Charles Kelley: ‘The Driver’

Kelley

Charles Kelley: The Driver

Lady Antebellum star Charles Kelley strikes out on his own with his first solo record, The Driver. At first, you may be wondering why the member of a mega-successful country trio would willingly leave his band mates in the dust to kick up his boot heels, but you won’t have to listen very long to resolve that burning question.

Kelley’s impressive solo debut features duets with Stevie Nicks, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert, and contains captivating material from songwriting heavyweights Tom Petty (“Southern Accents”) and Chris Stapleton (“Lonely Girl”). Despite all of that, Kelley remains firmly planted in the driver’s seat on the album as his resounding vocal delivery effortlessly claims center stage.

The album’s shining moments include the haunting hit title track co-written with Eric Paslay and the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad “Round in Circles,” which Kelley co-penned with his singer-songwriter brother Josh Kelley. But it’s the surprising realism of the heart wrenching album closer “Leaving Nashville” that will not only give you chills, but will convince you why it was necessary for Kelley to deliver this first-class and important solo bow. The Driver serves as a much-needed reminder that there are still a few artists who firmly grasp the concept of how to make an album with a vital beginning, middle and end.

Lady Antebellum: ‘Golden’

Golden

Lady Antebellum: Golden

After losing steam trying to create a worthy follow up to the seminal hit “Need You Now,” Nashville’s multi-Grammy-winning Lady Antebellum returns with a vengeance on the plucky threesome’s fourth release, Golden. For a brief instant, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood seemed destined to become victims of mega success and overexposure (particularly after the release of 2011’s uninspired Own the Night), but one listen to Golden immediately declares that Lady A has returned to form and isn’t going anywhere in the imaginable future.

Armed with the summery first hit single “Downtown” and the superb mid-tempo follow up “Goodbye Town,” Lady A sounds refocused and more determined than ever to reclaim the country spotlight. Golden plainly illustrates how each of the members has come into their own as songwriters. All but four (most notably the arresting “It Ain’t Pretty,” written by newcomer Nicolle Galyon and hit maker Eric Paslay) of the album’s 12 tracks were co-penned by the band members themselves.

The true magic of Golden lies in the album’s ability to balance the subtle sadness of “Can’t Stand the Rain” (“I don’t know where the road you’re on is gonna end up/Or what this crazy world will put you through”) with the blatant longing of opening track “Get to Me” (“Don’t hit the brakes just come and crash through my horizon/Bring back the air I need to breathe”), which includes a markedly potent vocal performance from Scott. Imparting honest lyrics with spot-on harmonies swathed in infectious melodies, Golden is ultimately a shining example of what Lady Antebellum does best. With its seamless mingling of poignant ballads and upbeat tunes, It’s a stone cold winner from country music’s top trio.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

Christmas Music Wrap-Up 2012

With the inescapable return of the holiday season, another eclectic batch of Christmas music releases is heaped upon us, for better or worse. Some of these Christmastime offerings may fill you with comfort and joy, while others could have you wishing for an early spring and pondering if this really is the most wonderful time of the year.

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Colbie Caillat: Christmas in the Sand  Colbie Caillat’s full-length holiday collection is everything you could want from a contemporary Christmas album. Christmas in the Sand is synchronously fresh, bubbly, and sentimental without sounding maudlin. Caillat has cleverly succeeded in crafting a delightful mix of old and new coastal California breeziness sure to warm the cockles of your heart throughout the entire Yuletide season. Christmas in the Sand is a surprisingly charming stocking stuffer and essential addition to any pop music fan’s Christmas music collection.

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Cee Lo Green: Cee Lo’s Magic Moment  – This soulful and funk-a-licious holiday romp will absolutely spice up your present and future Christmas playlists. Even an overwrought version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Cee Lo’s overzealous diva and fellow The Voice judge Christina Aguilera can’t ruin this irresistible modern day classic. From the bouncy opener “What Christmas Means to Me” to the heartfelt rendering of “River,” Cee Lo’s Magic Moment sounds like the kind of Christmas album Elton John wishes he would’ve made before he turned into a cynical, acid-tongued, blowhard.

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Lady Antebellum: On This Winter’s Night – After dominating the airwaves and claiming the spot as country music’s best new trio, Lady Antebellum is teetering on the brink of overexposure with this unnecessary release of holiday standards. However, On This Winter’s Night sufficiently achieves its ultimate goal as a holiday gift surprise for Lady A fans, which simultaneously whets musical appetites for new music and further endears them to the country music masses.

Christmas-Spirit

Richard Marx: Christmas Spirit – Although the idea of Richard Marx recording a Christmas album at this point in his career may at first seem pointless and a little desperate, surprisingly Marx delivers a lushly layered and gratifying effort. These 13 tracks cohesively make the perfect romantic holiday soundtrack for sipping warm cider by the fireplace with the one you love most.

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Scotty McCreery: Christmas with Scotty McCreery – This futile and obligatory exercise of holiday blandness falls flat. McCreery sounds emotionless as he mindlessly and effortlessly bleats out 11 dispassionate renditions of holiday ditties. Don’t bother unless you’re completely enamored with the 2011 American Idol winner or in need of a short winter’s nap.

Blake-Shelton

Blake Shelton: Cheers, It’s Christmas – Despite Shelton’s renewed enthusiasm from his run on The Voice, endearing duets with Reba, Kelly Clarkson, (and of course Miranda Lambert), aren’t quite enough to make this holiday album exceptionally good or bad. While there are some noteworthy highlights that are more than just typical holiday fare (“Santa’s Got A Choo Choo Train,” “Time for Me to Come Home,” and “The Very Best Time of Year”), ultimately, Cheers, it’s Christmas ends up sounding like little more than a mediocre country Christmas collection targeted specifically towards hardcore Shelton completists.

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John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: This Christmas (Universal Music) – No, this isn’t a joke. Obviously a marketing department’s attempt to appeal to fans of Grease, this dismal holiday collection (grossly marred with auto tuned vocals by Travolta) is better suited as a gag gift than as a tree trimming soundtrack, despite guest appearances by James Taylor, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand.  This embarrassingly bad addition to Newton-John’s catalog sounds like a Donny and Marie holiday album gone horribly wrong.

Very Special Christmas

A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years – Bringing Joy to the World – This series has continued to wane and become a bit of a disappointment since the first volume debuted in 1987 with notable performances by Sting, Madonna, Eurythmics, and U2. Unfortunately this latest mixed bag of various artist holiday filler is no exception, but at least a portion of the proceeds benefit Special Olympics. A few album highlights include tracks by Train, Michael Bublé, and Jason Mraz, but overall this collection is rife with non-essential holiday fodder that leaves you hoping Santa has something better loaded on his sleigh.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC

MTSU Alumnus BJ Hill Finds Success On Music Row

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BJ Hill is a shining example of what can happen with a little bit of patience and perseverance. Currently working as senior director of A&R at publishing house Warner/Chappell Music, he has become a major player on Nashville’s Music Row since graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in 2000. With his signing of Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Grammy-winning country group Lady Antebellum among his list of achievements, Hill has managed to build an impressive resume during his relatively short 11 years in the music business.

Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., Hill heard about the recording industry program at MTSU while playing drums in a blues band during high school. When the band had the opportunity to cut an album, he became interested in the recording process. During his time in the studio, the record’s engineer/producer mentioned a friend who worked at MTSU and gave Hill his contact information. After checking out other colleges, Hill was most impressed with MTSU’s recording, production and technology program.

During his college career, Hill took advantage of various internships in the music business, including Warner/Chappell Music where he made some important contacts, which ultimately resulted in landing his current position. His impressive job title is a direct result of time spent at MTSU and the opportunities that presented themselves while earning his bachelor of science degree. “Classes were crucial building blocks as a starting point. You gotta have hands on experience,” Hill explained about the highly competitive nature of the music business.

Although originally picturing himself as a recording engineer, fate stepped in and changed Hill’s career path when he began working with songwriters venturing into the world of music publishing. “I love working with songwriters. Now I can’t think of doing anything else,” he confessed. “Every day is different. Sometimes my day starts off with an 8 o’clock breakfast meeting, while other days I might roll into the office about 10 in the morning and work until midnight.” The unpredictability of his job seems to be part of the excitement that keeps things fresh for Hill on a daily basis. He shared details of staff meetings, conference calls with the Los Angeles and/or New York branch offices, and the excitement of hearing new songs. No two days ever seemed to be the same as Hill continued to shed insight into the enigmatic world of a music industry professional.

While broaching the subject of technology and changes he has witnessed during his time in music publishing, Hill stated compact discs are still the preferred medium when it comes to listening, archiving and pitching songs. When asked if he thought digital downloading has made music seem disposable, he responded emphatically, “Digitized music isn’t the same as a physical product, especially when it comes to the illegal downloading of music. Artists should be compensated for their work.” He agreed MP3s definitely have their advantages, such as portability and their ability to be emailed, but the inability to hold an actual tangible product or recording in your hand unquestionably adds an element of disposability to music these days.

As the discussion shifted to the current state of the music business, which many describe as a dead or dying industry, Hill offered his opinion. “There will always be people who are passionate about getting their music to the masses. Unless something inconceivable happens, I don’t see the music industry ever going away,” Hill voiced, hoping to encourage current MTSU students aspiring to throw their hat into the musical arena.

When asked if he had any sage advice for current Recording Industry majors, Hill advised students to take advantage of as many internships as possible and do the best possible job while interning. “Try to network with previous graduates in the industry, but don’t feel you are entitled to a career.” He also stressed the importance of building relationships with other students as well as faculty who may evolve into valuable connections after graduation.

Hill’s greatest achievement to date is his tenacious pursuit of the publishing rights of Kelley and Haywood of white-hot trio Lady Antebellum at a time when other industry professionals considered them to be a high risk act. He then took a moment to reflect on what he has accomplished so far and confided how he thought his life has turned out all the better by not being confined in a recording studio as he had originally planned. “I get to see and work with various people during the day,” he explained. “I’m not stuck behind a desk or in a studio. This job also allows me the flexibility to raise a family and spend more time with them. I feel extremely lucky.” Lucky indeed, as Hill found himself in the company of Grammy night’s biggest winner, Lady Antebellum.

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(BJ Hill (second from left) with Lady Antebellum at CMA week 2010)

In addition to his Lady Antebellum coup, Hill handles publishing duties for numerous clients including Wendell Mobley, one of Music City’s top songwriters, who has penned hits for Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Trisha Yearwood and Carrie Underwood, just to name a few.

And finally, when questioned where he imagines himself in 10 years, Hill responded, “I hope to have an even more successful roster of writers and become a more efficient and passionate publisher. I also hope my passion for music continues to grow even stronger.”

BJ Hill has managed to carve out a successful and rewarding career for himself in the music business while enduring the ups and downs of corporate mergers, downsizing and illegal downloading. He has proven he has what it takes to succeed while overseeing his daily responsibilities in the artist and repertoire department at Warner/Chappell Music, one of the industry’s leading music publishers, whose roster includes Green Day, Madonna and Led Zeppelin. And to think it all started when he made the decision to attend college in a little town called Murfreesboro.

Copyright ©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse