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.
Years before he kicked off his career with It Goes Like This, a debut album that spawned five Top 40 hits and three Numbers Ones, Thomas Rhett spent his childhood listening to the sounds of FM radio.
"Growing up, there was no such thing as listening to one radio station," he remembers. Instead, Thomas Rhett would regularly flip from one station to another, cranking up a mix of country, pop, R&B, rap, rock, and oldies. It was a tangle of music. Decades later, he's tipping his hat to those days with Tangled Up, an album that mixes the sound of his influences with equal doses of groove, melody and twang.
Although recorded in his hometown of Nashville, Tangled Up was written all over America, during a year-long tour in support of Thomas' first album. There was something about the highway that made him feel creative. Something about the crowds that made him feel inspired. Something about the sold-out shows that made him want to return to the tour bus and write something exciting. With help from a handful of co-writers, Thomas whipped up a new batch of songs during the hours before soundcheck, after the encore, and during the long rides from one city to the next.
Maybe that's why Tangled Up feels like such an upbeat, energetic record. It was created while Thomas' body was still flushed with adrenaline.
"At our shows, there aren't any rules," he says. "There's no such thing as standing still and just singing a song. I love jumping into the crowd. I love to dance. The whole show is very uptempo, high energy, and completely unpredictable."
You could say the same about Tangled Up. Produced by Dan Huff and Jesse Frasure, the album is filled with party anthems, dance tunes, drinking songs, love ballads, and everything in between, all tied together by a dynamic singer who's unafraid to blur the lines between genres. Some songs take their influence from country stars like Eric Church. Others are more reminiscent of pop idols like Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars. None of the tracks sound alike, but they do all sound like Thomas Rhett songs.
"I didn't grow up listening to just one style of music," he explains, "so I don't know how to write just one style of music. Whether these songs have more of a pop influence or more of a hip-hop influence or a completely country influence, they all — in some crazy way — cohesively sound like a me song."
They also sound like all of his sixth consecutive No. Ones including the newly minted “T-Shirt,” the 2X PLATINUM six-week No. one "Die A Happy Man” and the PLATINUM “Crash And Burn." His undeniable success has garnered a Billboard Music Award for "Top Country Song” for “Die A Happy Man,” which also nabbed an ACM and ACCA for “Single Record of the Year.”
"It's just so fun and so crazy," he says of the album, whose deluxe version also features cameos by pop singer Jordin Sparks and hip-hop artist Lunch Money Lewis. "I think it kind of describes my life a bit. There's all these thoughts and all these melodies and all these different kind of songs on the record. It's all tangled up in knots, in a way. It's like this big ball of yarn that you can't every fully get undone, and I love that. I love that there's so much variety on the album, so that's why we chose Tangled Up as the name."
Kelsea Ballerini launched to stardom with the release of her #1, GOLD-certified debut "Love Me Like You Mean It." Abuzz with shout-outs from superstars Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town, she is the first solo female artist in nine years to hit #1 with her debut country single and one of only 11 women to have ever hit the top of the charts with a debut. Scoring a number of recent high-profile media appearances, the Black River Entertainment recording artist has been named “The Country Sweetheart” in People Magazine’s elite “Ones to Watch” portfolio, touted by Billboard as “Country’s Next Queen,” praised by Rolling Stone as the “Nashville It Girl” and selected as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country. Co-produced by Forest Glen Whitehead and Jason Massey, THE FIRST TIME landed Top 5 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and released to rave reviews with Billboard acclaiming, “Her frankness and honesty are rooted in country’s long tradition of storytelling, a tradition that she deftly adapts to both 21st century and timeless concerns.” The talented singer/songwriter wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on the project. Racking up her first CMT, CMA and AMA award nominations this year, she received Billboard’s “Rising Star” award at the prominent 2015 Women In Music event.
The legacy began some 41 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, and halted for a decade by the 1977 plane crash that killed three band members, including Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines. Since then, the band tragically lost Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson and Huey Thomasson, yet Lynyrd Skynyrd rocks on with original member Gary Rossington joined by Johnny Van Zant, Rickey Medlock, Mark “Sparky” Matejka, Michael Cartellone, Johnny Colt, Peter Keys, Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase.
The rock and roll powerhouse continually tours, this summer heading out on their second run with Bad Company. 2014 marks the 8th year for their annual Simple Man Cruise, a four day voyage filled with the best music in Southern Rock including an outdoor beach show featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd for the first time in the cruise’s history.
And so Skynyrd stands, “still unbroken.” “People may say, ‘they need the money,’ well I don’t think any of us need the money,” Van Zant says. “It’s just that we love the music, it’s bigger than the money, it’s not even about that any more. We have to make a living, sure, but it’s about the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and what it stands for, what the fans are all about. There’s nothing like getting out there playing a great show with Skynyrd and seeing people love this music.”
Adds Rossington, “We’re still standing, still keeping the music going. We wanted to do the guys who aren’t with us any more proud, and keep the name proud, too.”
With a catalog of over 60 albums, sales beyond 30 million worldwide and their beloved classic American rock anthem “Sweet Home Alabama” having over two million downloaded ringtones, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Lynyrd Skynyrd remains a cultural icon that appeals to all generations.
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.