country music

Country Spotlight: Margaret Durante’s Nashville Diaries

December 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm , by

It was so much fun getting to share a stage with Jason Aldean!

I’ve been writing the Nashville Diaries blog for five months now and things are getting pretty serious between us, wouldn’t you say? I guess that means I can share a secret with you then: I cried when I watched Taylor Swift’s 60 Minutes special over Thanksgiving. I bawled like a little baby, wondering what had overcome me. I guess what overwhelmed me was the way she answered her questions with such poise, all the clips of young girls crying and screaming for her at her concerts, and ultimately my desire to someday affect people the same way she does.

Still, when I saw her at a Christmas party the other day I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how much she had inspired me, let alone even just introduce myself. I’m still wondering why I hesitated—and it’s not that I’m too cool for school (which, by the way, is overrated and dumb). I think it was just that I was afraid of bothering someone who probably hears praise like that all the time yet, when I think about it, that makes no sense at all. True, the saying goes, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” but I think there should also be a saying that goes, “If you have something nice to say, then by all means, say it!” Well, at least I’ve confessed my sob session to you all and I’ve put it out there in the universe. In the future, though, I’ll try to remember that it’s never inappropriate to pay someone a heartfelt compliment, and that applies to all times of the year, not just when spreading Christmas cheer! (Rhyming is cool.)

Truth be told, emotions always run a little high for me around the holidays. The music business winds down for a bit this time of year and I’m, of course, excited about the holidays but I’m also anxious to tie up various loose ends before everyone takes a break. Don’t even get me started on my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to Christmas shopping. Luckily I have two very proactive sisters who have helped me quickly and painlessly get the shopping done for my family.

So much has happened in the past months that it seems like Christmas has totally snuck up on me. I’m getting ready to put a single out in March (I can’t wait for you all to hear it!) and a full album shortly after, so I’ve been in the studio working on getting everything just right. I also recently opened for Jason Aldean during CMA week in downtown Nashville right by the Riverfront, which was … AWESOME! I’m a big Jason Aldean fan so it was so much fun to share the stage with him. We were promoting an AMC show called Hell on Wheels, which has some very ruggedly handsome men and a post Civil War revenge plot—juicy stuff! I attended the CMA awards the next day, which was fun and surreal. I also spent a day giving interviews to all the radio stations that had traveled to Nashville to broadcast from Music City during CMA week. And then, last but not least, the LHJ Nashville Diaries Sweepstakes winners—Angie and her 10-year-old nephew, Jake—visited me. We got to hang out in the studio and Jake laid down some smooth vocals on one of my new songs!

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Country Spotlight: Margaret Durante’s Nashville Diaries

October 28, 2011 at 9:49 am , by

In this month’s installment of her Nashville Diaries, Margaret finds herself so close to releasing her first full-length CD that she can taste it, which leads her to reflect on the musical and personal changes she’s gone through over the past four years. Be sure to read on after the jump to find out how you can ask Margaret a question and maybe have her answer it (complete with a shout-out!) in our next video entry of the Diaries! Plus, you’ll get a fun sneak-peak video of the upcoming album, too.

It was November 20, 2007, when I met Tommy Mottola for the first time. I had my hair styled and my outfit picked out waaaay in advance of the meeting, and I felt confident in the one original song (titled titled “One Way Love”) that I’d submitted to him. As soon as I set foot in his office I started to tremble but I was determined not to blow my big shot. Seeing all the platinum records hanging on the wall and the album covers of music legends that were displayed everywhere, I felt like I could someday be one of those artists. Tommy was very hospitable but, come on, the guy is one of the subjects of a book titled Hit Men and he’d been married to Mariah Carey. My “Spidey senses”—what my dad calls it when you’re on high alert—were in full gear. I was determined to nail the performance, and I did! After I finished my song, Tommy complimented my voice and sense of melody, then followed the praise with this: “I think you’ve got what it takes to make it in this industry, but in order to do so you have to jump into the pool.” I dove in headfirst and almost four years later exactly, I’m still working on getting a platinum record of my own up in Mr. Mottola’s office.

Meeting Mr. Mottola!

Believe me, it’s easy to get discouraged in this business but I try to remind myself that success is not the result of one big opportunity seized. Remembering that helps me stay patient and it also reminds me that my work is never finished. Having the chance to meet Tommy Mottola is something that I’m so grateful for and, trust me, I wasn’t expecting him to sprinkle some magic dust on my head and make me an instant country music star. That’s not what I wanted as an artist, either. Our meeting, though, did lead to an introduction to James Stroud, my producer and label head. Through James, I’ve been given even more opportunities, and so on. Had I released an album in the projected amount of time—6 months after moving to Nashville—I probably would have set myself back as an artist. There are only so many first impressions one can make, and I’m not sure I was prepared to step out with my first album three and half years ago. In hindsight, I’m lucky to have had the time to grow and to find exactly what it is I want to say through my music. The album I’m about to release this year will be entirely different than the album I would’ve released just a year ago, and even more different than the one I will release in another few years because I’m constantly evolving.

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Country Spotlight: Margaret Durante’s Nashville (And Beyond!) Diaries

September 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm , by

One week to go! You have through September 30 to enter to win a trip to Nashville, including tickets to the Grand Ole Opry and a visit (plus lunch!) with Margaret in the studio. Watch the video for more details and click here to enter. After the video, read on to find out about Margaret’s continuing work on her upcoming album, all while she planned some downtime on a frantic yet fabulous European family vacation.

When I was a kid, I was convinced that time sped up during the month of August. The threat of a new school year would loom over me and I would lust after the month of June, where there were an infinite number of days to play outside and go to the beach. Now I think it’s downright funny that I used to dread the devastation that is (gasp!) the end of the summer because I love the fall. It’s my favorite of the seasons, for so many reasons. (Uhm, no, that rhyme was not intentional by the way.) Autumn is so full of anticipation and everyone is rejuvenated by their summer that they’re ready to tackle all the big goals they’ve set for themselves. And let’s face it, the clothes and the shoes are so much more exciting in the fall … and it’s not so dang hot outside.

Last I left you all, I was telling you about being in the studio and finishing up the vocals on 5 new songs we’d tracked for my upcoming album. The next steps in the whole process would be the selection of our favorite vocals; an overdub session (where the musicians come back to the studio and add new parts or change existing ones); a background vocals session; a mixing session; most likely another mixing session; and possibly even another one to redo the previous ones, depending on how fickle we are. Ha! As you can see, we weren’t nearly as finished with this project as I’d originally thought in my last post. Complicating things was the fact that I had long-standing plans to go on a big family vacation and the trip was landing smack dab in the middle of all this studio work. It all made me feel a bit anxious but, in hindsight, it was silly for me to worry. The recording process cannot and should not be rushed. My producer and label head, James Stroud, is as down-to-earth as it gets and he understands that while I have my musical family in Nashville, my family back home is very important to me, too. And besides—I was about to be heading off on my very own European vacation!

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Country Spotlight: Coldwater Jane

August 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm , by

MarionetteWhen I first met Coldwater Jane (sisters Brandon Jane and Leah Crutchfield) in June 2010, we were headed to a volunteer afternoon at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. We all emerged a few pounds lighter (it was very hot in there) and I left very impressed at how how much fun they managed to have that day while also getting a lot of hard work done. Today’s release of their long-awaited debut CD Marionette proves to be another testament to this duo’s ability to put their heads down and get the job done, all while having some fun along the way.

One listen to the quietly defiant opening lines of “Tough As Nails” lets you know what these sisters from Lucedale, Mississippi, are made of: “They can tell me they don’t want me / They can tell me I’m not what they’re looking for / Believe me, honey, it ain’t the first time / It’ll mess with your head, but it ain’t broke me yet.” Don’t be fooled by the pretty music that those lyrics waltz across, sung in a palpably dogged vocal: These two ain’t messing around.

… Unless, of course, they’re answering a few questions for me for the Ladies’ Lounge. Brandon was my willing victim today, gamely matching my Monday silliness and even throwing down a dance challenge of her own to me. Read on after the video of Brandon and Leah’s LHJ performance to find out what the challenge is and how you can be a part of it as well!

So give us the Marionette CD elevator pitch: If you had to convince someone to buy the album in just the time it’d take to ride an elevator with them, what would you say?
It’s a heartfelt record from front to back, written by two honest girls about their lives. Joy, pain, heartbreak. It’s all there. We held nothing back.

I love the fact you two have written or cowritten every single song on the album. Was that a goal you had from the beginning or just the way the album shaped up?
I don’t know if it was a goal as much as we are two women with a lot to say! We could’ve written two albums’ worth between the two of us!

Which track was the most challenging one on the CD for you to write?
“Tough as Nails.” It took about five days for us to finish that song. It’s such an honest depiction of how we both have felt about our careers. It was like an open wound. Lots of choking back tears on that one.

Do you do any covers when you perform live and, if so, which ones are your favorites and would you consider putting them on a follow-up CD?
Oh, yes! We do “If I Needed You,” by Emmylou Harris—and “Red Dirt Girl”. I would love to record those. That is a great idea!! Maybe album #2—thanks, Ron! I also want to do a bluegrass version of Beyoncé‘s “Single Ladies”. Haven’t gotten Leah on board with that one yet.

In my head I’m hearing a killer cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” from you two. Should I give up on that dream now, or what do I need to do to bribe you to do it?
OMG! That is so freaking weird. We used to cover that song with our old band! Come to a show and we will whip it out just for you! I love that Carly uses the rhyme of apricot and gavotte in that song. What does gavotte mean? And how do you spell it?! [Editor's note: Gavotte is spelled as such, and you can listen to Carly herself explain what it is here.]

Interview continued after the jump

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Country Spotlight: Win a Trip to Music City Courtesy of Margaret Durante’s Nashville Diaries

August 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm , by

Find out how to enter at the end of Margaret’s latest diary entry …

It’s only been a month, but I feel like I have so much to catch you up on! I’ve played shows on both coasts, appeared as a guest on GAC’s Top 20 Countdown, tracked 5 new songs in the studio for my new album and even witnessed my older sister’s engagement! I wish I could list “cleaned my apartment” among those things, but there’s always next month … maybe. I try to remind myself to live fully in each moment but, truthfully, it’s been hard to get a grip on everything that’s gone down in the past 30 days. Luckily, though, I have the chance to reflect on everything now and share it with you!

six flags americaLet’s start with my visit to the GAC studios to chat with Nan Kelley, host of their Top 20 Country Countdown. I was thrilled to be invited on the show, having watched it so many times in the past wondering if and when I’d ever get to be the guest artist. I had the #1 video the week prior to my visit and had no idea where I’d land the week I appeared on the show. I’d watched my video debut at #1, then go to number … nothing, then to #7 and back to #1 again, so I was ready for anything. Nan couldn’t have been nicer and she was so easy to talk to. At the end of the segment, she asked me to read from the teleprompter to introduce my video for that week. (Good sign, I thought. I at least made the countdown!) Then I read the words on the screen in disbelief: “Here’s my video ‘Maybe Tonight,’ at the #1 spot!” At that point, I’d pretty much lost any composure I had during the interview. I was just in awe of my fans who had taken me to the top once again. (Side note: The video went #1 the following week also, so to any of you voting, thank you!)

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Country Spotlight: Eli Young Band

August 16, 2011 at 9:21 am , by


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: 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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