which is also featured in the #1 film, The Angry Birds Movie, and “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” a song he wrote and performs with Gwen Stefani.
A member of the Grand Ole Opry, he has earned a host of awards throughout his career, including the recent People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Country Artist. Shelton just celebrated his 10th season on NBC’s “The Voice” and recently hosted Nickelodeon’s slime-filled Kids’ Choice Awards. Shelton is the subject of a career-spanning exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story. The exhibit explores the life and work of one of country music’s most popular and multi-dimensional artists. He will hit the road in September for his Blake Shelton presented by Gildan tour, which kicks off with a two-night stand in Oklahoma City.
The much-anticipated new album American Love represents the best of Jake Owen both musically and personally, and that’s because the project is the result of a soul-searching journey that led him to explore the meaning of life and music.
While recording the album, he ventured down some enticing new musical paths, but eventually decided to return home to his Florida-inspired roots, embracing the unique sound for which he is popular. Personally, he worked through the pain and healing of a divorce and renewed his commitment to what really matters in life--hope, optimism and the power of love.
American Love is a new beginning for Owen, who has become a beacon of positive vibes through his uplifting lyrics and melodies, optimism, love of the beach and his youthful spontaneity. This begins the exciting new chapter in his award-winning career that has earned five number one hits-- “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Beachin,” “The One That Got Away,” “Alone with You” and “Anywhere with You.”
“This record has been very enlightening because I found myself through the songs. I got back to basics with American Love,” he says of the project co-produced by award-winning songwriters and producers Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman with three tracks co-produced Lukas Bracewell and Owen, “This is me, this is what I want to say and this is what I want people to remember me for. These songs promote positivity and love.
“There are a lot of things on this record that have been said before, but it is the feeling of the songs, the sonic nature of them and the lyrics that will make it different than what people have heard before. I feel a real connection to these songs.”
The debut single, “American Country Love Song,” is emerging as this year’s summer anthem. It perfectly captures the anticipation, freedom and hope that is brought on the feeling of summer. The song describes “a couple of kids living that American country love song,” but it’s a much larger celebration of the universal love story that is America itself. “It’s the thought of, ‘Hey, let’s raise our glasses to the fact that we are all one in the same,’” Owen says. “We are basically living one big American country love song.”
All of the songs on American Love have the common thread of wanting to feel happy and peaceful and accepting the need to move on with life. The title track takes the Vero Beach, Fla., native back to some of the best years of his life-- those butterfly-inducing high school dates. “It captures that freedom of young love that keeps showing its face in my music. He drops his girlfriend off and wonders, ‘Should I kiss her?’ As you get older, you get so jaded by little things that happen that you forget what it feels like to be excited by what is next. I gravitate to songs that give me that feeling of excitement.”
That youthful feeling of freedom and excitement continues on “After Midnight.” “The song says, ‘If nothing good happens after midnight, why did it always feel so good?’” he says. “I think everyone has thought about that at some point in their life.”
“Everybody Dies Young” embraces Owen’s philosophy of seizing the moment, noting that whether you are 18, 45 or 91, “while we are here, this is our moment in the sun.” He’s joined by Grammy-award-winning songwriter Hillary Lindsey singing on the romantic "Where I Am" and "When You Love Someone," which is perhaps the best showcase of his impressive vocal abilities of his career. And what a career it has been.
This year marks Owen’s tenth anniversary, a track record that is increasingly becoming a rarity in today’s popular music landscape. Since releasing his debut album on RCA Records in 2006, Startin’ with Me, he has become one of today’s most popular male country singers for his irresistible melodies, smooth vocals and laid-back attitude.
His second album, 2009’s Easy Does It, contained the singles “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” and “Eight Second Ride” and led to him receiving the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist Award.
He landed his first No. 1 hit (and double platinum-selling single) with the title track of his third studio album, Barefoot Blue Jean Night, in 2011. That album also produced three more No. 1s—the platinum-selling “Alone with You,” the gold-selling “The One That Got Away,” and “Anywhere with You.” With the success of that album, he won Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2012 American Country Awards.
His fourth studio album, Days of Gold, was released in 2014 and contained the No. 1 hit “Beachin.” Along the way, he toured with artists including Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Little Big Town and Sugarland.
“When you look at my first album, I am the same in the kind of guy that I am and the kind of songs that I love,” he says. “But I am different in the sense that I know who I am now, as opposed to who I was on my first album. I was 24-years-old and just excited to have a record deal and be on tour with Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. I don’t think I put as much emphasis on what my music meant.
Now, it isn’t just about making music anymore; it is about recording songs that mean not only a lot to me, but to my fans, who are expecting a lot of me. I have put a lot of thought into each of these songs and why they hit me the way they do and why I get excited when it comes up next on my set list. This is music I am honestly fired up to play for people. I don’t ever want to lose that excitement in my music.“
When he began working on his fifth album, he initially felt compelled to attempt to make what he thought would be a cooler, hipper sound, as evidenced by the song “Real Life,” which was released to radio. However, he soon discovered that cool and trendy aren’t what matters; authenticity and truth are. “There is no reason to break the mold of what brought me to the party,” he explains. “What brought me to the party is what I do. Anytime I try to do something that isn’t me, it hasn’t worked so well. When I do what is the most comfortable and natural, it has done well.”
That’s why he has been truthful about the fact that the last few years haven’t always been easy for the good-time guru. He launched his first headlining tour and reach new career heights, got married and had a daughter, Pearl. But then, his father received a cancer diagnosis, he went through a divorce and the head of his record label was fired.
“I couldn’t pretend like bad things weren’t happening because everybody knew and I’m pretty transparent,” he says. “For the 90 minutes that I got to be on stage performing, I got a lot of pleasure and relief and escape from all of the things that were going on in my life. It was therapy for me. Music heals and not just for the fans and listeners. Most artists will tell you that the reason we became artists is because we need the healing process in our lives. I’m learning that others relate to what you are going through, coming to terms with the fact that life didn’t turn out the way you planned.”
During some of his dark times, he was inspired by a quote that said, “Be kind and gentle and loving to everyone because everyone is fighting their own kind of battle.” He says, “You can feel sorry for yourself, but everybody has something they are going through. Music truly seems to be the one thing that is the healing factor in a lot of people’s lives. I will always be grateful for music, whether I’m performing or listening.”
Big & Rich
As Big & Rich, John Rich and Big Kenny Alphin have exerted a definite “gravitational pull” to the direction modern country music has taken. Their much anticipated new project, “Gravity” provides a stellar example of the genius of their creative brotherhood--the result of two unique musical personalities colliding to form an even greater positive sum total. The project has propelled the superstar duo to new heights, having secured back-to-back Top Ten hits for the first time in their career with “Look at You” and “Run Away With You,” while their current single, “Lovin’ Lately” featuring Tim McGraw continues to climb the charts.
From the vantage point of today’s career success, John notes:
“When Kenny and I were first considering doing music together some 15 years ago, I can recall like it was yesterday him saying, ‘Man, we like two individual planets— wouldn’t it be awesome to collide and smash the universe together,” he recalls. “We definitely felt that creative gravitational pull from the beginning and I think it continues to translate into the music.”
They are America's Technicolor cowboys, brothers-in-arms in service to the creed that great music has no boundaries. Individually, John and Big Kenny are first-rate musicians, songwriters, producers, entertainers—and now the creative force behind their own label imprint, Big & Rich Records. Together, they are one of the most truly original musical forces ever unleashed on a welcoming world.
The new label is fueling even more passion to produce and present their music. “We now have the freedom to write songs, call our own shots and put every ounce of our guts, soul and DNA into music we can have complete creative control over—from creation to release schedule,” notes Kenny. “We can bring the best gunslingers to the shoot out and know everyone is 100% committed to our success from making the music to getting it out there to our audience and it’s a great place to be. As John says—we’re like wild horses that don’t do good in a stall—we’d rather be running the wild range.”
As witnessed too by the lead single, “Look At You,” their influence on their musical universe shows no signs of being eclipsed. “The unusual twist of this lyric really makes the song stand-out, notes John. “It’s a Shannon Lawson co-write that dead-on nails the gut wrenching feeling of being that guy that loses the hot chick—something I think a lot of us guys can relate to.”
Big & Rich have, of course, made a career of being relatable and musically relevant since exploding into the public consciousness in 2003 as the rarest of breeds—true country music game changers. With 2004’s triple-platinum Horse of a Different Color, they were able to tap into the best strands of a wide spectrum of popular music, filter them through their pens and voices and produce a sound that is instantly recognizable, if not classifiable.
"You still can't really define what that sound is," says John. "Even we can't."
It begins, of course, with that one-of-a-kind vocal blend, as unique and compelling as any in the history of the popular airwaves.
"I listen to a lot of music and I haven't heard any two voices go together like this," says Kenny. "John and I can match each other anywhere. He can sing anything and I can make an entirely different melody around it, and vice versa."
If radio didn't fully know what to make of them at first, fans of every musical stripe did. They packed arenas with a flying circus of sight, sound and spectacle, a touring renaissance fair of the mind, complete with raised glasses and danceable beats.
With a much anticipated new studio album that finds them at the top of their creative game, their live performances find them at their hell-raising best, with crowds as intense and appreciative as any they've ever faced.
"It seems like when you put John and Kenny together and we become Big & Rich, it's like Clark Kent walking into the phone booth and coming out a superman," says John. "We can't explain it. It's like a chemical reaction between Kenny and me on stage, something you can feel there. It's funny to think about but it's really true, we walk out on stage and start laying into this thing, the energy goes back and forth between us and the crowd and it's palpable."
They are, in addition to everything musical, noted philanthropists and good-will ambassadors. Both remain committed and enthusiastic livers of life and givers of time, talent and fortune to great causes. Kenny has become a world traveler, fighting poverty and supporting education through agencies including the United Nations Foundation and the Red Cross from North America to Africa. John takes part in any number of charitable outreaches, and his win on The Celebrity Apprentice brought well over a million dollars to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Those things go to the core of two men whose music and worldviews intersect seamlessly.
"We continue to try to inspire," says Kenny. "We just try to be ourselves in a world that sometimes insinuates you shouldn't go outside the boundaries. And now the fact that we've got the family thing going on has made a tremendous difference for both of us, but we're still the same guys. I think life in general moves you forward in a positive way if you let it. Our relationship has grown more positively here than you could ever imagine. I think we just continue to grow, to respect each other more and more and respect the kind of ability we have when we're singing together."
"We both have a lot of things that we do creatively," adds John, "but there's been something magical about this since the beginning. As good as we are at what we do separately; neither of us is as good as Big & Rich are together. The Big & Rich thing is like a new color in the crayon box."
"No question in my mind," says Kenny, "that we have put forward as high quality music as we can do. And we believe we just keep getting better."
Barring divine intervention, hard work and desire are the key factors in anyone’s success in a career. When combined with genuine talent, the sky’s the limit. This has been the case for David Ray.
Ray got his start in his native Michigan, a state known for the likes of Bob Seger and Kid Rock. While learning a few chords on his father’s guitar, Ray gravitated toward country, classic rock and folk music, listening to people like Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam and James Taylor.
He knew he wanted a career in music, but Ray did the prudent thing and pursued a college education at Central Michigan University. There, he regularly played as a solo acoustic artist at The Cabin, a major college hangout in mid-Michigan. After graduating from college, Ray set out for Nashville where he planned to use his degree to teach school while learning more about the city and the music business. However, there weren’t any teaching jobs open for him in Nashville even though he obtained his certification for the state of Tennessee. He ended up accepting a teaching position in South Florida, without knowing what the future would hold for him there.
In 2008, he learned about Kenny Chesney’s "Next Big Star" competition and entered. He won the competition, and soon found himself opening for Chesney in front of 15,000 music lovers. Following that victory, 99.9 KISS Country staff soon began to book Ray for countless station events, including Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes games. KISS Country also hired Ray to play at the station’s concert venue in Fort Lauderdale, where he shared the stage with artists such as Billy Currington, Travis Tritt and Pat Green. This is also where Ray met Jody Stevens, who at the time, was part of the band called Fast Ryde. Stevens told Ray to contact him if he ever decided to move back to Nashville. So, there in Florida, Ray received the kind of break and exposure that he probably never would have found if he had stayed in Nashville.
When Ray moved back to Nashville in 2010, he hit the ground running, performing almost as soon as he pulled into town. In addition to performing acoustically, Ray also performed at a few different bars on lower Broadway before landing steady gigs at Honky Tonk Central and the legendary Tootsies Orchid Lounge. Ray also reconnected with Jody Stevens and began working with him in the studio. Soon, Stevens became Ray’s producer.
In 2012, Ray landed his first publishing deal with Big Deal Music, where he wrote songs with various top Nashville songwriters. A year later, Ray began working with bass player Darren Theriault, who invited Ray to perform at the inaugural Tree Town Music Festival in Iowa in May, 2014. After the festival, Ray met festival owners Dave and Gary Dewaard, who not only invited Ray back to play the festival the following year, but also began working with Ray as a management team, helping him book gigs and introducing him to radio personalities and booking agents. Today, Ray is in the studio with Jody Stevens recording his first Extended Play and preparing to release his first single in January 2016.
Up-and-Coming Country Artist Adley Stump had a breakout year in 2015: Her EP “Like This” (Deluxe) was named “New and Noteworthy” by iTunes and she appeared on several TV shows in support of the release, including being the Featured Music performer at the Miss USA telecast. Her single & video “Stay At Home Soldier” drew accolades across the board and was featured on 115 iHeartmedia Country station websites, Syndicated “Taste Of Country Nights” radio show and Slacker’s “Weekly Country Countdown”; she performed live in front of more than 100,000 fans throughout the year, including the CMA Fan Fair in Nashville. Adley became a #1 Best Selling Author through Amazon.com with her collaboration titled: “How They Sell Music: Lessons from Celebrities on Creating Your Own Success”. With the release of her new single “Don’t Wanna Love Him” on May 13th and an extensive tour planned, 2016 should prove to be a Break-Through year.
In February Adley was named a winner of the Hyundai and The Recording Academy® fourth annual GRAMMY Amplifier® program. She was one of 3 winners chosen from over 4000 entrants. She was a featured performer at a Hyundai/GRAMMY Amplifier® showcase at the SXSW Music festival at Stubbs in Austin, Texas in March. A video for her new single “Don’t Wanna Love Him” (featuring reigning Miss USA Olivia Jordan) will premiere on May 16th.
She has been booked on big Country Music Festivals for 2016: Tree Town Festival in Forest City, Iowa May 26 – 29; Taste Of Country Music Festival in Hunter, New York on June 12th, Country Jam in Mack, Colorado June 18th & 19 and Firefly Country Nights in Ames. Iowa on July 17th. An extensive national tour is being booked and additional dates will be announced in July.
As an Alum of NBC’s hit singing competition show “The Voice” (Season 2, Team Blake Shelton) Ms. Stump says: “I am so fortunate to be able to use the experience I gained from “The Voice” as a springboard to grow my career. I know what a life-changing, fantastic opportunity that was – but I also know it was a moment in time, and the real work of building my career started after that moment. Each day I jump out of bed with an insatiable desire to create a sound that people can identify and that will mean something to them,” Stump says. “The stages and opportunities have only continued to grow and that is a blessing I do not take lightly. In everything I do and release I enjoy finding ways to give back to the community of fans who have given so much to me.”
Adley has stayed in perpetual motion, working tirelessly towards her goals. Her music releases have broken into the iTunes Country charts - and that drive and energy have drawn the attention of national sponsors: She has been endorsed by a variety of Brands, including Little Black Dress Wines, Remington Outdoors, Mac Cosmetics, Logan’s Roadhouse and Vietti Chili, among others.
With her magnetic personality, contagious smile, and a passionate and giving spirit – the sky’s the limit for Adley Stump in 2016.