Ron Kelly

Country Spotlight: Eli Young Band

August 16, 2011 at 9:21 am , by

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Cover photograph: Jeremy Cowart.

The Eli Young Band had been packing Texas venues for years before they burst onto the national scene with 2008′s well received Jet Black & Jealous (“When It Rains,” “Always the Love Songs“). With today’s release of their latest album, Life at Best, Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson will deservedly start building an even bigger base of country music fans that stretches from coast to coast.

Life at Best‘s debut single, “Crazy Girl,” debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts and quickly went gold. The song was cowritten by Lee Brice and Liz Rose (a frequent Taylor Swift collaborator) and is just one of the highlights off this solid 14-track effort. Be sure to give a listen to the 90s-tinged “How Quickly You Forget”; the buoyant “On My Way,” which will have you bobbing your head and singing along by the end of it; and “Every Other Memory,” which has a fun, 70s-ish vibe that will make you want to keep hitting your repeat button. Perhaps the CD’s most satisfying track, though, is the Mike Eli/Blu Sanders-penned “My Old Man’s Son,” a poignant take on the inevitable road we all travel down as we learn to accept everything our parents have passed down to us. It’s a straightforward song that hits all the right notes and packs the same nostalgic punch as Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be embraced just as passionately by country fans. Here’s hoping it’s released as a single and that country radio agrees.

Listening to the new CD as a whole, though, it was evident to me that the guys in the band had some pretty special inspiration on a lot of the songs. I safely assumed that there might be a special lady (or five) that makes all of the hard work they’ve been putting in on the road pay off. I caught up with EYB to make sure they had the proper chance to pay tribute to the most important ladies in their lives via a national forum. (Here at LHJ, that’s kind of how we roll.) Check out their thoughtful responses, below and after the jump, as well as the portraits they had shot just for us.

Jon Jones: bass guitar / background vocals
The most important lady in his life: My wife, Sarah. Not to take anything away from how much my mother means to me.
What makes me so “Crazy” about her? Since our first few dates back in college, I have never really been able to picture myself with anyone else. She completes and compliments me in so many ways.

Chris Thompson: drums
Most important lady in my life:
I had to pick two – my mom Judy and my fiancé Candace. They are the two most important women in my life.
Song of yours that you always think of her when you play it (or hear it)? Anything that grooves or rocks because they both always encourage me to play honestly and passionately.


Mike Eli:  lead vocals / guitars
Most important lady in my life:
My wife, Kacey Diaz
Favorite memory of her that always makes me smile: The first night we met, she kicked my butt at pool. I’m just thankful she didn’t hustle me because I would have been putty in her hands. She can still kill me at pool today!


James Young: lead guitar / background vocals
Most important lady in my life: My mother, Katie Young
If I had to give her a superhero name, it would be … Well if “Supermom” isn’t taken, then she holds that title. My mom is and was like a superhero back growing up. She would bring me toys and trinkets from all over the world and the places she flew, and she had stories to go right along with them. She continues to guide and look out for me now; she doesn’t ask, she just does.

For the guys’ full Q&A about the special ladies in their lives, read on after the jump

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Country Spotlight: The Secret Sisters

August 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm , by

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Laura (left) and Lydia strike a pose with some vintage Ladies' Home Journal covers.

Here at LHJ, we love any excuse to dive into our archive closet and scour through the pages of some of our classic issues. When the Secret Sisters (Laura and Lydia Rogers) dropped by our offices last month for an inhouse performance, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to match up their awesomely retro look with some of our treasured covers from the past.

Of course, in addition to looking great, the Sisters sound heavenly. Hailing from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Laura and Lydia grew up singing acappella in their local church, which is where they developed the exquisite harmonies and vocal style (think Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, the Andrews Sisters) that eventually caught the ear of famed producer T Bone Burnett. Burnett produced their debut album, which was released last fall, and the Sisters’ unique sound has been wowing both critics and listeners alike ever since. They’ve already toured with Willie Nelson, Ray LaMontagne and Amos Lee, and they’ve also performed with Jack White, Elvis Costello, Dave Stewart and Jakob Dylan, among others.

SecretS.2In two months the Sisters will face off against the Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons and Jessica Lea Mayfield in the New/Emerging Artist of the Year category at the 2011 Americana Music Awards down in Nashville, Tennessee. Find out what the ladies plan to do if they win that award by reading on after the jump. You’ll find their handwritten answers to that question, along with their guilty musical pleasures, what makes them laugh, their secret to getting along and other fun facts. Also be sure to take a look and a listen to their LHJ performance, below, and let us know if you love them as much as we do!

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Country Spotlight: Randy Montana

July 26, 2011 at 11:33 am , by

resizedmontanaIt’s rare when a new artist’s debut CD leaves you immediately counting down the days to his next. That being said, Randy Montana’s self-titled first album already has me staring down my calendar. You can pick out bits of his childhood influences (Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen) throughout his music, which definitely leans toward the rockier side of country. But it’s his sharper than average songwriting skills that really draw you in from the first track to the last. Take his methodically paced ode to the working class in “Assembly Line,” written by Montana and Natalie Hemby:

“All day long in steel-toed boots / vacation days that I’ll never use / there’s a rumor going round that’s got nothing to do with me / Charlie swears he’s gonna quit / put his two weeks in and that’s it / he’s been talking that way since the summer of ’93.”

The footwear might differ from your own, but the workplace politics and the emotional drain of a daily routine make this song universal. On the equally powerful “Last Horse,” on which he’s joined by Emmylou Harris, Montana exposes the fears of a man sizing up a relationship that’s headed south. He cowrote the song with Rodney Clawson and his father, Billy Montana, an accomplished songwriter himself (Jo Dee Messina’s “Bring on the Rain”, Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory”), and it’s definitely a standout number.

Born in Albany, New York, but raised in Nashville, music was as much a staple in Montana’s house as dinner on the table and he’s been feeding his musical hunger since the age of 10. Fifteen years later, his debut CD is hitting stores today. I chatted with Montana a few weeks ago about the album, what female country icon he recently blasted in his car, what he’s learned from former tour mate Taylor Swift, and his approach to songwriting and the music industry itself.

Your dad, Billy Montana, is an accomplished songwriter. In the nature vs. nurture argument, do you feel you were born with an ability to write great songs, or is it a skill you learned from studying him and other songwriters in the field?
I definitely feel it is passed down. And I’ve always felt like you either got it or you don’t, in a sense. But you never start off writing good songs. Somebody told me you gotta write 100 bad ones before you can write a good one, and I truly believe that. [laughs] So that goes against the whole genetic passing thing. I just grew up around it. [My dad] was always playing new songs, new demos. There was music around my house all the time and when you grow up like that, you take it for granted because it’s always there. It’s just your way of life.

What’s your favorite song of his?
He wrote one about our family called “House of a Thousand Dreams” [recorded by Martina McBride]. Yeah, that’s my favorite song of his that he’s ever written. It’s really about us and what’s cool about it is that each verse is from a different perspective. The first verse is from the perspective of the man. He’s like, “I’m just a man. I work with my hands, and lately no work has been around. I wish I could put more on the table and provide the life I’m sure my family dreams about.” And then he just starts describing the house and he’s like, “There’s cracks on all the walls and all the windows, and the flies they find their way in through the screen. But I’ll keep praying, hope will go on living, in this house of a thousand dreams.” And then it goes to the wife and she kind of has that same outlook. She looks at her husband and she’s saying, you know, he works hard and I know it’s tough, so I’m gonna do what I can. And then it comes to the kid, and the kid says he loves the way the wind blows through the screens. He loves it and he sees nothing wrong with it. And it’s just kind of how I grew up.

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Country Spotlight: Margaret Durante’s Nashville Diaries

July 15, 2011 at 9:36 am , by

Who hasn’t dreamed of rolling the dice and taking a shot at becoming a music superstar? It’s a fantasy most of us have probably entertained at one time or another—even if (like me) you couldn’t carry a tune if somebody wrapped it up and put it in a shopping bag with reinforced handles. That’s why we’ve talked singer-songwriter Margaret Durante into being LHJ’s lady on the inside. Margaret is one of Nashville’s freshest new talents and she’s currently living the dream. She’s also getting a taste of the heady highs and lonely lows that come along with living far away from home while she tries to get a high-profile music career off the ground. In a series of guest blogs exclusively for our Ladies’ Lounge readers, Margaret will allow us all to live vicariously through her whirlwind experiences, both onstage and off. Get to know Margaret in her introduction, below, then welcome her to the LHJ family, post a show of support and be sure to check back for further installments of her wild ride.

Hey, readers! My name is Margaret Durante and I’m thrilled that Ladies’ Home Journal is giving me the opportunity to offer you all a behind-the-scenes peek into my adventures down in Nashville. I’m just your average 23-year-old daughter/sister/granddaughter/niece/best friend who also happens to be chasing down my dream of living in Music City and making a name for myself in the crazy music industry. I currently have a single on the radio called “Maybe Tonight” and I’m finishing my first album after living here for four years.

M.D.

Margaret at the LHJ/CMT event at the Second Harvest Food Bank.

There are four women in my family of five, so an issue of LHJ was never hard to come by in my house as I was growing up. Having the chance now to take you all along on the ups and downs of my musical journey is surreal, and it all started when I teamed up with the folks at LHJ this past June. I joined them at an event they cohosted with CMT One Country on the eve of the 40th Annual CMA Festival, during which 10,000 country music fans descend upon Nashville to attend concerts, meet-and-greets, fan luncheons and a ton of other crazy events that celebrate everything country. That week was a huge deal to me as I’m still fairly new to the scene. It was so great to kick off the week working alongside other artists at this incredible LHJ/CMT event, preparing backpacks of food at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee for hungry children who might not have the means to eat over the weekend or summer vacation. It was a wonderful way for us artists to remind ourselves that we are part of a community that can use our collective voices to call attention to helpful programs like this. (Click here if you want to help!)

Continue reading Margaret’s first installment after the jump …

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LHJ / CMT Do Good Volunteer Day at Second Harvest

June 16, 2011 at 9:15 am , by

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Crystal Bowersox and Brian Walker at Second Harvest.

For the second year in a row, Ladies’ Home Journal kicked off CMA Music Festival week by hosting a volunteer afternoon at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. This year, though, the afternoon also served as a kickoff for our brand spankin’ new partnership with CMT One Country. Click here to read about how our partnership’s Do Good Rewards program can lead to you winning a trip to the CMT Music Awards in Nashville next year!)

We had some amazing musical talent lending us their muscles and elbow grease for the afternoon, including Steel Magnolia, Jimmy Wayne, Crystal Bowersox, Carter’s Chord, Margaret Durante and Coldwater Jane. Along with reps from both LHJ and CMT, these artists donated some of the very little free time they had during their frenetic week to sweat alongside us prepping supplies for Feeding America‘s BackPack program, which was designed to meet the needs of hungry kids at times when other resources aren’t available (such as weekends and school vacations). By the afternoon’s end, our volunteers had prepped 2,107 bags of food for the program! At the CMT Awards the next night, other musical acts signed some symbolic bags to be auctioned off to raise more funds for the program, to which CMT makes a generous donation in lieu of those pricey artist gift bags other awards shows usually give out.

To keep the spirit of our volunteer afternoon alive, LHJ and CMT are now partnering up for a Do Good Summer Virtual Food Drive. If you’re able, we’d love it if you could contribute to it, which will then in turn provide much needed food to programs such as the BackPack effort. Any amount is greatly appreciated. Of course, if you’d like to volunteer at a Feeding America food bank, that’s another great way to do good and make a difference. As you can see from the slideshow below (with Carter’s Chord’s “Love a Little Bigger” as a musical background), our volunteer afternoon was a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun. Click here to find the nearest food bank in your area. Be sure to let us know how it goes!

For more pictures from our volunteer event, additional info on the BackPack program and stats from Second Harvest, read on after the jump.

All photos by John Russell.

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LHJ Hits the CMT Music Awards Red Carpet

June 6, 2011 at 9:09 am , by

Nashville is gearing up to host its biggest party of the year and I’m just about busting out of my boots. On Wednesday, I’ll be joining in on the fun by camping out on the CMT Music Awards red carpet. I’ll, of course, be gawking at the scene’s hottest acts as they arrive for the show, but also asking them the questions you want to know. It’s country music’s fan-voted awards show, after all, so we thought the fans (our readers!) should also weigh in on what we should ask. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at rckcountrycat so you can keep up with all the excitement in real time.

Some really big names are going to be there: host Kid Rock,  Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Sugarland, Luke Bryan, Sara Evans, the Zac Brown Band, Shania Twain, American IdolsScotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina and more. Even Justin Bieber (who’s nominated with Rascal Flatts for Collaborative Video of the Year) will be there!

So let me know your questions for the nominees and presenters. Fire away and post them below. I’ll do my best to get as many answered on the red carpet as I can. And if you just want to weigh in on who you think should win, let us hear that as well.

In the meantime, continue on after the jump for some videos from the talented acts that will be joining LHJ and CMT for our second annual afternoon of Do Good volunteering at Feeding America’s Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. We’ll be partnering with CMT One Country to help stuff backpacks for Feeding America’s BackPack program, which provides nutritious food to those school children who need it most. In fact, instead of giving out those pricey gift bags full of electronics and other goodies most awards shows give out to talent, CMT opts to make a generous donation to the BackPack program instead. It’s a great idea, and we’re thrilled about helping prep the much needed backpacks for distribution.

Check out the amazing talent we have joining us at out volunteer afternoon at Feeding America, including Steel Magnolia, who are up for best Duo Video of the Year for “Last Night Again” at this year’s CMT Music Awards. We were lucky enough to have Josh and Meghan visit us in the office this year to do a rockin’ acoustic set for our staff. To see videos from the other great artists (Crystal BowersoxJimmy Wayne, Carter’s Chord, Margaret Durante and Coldwater Jane) we’re excited to have joining us for our volunteer adventure, read on after the jump:

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Darius Rucker and LHJ Hit the Books for Charity

May 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm , by

Darius Rucker’s forthcoming single (hitting country radio on May 23) is “I Got Nothing,” but don’t let the title fool you. When I asked the Ladies’ Home Journal staff to help Rucker out with a book/CD drive benefiting NYC’s Housing Works Bookstore Café, I definitely got something. Lots of things. In fact, I was inundated with donations—so much so that some fellow staffers started to fear for my safety as the piles of books in my office threatened to collapse on top of me.

This was just the beginning ...

Of course, it was no surprise that the gang here would jump at the chance of helping Darius out with donations. One playful email reply to my call to action read, “I’ll do anything to help Hootie!” (You know who you are, anonymous staffer.) After all, it’s easy to be a fan of the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman’s unmistakable voice but it’s just as easy to be a fan of his tireless do-good spirit. Earlier this year he was named to the American Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet and he also penned a benefit song (“Together, Anything’s Possible”), which supports the PGA Tour Charities. All proceeds of that song’s downloads for an entire year go to various outlets of that group’s outreach initiatives. (Hint, hint: Click here.)

Page boys: Me and Darius the night of his concert, as I update him and his team about our book drive.

We were extra pumped, though, when Rucker announced his benefit show at the Housing Works Bookstore Café because it would bring him on up to the Big Apple and give us another chance to lend some support to Housing Works. We did an office clothing drive for them in February, so now it was time to round up all the books, CDs and DVDs we could for their Bookstore Café. All the items for sale at the café are donated, it’s staffed almost entirely by volunteers and 100% of their profits go directly to Housing Works, Inc., which helps both the homelessness and AIDS crises by providing housing and other services to people and families in need.

Read on after the jump for a rundown of the benefit concert, how much money Rucker raised that night and for the final tally of donated items from LHJ.

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