Michael Ray is finishing up a six-song EP, Dive Bars & Broken Hearts, set for release June 23 via Warner Music Nashville.
“I took some time to really think about what I wanted,” says Ray, who’s spent the last year balancing road shows and songwriting appointments. “When you strip it all back, think about what really matters to you, you cut away a whole lot of reasons that should never drive your music.”
To help create the direction for Ray’s next chapter of music, he enlisted the help of lauded producer Michael Knox, whose resume includes 28 No. 1 hits.
“The more we talked, the more I knew he understood where I came from,” Ray says. “My kind of country doesn’t come from TikTok or a tv show, it’s all those straight up country singers who knew life doesn’t always turn out like you think, but you keep going. I’m from a family of EMTs, cable-splicers, first responders; they had to get up and go to work, no matter what was happening… and when they got home, they reached for the music, whether they were going out with my grandpa Amos to watch him play, or some band they were playin’ in.
“That’s a whole different way to do this, and Michael got it. Just like he knows how dive bars and broken hearts are a lot like George Jones songs and steel guitars – they go together.”
Aiming for an ’80s/’90s country sound, Knox enlisted a large number of Jason Aldean’s touring band, Tim McGraw’s lead guitarist Adam Shoenfeld and Kenny Chesney guitarist/utility player Danny Raider to make up the core tracking band.
Ray has been testing the new music out on the road for the last few months.
“When you came up punching it out in bars, there’s a different kind of energy. Michael let me record with live players, sing about things I knew – and trusted that who I am is who all the people I’ve been playing for since I was a kid are, too. We kept finding songs that felt right for who I am, and we kept singing live and pulling the heart out of the songs. It’s been an amazing process. When we’ve been playing, you can feel the difference with the new stuff… so we’re now using the road to really dial in what Dive Bars & Broken Hearts is gonna be.”
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