Jason Aldean headlines big country show at PNC Park
Just five albums into his career, Jason Aldean has punched his ticket into one of the most exclusive clubs in country music.
He has joined Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift in the elite club of country artists able to headline stadium shows — as evidenced by sold-out shows this summer in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and, July 26 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
He's selling lots of music, too. His 2010 album, “My Kinda Party,” cemented Aldean's status as a premier hit-maker. Having moved nearly 3 million copies and spawned five No. 1 singles (including “Don't You Wanna Stay,” a duet with Kelly Clarkson that crossed over to the pop charts), “My Kinda Party” was some kinda blockbuster.
Such success, though, comes with a price — namely the reality that his follow-up album, his current release “Night Train,” would be judged by the standard set with “My Kinda Party.”
Aldean confronted the expectations for “Night Train” by taking a business-as-usual approach to the project.
“I remember when we made the ‘My Kinda Party' album, we had those songs that we felt like were cool,” Aldean says. “We just went in and cut what we felt like was a great record, which is kind of the attitude we've had every time we've gone in the studio.”
Obviously, success has become a familiar feeling to the 37-year-old singer from Macon, Ga. But he knows all struggles and disappointments as well.
He began his career playing gigs around Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and it was actually at a show in Atlanta in 1998 where he was “discovered.” Michael Knox, a representative with Warner Chappell Music Publishing, came to that concert and immediately offered Aldean a songwriting deal with the firm.
Soon after going to work with Warner Chappell, Aldean landed a record deal with Capitol Records. Unfortunately, that deal fell apart before he was able to release an album.
By 2003, his dreams of a music career were fading. Aldean and his former wife, Jessica, had just had their first child, and he knew he would soon have to move back to Macon to find a job that would support his family.
In signing to Broken Bow, Aldean has enjoyed not only success, but more freedom to take musical risks than he might have had on a major label.
“Obviously, as an artist you don't want to just settle into one thing and just hammer it away and you never really get outside of that box,” Aldean says. “I mean, I want to constantly try new things and push the limits a little bit. But at the same time, I think it's important not to ever really get away from what got you to that point. So songs like ‘Take a Little Ride,' you listen to that song and, to me, it's obvious. That's a right-down-the-middle radio hit. But then it's things, like ‘Black Tears' and some of those songs are the ones that kind of branch off in another direction, are kind of your risk-takers.”
“Black Tears” is especially edgy, lyrically. It's a ballad about a stripper and the damage that her work does to her self-image and her life — not exactly mainstream stuff in a genre that encourages themes of faith, family and patriotism.
Another song that's a mild gamble is Aldean's recent top-15 single, “1994.” It features rap-ish spoken-word lyrics and name-checks country artist Joe Diffie, who enjoyed a run of hit singles in the '90s, as part of an ode to that decade. It's a very catchy — but unconventional — song. Aldean, though, knows from experience that sometimes the smart money rides on not playing things safe.
“ ‘Dirt Road Anthem' was a prime example of that,” Aldean says, referencing a rap-inflected chart-topping hit from “My Kinda Party.”
“Sometimes, when you take those risks, when they pay off, they pay off in a huge way.”
Obviously, Aldean hasn't experienced many failures for awhile. “Night Train” looks poised to at least approach the popularity of “My Kinda Party.” It sold its 1 millionth copy just four weeks after its October 2012 release and has produced one song, “Take a Little Ride,” that topped Billboard magazine's Hot Country singles chart, and three more singles that went top 5 — “The Only Way I Know,” “Night Train” and “When She Says Baby.”
He's also added to his collection of recent awards (CMT Artist of the Year, a Grammy nomination for “Night Train” as Best Country Album) when in April he won the Academy of Country Music award for male vocalist of the year.
His shows in support of the album will feature a hit-filled set and a spectacular visual production.
“I think each year, you kind of want to make your show bigger and better and give your fans something they haven't seen yet from you,” Aldean says. “This year, just from the stage set-up to the video content, to the streams, to everything we're able to take out this year, I mean, it's a completely different experience than what people have seen from us in the past.”
Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Florida Georgia Line
It's no secret that the influence of hip-hop is felt in many genres of contemporary music today — with its rhythmic spoken word vocals, its creative beats and its innovative production styles.
Even country music is getting into the act. And the country act that may be pushing hip-hop furthest to the front in country music is Florida Georgia Line. On their debut CD, “Here's to the Good Times,” the duo of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard fuse hip-hop into several songs.
The hip-hop dimension isn't a gimmick, Kelley says.
“We both grew up listening to a lot of rap and hip-hop, and obviously country music, for sure, and rock,” Kelley says. “You know, we just don't want to sound like anybody.”
Creating a unique sound has been a priority since Kelley and Hubbard formed their duo three years ago, after meeting as students at Belmont College in Nashville.
“That's what we've wanted to do from Day 1, is have a sound that when people that haven't heard us say, ‘Well, who is that? I need to know,' ” Kelley says. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve and create music that's fresh and create music that's real.”
Florida Georgia Line is busy giving back to fans in one of the best ways it can — by continuing to tour, where rocking tracks like “Cruise,” “Tip It Back” and “Party People” should get crowds fired up.
The band's show should be full of sweat and energy.
“We just try to bring the energy, man,” Kelley said. “We're going a lot off of what our fans and what our crowds are doing. It kind of works hand-in-hand. So, we're always running around sweating and trying to create moments that are memorable, create moments that visually look cool and moments that sonically sound good.”
— Alan Sculley
Although Jason Aldean is the headliner for the July 26 concert at PNC Park, country star Miranda Lambert could headline her own big concert — especially with the success of her fifth album, “Platinum,” released in June.
“Platinum” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and sold 180,000 copies in the first week. This is her first No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, but her fifth straight No. 1 debut on the Top Country Albums chart. And all of Lambert's first four albums went platinum. The debut “Platinum” single, “Automatic,” quickly became Lambert's second No. 1 hit.
According to Billboard.com, Lambert's sales figures form the highest weekly number in the industry for a female country artist since the last week of December 2012, when Taylor Swift's “Red” sold some 241,000 copies. “Platinum” got numerous positive reviews from critics, some of whom called the album her best work yet. Lambert, married to fellow country star Blake Shelton, said when she started working on “Platinum,” she went into the studio “without a plan, in order to keep the creative process fresh,” according to Mirandalambert.com.
Lambert, an East Texas native known for the feistiness and wisecracking in her lyrics, joins Carrie Underwood in the duet “Somethin' Bad,” the new album's second single. Underwood and Lambert recently teamed up to film the song's music video, which depicts a high-stakes heist and includes disguises, motorcycles and an explosion.
If you're going to the concert, you can create a photo of yourself holding up a white sign saying what “kind” you are – like, “The Platinum Kind” and upload it to www.allkinds.me. Your photo might appear on the giant screen at the concert when Lambert sings “All Kinds of Kinds.”
— Kellie B. Gormly