Kelsea Ballerini Masters Vulnerable Songwriting On ‘Subject To Change’ [Interview]

Kelsea Ballerini. Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

For her fourth studio album, multi-Platinum singer-songwriter Kelsea Ballerini found herself reflecting on a season of change in her life.

Her third studio album, Kelsea, was released March 20, 2020, just as the world began to feel the thundering start of the pandemic, which put a damper on the project’s release. Though the record performed well, debuting at No. 2 and 12 on the Top Country Albums and Billboard 200 charts, respectively, and spawning four official singles, such as “Hole in the Bottle” and “Half of My Hometown,” Ballerini was open about her disappointment in the timing of the release.

With the pandemic raging on through 2020 and 2021, Ballerini did what a lot of creatives did: took some time to herself, reflected on her life, and wrote songs. She emerged with 15 new songs and a sharp creative vision for her fourth studio album, Subject To Change.

Ballerini and her label Black River introduced the project with her currently climbing country radio single, “Heartfirst,” a flirty track combining ’90s country with Ballerini’s signature country-pop songwriting. Subject To Change was released in its entirety in September.

The sound of the record reflects that of “Heartfirst,” with various ’90s references throughout, although Ballerini says it wasn’t necessarily intentional.

Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain are obvious references for this album, but it also was Sixpence None The Richer and Sheryl Crow,” Ballerini tells MusicRow. “But I didn’t necessarily set out to make a ’90s-sounding record, it’s just naturally influenced by what I was listening to.”

For the creation of Subject To Change, Ballerini did set out to make a cohesive project with a clear through-line, for which she tapped producers Shane McAnally and Julian Bunetta. Jesse Frasure and Alysa Vanderheym are credited as producers for the album, as well, for their work on the last track on the record, “What I Have.”

“My last album was such a quilt. Every song had its own identity as far as the songwriter group and the producer group. Each song was its own moment. I’m proud of [the Kelsea album] because it was the first time that I allowed myself the freedom and the confidence to play around. This time, I really wanted to go back to making a streamlined record,” Ballerini says. “I still wanted it to push boundaries, but I wanted it to feel like a cohesive story. It was really important to me to have production that really helped bring a vision to life and streamline it through the whole project.

“Shane and Julian not only produced it, but oversaw the whole thing. They were able to give me outside perspectives on songs they weren’t a part of writing. They brought it to life in such a beautiful way that honors country music, but also honors everything else I’m influenced by.”

While McAnally and Bunetta’s production is polished and interesting, it doesn’t get in the way of the star of Subject To Change: Ballerini’s songwriting.

For this album, Ballerini started the writing with one of the record’s gut punches—a solo write called “Marilyn” that’s based on Ballerini’s new familiarity with the struggles of the beautiful but tragic life of Marilyn Monroe. The singer-songwriter has made it a tradition to include one solo write on all her albums. For her debut, it was “The First Time.” For Unapologetically, it was “High School.” For Kelsea, it was “LA.”

“It just holds me accountable, to be honest,” she shares of the practice. “Songwriting is my favorite part of what I do. I still crave being in the room with people like Shane, Hillary Lindsey or Nicolle Galyon who sharpen me as a writer. In the same breath, I want to honor myself and trust myself to be able to take an idea all the way through and not always rely on other people. Doing one solo write on each record is just my way of holding myself accountable to that.”

The song that set the tone sonically for Subject To Change was one of the more ’90s-country sounding tracks, “Love Is A Cowboy.”

“‘Love Is A Cowboy’ was the first song that I wrote with other songwriters with the intention of writing for an album. It felt like a direction that really honors my songwriting evolution and feels sonically different than anything that I’ve done before. That really interested me,” Ballerini shares.

A highlight of the 15-track project is “What I Have.” The tune, written alongside Vanderheym and Cary Barlowe, is extremely country and shows off Ballerini’s honeyed vocals and sharp ability to convey a message.

“I was on a writing retreat. Alyssa and Cary were working on doing harmonies for [another song] ‘The Little Things’ and I was staring out the window at the ocean. I was just having a moment of reflection,” Ballerini recalls. “One of the things so many people have learned over the past couple of years is to take inventory of your life. We’re constantly changing and that’s such a theme of this album. I was just having a moment to myself, taking inventory of how my life looked in that moment and how it was the simpler things that were making me the happiest.

“I said, ‘Hey guys, can you stop the track on “Little Things?”‘ They stopped and I literally sang the chorus to ‘What I Have’ in the room. We ended up pausing on ‘The Little Things’ and wrote ‘What I Have’ in about 30 minutes,” Ballerini says. “It fell out of the sky. The record is the original demo. We tried to re-record it and it just didn’t capture the honesty and the pureness of the magic of how we wrote it.”

Like “What I Have,” many of the tracks on Subject To Change convey a growth and acceptance in Ballerini. Her “Doin’ My Best” finds her grappling with things in her life that are hard to face—such as growing apart from a friend or being called out on social media. In “Walk In The Park,” she sings about being complicated. In the title track, Ballerini puts out a big disclaimer that she, as well as all of us, are ‘subject to change’ at any time.

“Every record of mine has bookmarked two years of my twenties. This one is from 26 to 28. There’s a lot of growing up that happens in those years, but also I sat still for the first time since I’ve been in my twenties,” Ballerini says, adding that she’s learned in therapy that her coping mechanism is business.

During the pandemic, Ballerini was able to sit with her feelings, work on herself, and evaluate her relationships—which is clearly reflected in the maturity of the songwriting on the project.

Kelsea Ballerini. Photo: Catherine Powell

“I started processing my life differently. Having that time really allowed me to go deeper and have more time to work on myself, my friendships and relationships. As well as my songwriting and writing in general. I got to write a book. All those things really helped me accelerate growing up.”

Throughout her time in the public eye, Ballerini has managed to stay pretty vulnerable with her fans as her audience grows, while also holding some parts of herself close and protected.

“It’s a dance. I’m in a season of life right now where I’m re-figuring that out,” she admits. “I do feel a responsibility to not just show the glittery parts of my life and ‘job.’ That would be really easy to do, but it’s just not real. I feel responsibility as someone that some people look to to be more authentic, even if it’s a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. I definitely don’t tend to do it right all the time and I’ve had a messy journey with social media, but I’m constantly doing my best.

“That’s where I’m at with everything in my life,” Ballerini sums. “I’m showing up the best I can.”

Ballerini has taken Subject To Change on the road for a 10-night-only tour. She hits Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on Thursday night (Oct. 5) with four shows following. Click here for more details.

Nashville’s Music Industry Gathers To Honor Jordan Davis Two Times Over

Pictured (L-R, back row): Mike Sistad (ASCAP), Spencer Nohe (Warner Chappell), Chris Van Belkom (Combustion), Lee Krabel (SMACKSONGS), Shannan Hatch (SESAC), Courtney Crist (Anthem), Gilles Godard (Anthem), Troy Tomlinson (Universal Publishing), Mike Dungan (UMG Nashville), Noah Dewey (Anthem), Blain Rhodes (The Tape Room), Chris Farren (Combustion). (L-R, front row): Josh Jenkins, Jordan Davis, Luke Bryan, Matt Jenkins, Jacob Davis. Photo: Larry McCormack

Some of Music Row’s biggest and brightest could be found at Tailgate Brewery in Nashville’s Germantown on Monday (Oct. 3) to celebrate a couple of Jordan Davis‘ recent No. 1s. The MCA recording artist, along with his co-writers, were honored for “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot” and “Buy Dirt” both making it all the way to the top of the charts.

Hosted by ASCAP’s Mike Sistad, the celebration started with “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot,” which made its climb to the peak of country radio in tandem with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The song was written in 2014 by Davis and Lonnie Fowler, who rang in his first No. 1 with the track, and was produced by Paul DiGiovanni.

Anthem Music’s Noah Dewey kicked things off, thanking all of the people who got the song to the top. He was followed by Warner Chappell’s Spencer Nohe who doted on Lonnie, noting that he was “an incredibly talented songwriter of timeless songs.” Whitt Jeffords from Amylase Music took the mic next, explaining that the song stood the test of time from its origin to its trip to No. 1.

When Mike Dungan, Chairman and CEO of UMG Nashville, made his way to the front, he started his presentation by yelling, “I love Jordan Davis!” which earned a round of applause in agreement. He proceeded to explain that though it hadn’t been officially certified just yet, the guys were going to receive 2x Platinum plaques for the song’s success.

“The truth is, it’s not officially certified,” Mike admitted. “We have an audit glitch so it’ll be certified in like 15 minutes, but we’re celebrating anyway! We’re really proud of this record and really proud of you, Jordan.”

The writers took over from there.

Pictured (L-R): Mike Sistad (ASCAP), Spencer Nohe (Warner Chappell), Lonnie Fowler, Jordan Davis, Whit Jefferds (Amylase), Noah Dewey (Anthem), and Mike Dungan (UMG). Photo: Larry McCormack

Jordan mentioned the leaps and bounds “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot” had to go through to get to the top, all the while bragging on his MCA Nashville team. “MCA Nashville is the best out there,” he noted. “This is just as much y’all’s as it is me and Lonnie’s.”

He also took the crowd back to the day the song was written, explaining how special the song was. “This will always be one of my favorite songs I’ve ever released because, much like with any song I put out, I go back to the day we wrote it. I remember that more than the stuff that follows, although this is pretty damn sweet,” he shared beaming at the packed room.

Lonnie closed things out at the first of the celebrations. As it was his first No. 1, he prepared a few pages of notes, joking that he’d had enough time to think about what he wanted to say since he wasn’t sure this party was ever going to happen. He first thanked God for the gift of music, as well as his family and, of course, Jordan. “Thank you to Jordan for bringing your gift of phrasing, imagery and lyrical swagger into the room that day,” he said with a laugh. “He has a way of saying things that’s all Jordan and nobody else.”

Listing off the rest of the team responsible for bringing the song to life and sharing it around the world, he closed by recalling when he got the call that it was probably going to hit the top of the charts.

“When I got the call that it looked like the song was going to hit No. 1, I happened to be standing in a good friend’s yard in East Nashville looking at the entire upstairs of their house in the wake of the tornado. In the weeks after, the world shut down and that’s when the song hit No. 1,” Lonnie remembered. “It was definitely a difficult time to celebrate a big career success in the wake of those two things. For a long time, I didn’t know if I would get a chance to celebrate with anybody in person, but here it is. It’s actually happening. Thanks everyone for coming out, showing up and making the most of this special day.”

Pictured (L-R): Jordan Davis, Mike Dungan (Chairman & CEO, UMG Nashville), Luke Bryan, Cindy Mabe (President, UMG Nashville). Photo: Larry McCormack. Photo: Larry McCormack

Next it was time to honor “Buy Dirt,” which is nominated for the CMA Song and Single of the Year. The Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan duet, written by two sets of brothers—Jordan, Jacob Davis, Josh Jenkins and Matt Jenkins—also won the NSAI Song of the Year last month.

SESAC’s Shannan Hatch kicked things off, touting Josh’s achievements over the last few years—this being his first No. 1. Troy Tomlinson of UMPG commended all four of the writers, as well as producer Paul DiGiovanni for his “less is more” mentality to let the vocals shine. He also announced that UMPG would be making a contribution to MusiCares on behalf of the writers to assist those with mental health and emotional needs.

Anthem’s Noah Dewey returned to the mic, explaining that the group of four best friends had charmingly named themselves the Dream Team. Lee Krabel from SmackSongs followed, putting the spotlight directly on Josh, saying: “It’s hard to imagine a better partner as a publisher. Josh is incredibly talented, but he has this energy and positivity that spreads around the office. I don’t think Smack would look the same if we hadn’t signed him seven years ago.”

Warner Chappell’s Spencer Nohe also came back up, saying that Jordan was “exactly why [he] got in this business,” giving him lavish praises for his songwriting career. Blaine Rhodes from Tape Room Music also echoed everyone’s sentiments of pride for the song. Combustion Music’s Chris Farren spoke about Matt’s career and thanked the Universal team and his Combustion staff.

Mike Dungan once again came to the front, this time with some figures regarding the song’s success. He noted that “Buy Dirt” was one of the top five most streamed songs for two years in a row—both in 2021 and 2022—and that the track has notched over 677 million streams to date. He mentioned its nomination at the 57th ACM Awards, as well as his expectation for a win at the upcoming 56th Annual CMA Awards on Nov. 9.

Next the men behind the song took a few moments at the mic.

Matt took the lead, explaining how the song came to be. “When we sat down to write this song we were at a cabin about an hour outside of Nashville,” he recalled. “We weren’t trying to write a hit, we just wanted to write something that we loved. To see the life that this song took on is really special.”

He also looked back on the last few years of Jordan’s career, while also noting the special bond that the two sets of brothers and best friends share. He thanked Luke for his part on the song, the Universal team, his family and management, as well as ASCAP and the publishers at Combustion, Tape Room and Warner Chappell.

Josh went next, immediately apologizing in advance for if he talked too much since this was his first No. 1. He thanked his family for their never ending support, and all the people along the way who helped him get to this point.

“All of us know that to get here, it takes so many people along the way to encourage you, pick you up, and believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself,” Josh shared. “I thank Lee and the crew [at Smack] whose north star has always been making music that makes people feel something. They have given me a space to create music that I believe in.” He added, “This [song captures] who we want to be as men, husbands, and fathers. We want to live this way and that will always be one of the most special things about this song.”

Jacob took over from there, echoing his thanks to his wife and daughters, and taking a moment to speak about each of his co-writers and his relationships with them. He also gave a special sentiment to his mother, who one can assume he credits for much of his love for music.

“My mom is an incredible piano player and the melodies that come out of this little lady are just incredible. I remember she wanted me and Jordan to take piano lessons, but we were going to play professional baseball so we didn’t need piano lessons,” he said cheekily. “For the four years that we took them, I sure appreciate you forcing us to do that. A lot of it stuck, so thank you.”

Luke Bryan shared his thanks next. He told the story about getting the text to be a part of the song, noting how honored he is to be featured on a song that “does what a song oughta do,” which he explained is to tell a message and inspire people.

He also made light of the conversations surrounding the upcoming CMA Awards and joked that, as co-host, he wrote into his contract that the song had to win, to which the audience roared with laughter and applause.

“This is the most fun business in the world in the best town in the world because we don’t get caught up in a bunch of flashy egos,” Luke summed. “We just love to see great songs get written and I’m just honored to be a part of it.”

The man of the hour closed things out with a speech that explained the critical role that honesty has played in his career over the years. He said that “Buy Dirt” exudes the same brand of honesty about the three important things in his life: faith, family and friends.

He spent time thanking his publishing team at Warner Chappell, his management team, UMG Nashville, and his co-writers, while also teasing future Dream Team songs to come.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve been around people from day one that have done nothing but shoot me straight and try to push my career forward,” he shared. “I’m so grateful to be at the best damn label in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m looking forward to writing many, many more songs.

“I hope, fingers crossed, that we get to talk about this song one more time in a couple of weeks [at the CMA Awards]. I do like my in with the co-host,” he said with a laugh before closing. “To every person in this room, thank you for giving me a career. I love you guys. Go buy dirt.”

Influence Media Acquires Blake Shelton’s Catalog, Creates Joint Venture For Artist-Driven Profit Share

Pictured (L-R): Narvel Blackstock, Rene McLean, Lylette Pizarro, Blake Shelton, Lynn Hazan, John Esposito, and Ben Kline

Influence Media Partners has invested in country superstar Blake Shelton‘s master recordings catalog, which includes all of his commercial releases from 2001 to 2019. The two parties also created a joint venture, partnering to amplify his works and entitling Shelton to participate in a share of the profit generated. Warner Music Group will continue to lead distribution for the catalog, which has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide.

From his debut through 2019, the Grammy nominated entertainer accumulated 27 No. 1 singles on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, including “Boys ‘Round Here,” “Honeybee,” “Nobody But You” (with Gwen Stefani), “God’s Country” and his 2001 smash hit “Austin.” Shelton’s discography through the agreement period consists of 11 studio LP’s, including a Christmas album, and two EP’s. His catalog also spans three compilation albums: Fully Loaded: God’s Country (2019), Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits (2015), and Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton (2010).

“Blake is one of the most exciting luminaries to emerge in both country music and television in the past two decades. His music’s continued resonance with new and established audiences makes him the perfect business partner for Influence,” notes Influence Media Founder and Co-Managing Partner, Lylette Pizarro. “We’re particularly proud of the fact that Blake will continue to be an active participant in his catalog moving forward, and to have a tailored joint venture in place that will ensure he remains an active profit participant. We’re excited to work closely with Blake, his management team at Starstruck and our partners at Warner Music Nashville to identify strategic opportunities for his modern country classics.”

“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since my first album and single. Sometimes I still feel like the kid from Oklahoma I was back then! While a lot has changed during that time, my passion for music hasn’t,” Shelton explains. “I’m excited to be working with Lylette, Rene [McLean] and the team at Influence Media on so much of my catalog and to introduce my songs to the next generation of country fans.”

“Blake is one of the most important artists, not only in our genre, but also in the wider world of music and television. We are excited about the opportunity to introduce Blake’s music to more fans, and we look forward to our partnership with Influence,” Warner Music Nashville Co-President Ben Kline adds.

Shelton was represented by Mitch Tenzer and David Byrne of Ziffren Brittenham, LLP. Influence Media Partners were represented by Lisa Alter, Katie Baron and Jaclyn Felber of Alter, Kendrick & Baron, LLP.

Legendary Loretta Lynn Passes

Loretta Lynn. Photo: Les Leverett

Revered music icon Loretta Lynn died on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90.

A statement from Lynn’s family reads: “Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills.”

Known to millions as “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the iconic singer-songwriter rose from mountain poverty to become a member of The Country Music Hall of Fame. Her feisty songs made her a feminist heroine. The film based on her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, took her story around the world and won an Academy Award.

Among her enduring compositions are such country evergreens as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin,’” “Fist City,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” as well as her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

She also immortalized songs by others, such as “One’s On the Way,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “The Pill” and “Love Is the Foundation.” In addition, Lynn had strings of hits as the duet partner of her fellow Hall of Fame members, Ernest Tubb (1914-1984) and Conway Twitty (1933-1993).

Born Loretta Webb in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, she was raised in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters. She was just a teenager when she married Oliver “Doolittle”/”Mooney” Lynn (1927-1996). He believed in her singing talent, bought her a guitar, urged her to begin writing songs, pushed her to perform live and entered her in talent contests near their home in Washington State.

Buck Owens (1929-2006) began to feature her on his Takoma television show. A Canadian businessman saw her on it and financed a trip to L.A. to record her self-penned 1960 debut single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Husband “Doo” found a list of country radio stations and drove her across the country to visit them one-by-one.

Released on tiny Zero Records, the single made the national country charts and brought her to Nashville. Lynn made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry singing it on Oct. 15, 1960.

Established Opry stars The Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings and signed her to management and publishing contracts. Teddy Wilburn (1931-2003) helped her polish her songwriting. Doyle Wilburn (1930-1982) engineered a Decca Records contract with producer Owen Bradley (1915-1998). The duo promoted her and her resulting Decca singles on their nationally syndicated TV series.

Loretta Lynn. Photo: Russ Harrington

Produced by Bradley, “Success” became her first Decca success. On the strength of that 1962 hit, the Wilburns lobbied the Opry to add her to its cast. She became an Opry member on Sept. 24, 1962. “Before I’m Over You” (1963) and “Wine, Women and Song” (1964) were her next big hits.

Superstar Ernest Tubb chose her as his duet partner, and the team succeeded with “Mr. and Mrs. Used To Be” (1964), “Our Hearts Are Holding Hands” (1965), “Sweet Thang” (1967) and “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” (1969). Lynn’s solo singles continued to thrive as well. “Happy Birthday,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “The Home You’re Tearin’ Down” all became hits in 1965.

By the late 1960s, Loretta Lynn was steamrolling the country charts. “Dear Uncle Sam” (1966), “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (1966), “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” (1967), “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” (1967) and “What Kind of Girl” (1967) led to a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1967.

Owen Bradley called her “the female Hank Williams.” He continued to produce such disc classics as “Fist City” (1968), “You’ve Just Stepped In” (1968), “Your Squaw Is On the Warpath” (1968), “Woman of the World” (1969), “To Make a Man” (1969) and “Wings Upon Your Horns” (1969).

Decca hoped lightning would strike twice by signing her brother Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and sister Peggy Sue, both of whom had country chart hits. Baby sister Crystal Gayle (Brenda Gail Webb) also began her career at Decca, but didn’t rise to stardom until the 1970s on United Artists.

Loretta Lynn’s own star rose ever higher in the 1970s. She began the decade with 1970’s “I Know How,” “You Wanna Give Me a Lift” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” all major hits.

She began singing duets with Conway Twitty and instantly hit the top of the charts with 1971’s “After the Fire Is Gone,” which won a Grammy Award. The two went on to have more than a dozen hits together, including “Lead Me On” (1971), “Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man” (1973), “Feelin’s” (1975), “I Can’t Love You Enough” (1977), “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (1978) and “Lovin’ What Your Lovin’ Does to Me” (1981). The team earned four Duo of the Year awards from the CMA in 1972-75.

In 1971-73, Lynn scored such solo blockbusters as “I Wanna Be Free,” “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” “One’s on the Way,” “Here I Am Again,” “Rated X,” “Love Is the Foundation” and “Hey Loretta.” These resulted in Female Vocalist of the Year honors from the CMA in 1972 and 1973. Furthermore, in 1972, she became the first woman to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year prize.

The mainstream media took notice. She was featured in Ms magazine and made the covers of Newsweek (1973) and Redbook (1974). Her infectious personality, plain-spoken honesty and down-home wit made her a favorite on the TV talk-show circuit. She starred in national TV commercials for Crisco. Her 1976 autobiography became a New York Times best-seller.

Her fan club became an industry model. It morphed into the umbrella International Fan Club Organization (IFCO) and backed the establishment of Fan Fair (now the CMA Music Festival) in 1972.

Lynn’s devotion to her fans became legendary, but it came at a price. The pressures of stardom, constant travel and unending work took a toll on her physical and mental health. In 1976, she suffered a complete breakdown while on stage in Illinois. She was hospitalized several times for exhaustion.

But the country hits continued uninterrupted as Lynn scaled the charts with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy” (1974), “Trouble in Paradise” (1974), “The Pill” (1975), “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill” (1976) and “Somebody Somewhere” (1976).

Patsy Cline (1932-1963) had been Lynn’s female mentor early in her career. Loretta Lynn’s tribute LP to the legendary singer resulted in the 1977 hits “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You.”

Lynn finished the decade with the country hits “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed” (1977), “Spring Fever” (1978), “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby” (1978), “I Can’t Feel You Anymore” (1979) and “I’ve Got a Picture of Us in My Mind” (1979).

Coal Miner’s Daughter became a film triumph in 1980, and Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for portraying Lynn. Another wave of media attention ensued.

Lynn formed her own booking agency and song publishing company. She established western-wear clothing stores and opened the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch on her antebellum property in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

The hits slowed in the 1980s, but she still scored top-20 hits with “Cheatin’ on a Cheater” (1980), “Somebody Led Me Away” (1981), “I Lie” (1982), “Making Love From Memory” (1982) and “Heart Don’t Do This to Me” (1985).

During this same period, a series of major honors and accolades commenced. In 1980, the Academy of Country Music named her its Artist of the Decade for the 1970s. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983. She entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.

Collaborations with others also kept her in the news. In 1987, the Grammy-nominated “Honky Tonk Angels Medley” teamed her with k.d. lang, Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells. Also applauded and Grammy nominated was her 1993 collaboration with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, Honky Tonk Angels and its single/video “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

A famously hard-working concert artist, Loretta Lynn largely stayed off the road between 1991 and 1996 to care for her ailing husband. After his death, she was so numb with grief that she became almost completely uncommunicative for a year.

She rebounded on disc with her CD Still Country (2000), which contained songs about her mourning. She made the charts with its single, “Country in My Genes.” She was 68 years old at the time, which made her country’s senior charting female artist.

Loretta Lynn. Photo: David McClister

Lynn received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. The following year, she was given a BMI Icon Award. She issued two more books, Still Woman Enough (2002) and You’re Cookin’ It Country (2004).

Even more notoriety came with the release of her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. Produced by rock star Jack White, it won two Grammy Awards. She was inducted into New York’s mainstream Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008 and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. President Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

A 2010 Loretta Lynn tribute album resulted in her last chart appearance to date, a remake of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow. This made her the only female country artist to chart in six consecutive decades.

Since then, Lynn has published another book, 2012’s Honky-Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics. She resumed her recording career with Full Circle (2015), White Christmas Blue (2016) and Wouldn’t It Be Great (2018). These were co-produced by John Carter Cash and daughter Patsy Lynn, the latter of whom also served as her mother’s manager in recent years.

Loretta Lynn has released more than 60 albums, written more than 160 songs, had 16 No. 1’s and 50 top-10 hits, been awarded six Gold Records and charted 82 titles. She has sold a reported 45 million units.

In May 2017, the superstar suffered a stroke. She recovered enough to induct Alan Jackson into the Country Music Hall of Fame five months later. In January 2018, Lynn fell and broke her hip. She began making media appearances to promote Wouldn’t It Be Great that fall, but was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory infection in October 2018.

Her oldest son, Jack Benny Lynn, died in a drowning accident in 1984. Her songwriter daughter, Betty Sue, passed away in 2013. She is survived by son Ernest Ray Lynn, who worked as her opening act on the road. Lynn is also survived by daughters Cissy and her singing twins Peggy and Patsy, as well as by 27 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Lynn was buried in her family’s cemetery on her Hurricane Mills on Oct. 7. A public memorial is expected to follow.

The family has asked for privacy during this time, as they grieve. In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to be made to the Loretta Lynn Foundation.

Mark Your Calendar—October 2022

Single/Track Releases

October 4
Carson Beyer/Outdated

October 7
Alex Miller/When God Made The South/Billy Jam Records
Jordan James/Bigger Small Town/AMG Records/The Orchard
Jeff Garrison/Good People/Penumbra Records
Jeff Garrison/Morphine Lips/Penumbra Records
Zac Hart/Body Language

October 14
Derek Austin/Make Me Hate You/Mailbox Money Records
Clay Hollis/Missin’ You Missin’ Me

October 17
Breland/For What It’s Worth/Bad Realm Records/Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville
George Birge/Mind On You/Records Nashville
Danny Kensy/Smoke With An Old Flame

October 24
Hurricane Highway/Right Nows/Kick Ass Music

October 31
Alex Miller/When God Made The South

 

 

Album/EP Releases

October 4
Adam Sanders/90’s Kid

October 7
Avery Anna/Mood Swings/Warner Nashville
Everette
/Kings of the Dairy Queen Parking Lot: Side B/BBR
Caleb Caudle/Forsythia/Soundly Music

October 14
Bailey Zimmerman/Leave The Light On/Warner Nashville/Elektra
Callista Clark/Real To Me: The Way I Feel/Big Machine Records
Sam Williams/Glasshouse Children: Tilted Crown/Mercury Nashville
Pillbox Patti/Florida/Monument Records

October 21
MercyMe/Always Only Jesus
Jo Smith/Wyoming

October 28
Lainey Wilson/Bell Bottom Country/BBR Music Group/Broken Bow Records
Giovannie and The Hired Guns/Tejano Punk Boyz/Warner Music Nashville
Emily Scott Robinson/Built on Bones/Oh Boy Records
Clay Hollis/No Apologies

 

 

Industry Events

October 9 – 11
IEBA

October 14
CMT Artists of the Year

October 20
MusicRow‘s Rising Women on the Row

October 30
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala

Sony Music Nashville Ups Nicole Marinake To VP, Partnership Marketing & New Ventures

Nicole Marinake. Photo: Matthew Berinato

Sony Music Nashville has announced the promotion of Nicole Marinake to Vice President, Partnership Marketing and New Ventures. She previously held the role of Senior Director, Partnership Marketing since 2017.

In her new role, Marinake will work closely with SMN’s regional Promotion and Artist Development team to expand both the label and its artist footprint in the branding space, specifically on a regional level. Reporting to Senior Vice President, Marketing, Jennifer Way, Marinake will explore and bring in new opportunities for the label group in the areas of new technology, innovation, gaming and web3.

She will also continue to oversee all national brand partnership efforts, as well as continue to build the Sony Music Nashville Live brand which launched in 2018 for a SXSW activation with Budweiser, marking the first country music takeover the festival has ever had.

“Nicole’s passion and dedication for our artists is her superpower,” shares Way. “Her expertise, innovative mindset and winning personality are key reasons Sony Music Nashville has developed invaluable relationships with key partners and subsequently brought to life smart and compelling collaborations, perfectly suited for our artists and their music. I’m thrilled to elevate her in this new role and have no doubt that her strategic vision and exceptional knowledge in this space will help to continue to shape the company’s culture and find new audiences for our artists.”

Prior to joining SMN, Marinake spent time at The Madison Square Garden Company where she forged innovative partnerships in the live music space with blue chip brands like Anheuser-Busch, JP Morgan Chase and more. She received her Bachelor degree from the University of South Florida and her Masters at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Thomas Rhett Pushes To No. 1 On MusicRow Radio Chart

With 19 career No. 1’s under his belt, Thomas Rhett adds another MusicRow achievement to his list. “Half Of Me,” which features Riley Green, claims the top spot of the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart this week. 

Rhett wrote the single with Rhett Akins, William Bundy and Josh Thompson. Rhett also earned a MusicRow No. 1 in August for his co-write on Cole Swindell’s “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.”

Rhett is currently on his headlining “Bring The Bar To You Tour” with Parker McCollum and Conner Smith through October. The tour was also extended to include 10 Canadian dates which will take place in February 2023. Jordan Davis and Kameron Marlowe will serve as support on the Canadian leg. 

Click here to view the latest edition of The MusicRow Weekly containing the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart.

My Music Row Story: BBR Music Group’s JoJamie Hahr

JoJamie Hahr

The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.

JoJamie Hahr serves as Senior Vice President of BBR Music Group, where she guides and supervises day-to-day operations of the label group, its imprints and its roster of artists, including ACM Artist of the Decade Jason Aldean, as well as Dustin Lynch, Chase Rice, Craig Morgan, Blanco Brown, Jimmie Allen, Parmalee, Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll and more.

Hahr began her career in radio in Florida before moving to Nashville to work in promotion at WSIX. Her career stops include time at MCA Records and the The Valory Music Company. BMG acquired BBR Music Group in 2017 and Hahr was promoted to Sr. VP of the label group in November of 2020.

Hahr will be honored as part of the current class of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row on Oct. 20. For more details about the class and the event, click here.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Inverness, Florida. It was a really small town in Citrus County, Florida that was about two hours from Orlando. I went to college in Orlando at the University of Central Florida.

Photo: Courtesy of Hahr

How did you start your career?

I went to college early. I was 17 and had done two years of dual enrollment in school. I was already taking PR and advertising classes for my major in my first semester. One day I was walking in the communications hall and saw a flyer. It said “If you love country music and want to have fun, call Mike Moore at K92 FM.” I called him and got an interview for an internship. I remember for two weeks leading into my internship interview, I wouldn’t let any of my friends change the radio station. I wanted to know everything that was going on and study.

My last day of my internship, I remember all day I was trying not to cry because I did not want to leave. I loved it so much. Mike called me into his office and he was like, “We’re able to hire you part-time, but we can only give you like six hours a week.” I just started bawling. He said it was the first time somebody has cried when he hired them, not fired them. [Laughs]

Those six hours went up to like 14 hours, then 16 hours and 20 hours. Throughout college it went up to 39 hours. They put me on the morning show when I was like 18 or 19. I was the events coordinator in the promotion department. I was working two other jobs and going to school full-time at the same time.

Did you know then that you wanted to stay in the music business?

Yes. I wasn’t one of those kids that wanted to be in the music business—I didn’t even know this existed growing up. It’s like the flyer said: “If you love country music and want to have fun…” I just fell in love with the business.

Photo: Courtesy of Hahr

How did you get to Nashville?

Mike Moore, who my story starts with, left and went to Hartford to be the program director. I stayed in Florida. We stayed really good friends because he’s really more like family to me. Right after Hartford, he went to WSIX in Nashville. He was asking me for months to come to Nashville. At the time, my family was all in Florida and I just wasn’t quite ready to leave.

The morning after a Tim McGraw concert in Orlando, I was the only person out in the garage and I was unloading the promotion truck. I thought, “It’s time for me to grow.” I called Mike from the garage and was like, “Hey, I’m ready to come.” That was May of 2003 and I was here by Memorial Day Weekend. I took over the promotion director job at 23.

What was next?

I was at WSIX for a little over a year and then Mike left again. He went to Portland, Oregon to be the program director there. By that point, I knew I wanted to be on the records side, probably as a regional promotion rep. I was meeting with people all over town to try to get my foot in the door at a label.

I met Jimmy Harnen and he gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He said,”In your free time, sit and think about what you would do if you were a promotion rep at Broken Bow or MCA. Put together those ideas and start sending them to the VPs of the labels.” I was like, “I can’t do that. What if they think I’m stupid?” He said, “They’re not going to think you’re stupid. People see initiative or an idea much more than they see a resume. I’ll also look at your ideas before you send them out.” He was such a big mentor.

Scott Borchetta hired me at MCA as the promotion coordinator. I did that for almost two years. Then Jon Loba hired me to be promotion regional at Broken Bow. We had Craig Morgan, Megan Mullins and this new guy Jason Aldean, who nobody knew. Jason didn’t do a traditional radio tour, but he went and played full band shows for radio. I remember the first show I took him to, he played for three people in Alabama.

Photo: Courtesy of Hahr

Then you went to Big Machine.

I was at Broken Bow for two years as a regional and then Jon and I both left and went to Big Machine to help start The Valory Music Co. We were there the opening day in 2007. I was in southeast promotion and Jon was VP of Promotion. Three years into that, Jon left and came back to Broken Bow and opened all of BBR Music Group. I stayed another three years, so I was at Big Machine for six years. We started with Jewel and Justin Moore [on Valory] and then we signed Thomas Rhett and Brantley Gilbert.

What brought you back to BBR?

After my last part of my contract was up, I called Jon Loba and I called John Esposito in March. Espo didn’t have anything for me until October, and Jon created a VP of Promotion job for me, so I came back over here.

Now you’re Sr. VP of the label group. In your experience, how has the label changed over the years?

We have always felt like Broken Bow/BBR Music Group was the little label that could. We just kept chugging along. We have had so much heart. We have been that label, I hope, that has done well by everybody. We’ve made friends, we’ve built relationships. We haven’t always had the biggest artists. We’ve always had Jason and his trajectory has just been so big, but for a long time we were just known as the Jason label. Within the last two to three years, we feel so proud that we’ve also become the Jimmie Allen label, the Jelly Roll label, the Lainey Wilson and Blanco Brown label. On and on.

Photo: Courtesy of Hahr

How do you think you guys were able to grow like that?

We always go back to the artists. It’s about the artists that we’ve been able to sign and promote their work and vision. That also goes back to BMG acquiring us. We had a lot of heart and a lot of soul—we probably could have continued to chug along, but when BMG acquired us, it gave us resources and more global reach. It’s given us a diversity of resources which has led to a diversity of roster.

What was an early career moment you’ve had that you’ll always remember?

Jason was up for ACM’s New Male Vocalist and Craig Morgan was too. Benny Brown, our owner at the time, had paid for everybody at the label to have a ticket to go to the awards since it was our first nomination. Every single person. Our seats were literally the very last row all the way at the top, but we were so happy to be there. Jason won and I just remember everybody standing up and holding hands. It’s so cheesy, but I feel like that’s the epitome of Broken Bow. From then to now, I feel like we’re all still arm in arm.

Photo: Courtesy of Hahr

You will be honored at MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row breakfast on Oct. 20. What is some advice you would give young women who are starting their careers?

Woman or a man, I go back to the advice that Jimmy Harnen gave me. Depending on the job you’re looking at wanting to do, don’t just send a resume and hope that someone sees you. Think as if you were doing that job and come up with ideas to present yourself in that way. Mine were silly radio promotion ideas that I was sending every week, and it took me about eight months to get noticed, but I persevered. I find that people, especially young people, are so worried about looking stupid. Luckily I’ve never cared about looking stupid. [Laughs]

What is your definition of success?

Happiness, passion, and excitement. We all get bogged down in the pattern of life, but if I ever get to a point where I’m not excited or I’m burned out, I don’t want to do this anymore. To me, my version of success would be being happy and excited still to come to work every day.

DISClaimer Single Reviews: Little Big Town Give Yet Another ‘Exquisite Performance’

Fall is in the air in Music City, and with the new season comes a flood of new country sounds.

Leading the charge today is Little Big Town with what is surely their umpteenth Disc of the Day winner, “Three Whiskeys and the Truth.”

Galloping right along are Breland, Randy Houser. Ashley McBryde and the new collab by Joy Oladokun and Chris Stapleton. Happy listening while the leaves tumble down.

DAILEY & VINCENT / “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee”
Writer: Karen Staley; Producer: Paul Worley; Label: BMG
–The bluegrass superstars jog into the country idiom with their just released Let’s Sing Some Country collection. Its lead single has already been voted a state song by the legislature. It’s a lilting ballad with lotsa sentiment about the Volunteer State. And no matter what genre you call them, these guys are sensational vocalists.

SHANIA TWAIN / “Waking Up Dreaming”
Writers: David Stewart/Jessica Agombar/Shania Twain; Producer: David Stewart; Label: Republic
–Shania’s comeback single is pop, pop, pop all the way. It’s also an ultra cute and catchy dance bopper. And I dig her singing nowadays in a lower, huskier register.

DALTON DOVER / “Damn Good Life”
Writers: Dalton Dover/Alex Maxwell/Jaxson Free; Producer: Matthew McVaney; Label: Droptine
–This time around, the promising country youngster adopts some hip-hoppy rhythm touches. The bouncy song’s lyric is a classic country message: Money can’t buy happiness. It’s pleasant, but he has done better.

NATE SMITH / “I Found You”
Writers: Chris Gelbuda/Kyle Schlienger/Nate Smith; Producers: Lindsay Rimes; Label: Sony
–He sings with so much passion. This torrid power ballad is yet another showcase for his vocal gift. Get on board.

LITTLE BIG TOWN / “Three Whiskeys and the Truth”
Writers: Karen Fairchild/Kimberly Schlapman/Hillary Lindsey/Lori McKenna/Liz Rose; Producer: Little Big Town; Label: Capitol
–Are there any finer harmony vocalists in contemporary country music than these four? This is an exquisite performance, with their brilliant voices bathed by echo, heartbeat percussion and twanging guitar. I got lost in it. You will too.

JOY OLADOKUN & CHRIS STAPLETON / “Sweet Symphony”
Writers: Joy Oladdkun/Ian Fitchuk/Shae Jacobs; Producers: Joy Oladokun/Mike Elizondo/Ian Fitchuk; Label: Amigo/Verve Forecast/Republic
–Joy’s folkie, conversational singing style blends beautifully with Chris’s blue-eyed soul emoting on this deliciously romantic ballad. And the warm, enveloping production supports both vocalists at every turn. Essential listening.

ASHLEY McBRYDE / “Straight Tequila Night”
Writers: Debbie Hupp/Kent Robbins; Producers: Dan Auerbach/David Ferguson; Label: Easy Eye/Concord
Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson is an album that should be on everybody’s playlist. Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, John Prine, Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, Luke Combs and more all take a swing at Anderson’s fabulous song catalog. Ashley McBryde is perfect for this iconic song, and her performance strongly suggests that it would be an excellent addition to the female-country repertoire.

BRELAND / “For What It’s Worth”
Writers: Daniel Breland/Greylan James/Jacob Durrett/Rocky Block; Producers: Sam Sumser/Sean Small/Jacob Durrett; Label: Bad Realm/Atlantic/Warner
–Enchanting. His tender-hearted tenor cracks and breaks sweetly as he looks over a failed relationship with regret and enduring love. Absolutely radio ready.

RANDY HOUSER / “Rub a Little Dirt on It”
Writers: Randy Houser/Jeff Hyde/Ryann Tyndell; Producers: Randy Houser/Blake Chancey; Label: Magnolia Music Group
–Steel guitar and dobro swirl and twirl while this master stylist unspools life lessons learned from daddy, football, fishing, beer and the natural environment. Country music as it was meant to be.

JULIE ROBERTS & JAMEY JOHNSON / “Music City’s Killing Me”
Writer: Ray LaMontagne; Producer: Shooter Jennings; Label: ONErpm
–Roberts is bluesy and drawling on this mid-tempo moaner while sighing strings drag slowly by. Johnson is resigned and weary on his verses. Singing together, they blend warmly in a dual ache.

TYLER HUBBARD / “Inside and Out”
Writers: Tyler Hubbard/Jordan Schmidt/Trevor Rosen/Brad Tursi; Producers: Tyler Hubbard/Jordan Schmidt; Label: EMI
–It’s a pretty simple message: You’re so beautiful. The end.

ALEXANDER LUDWIG / “Faded on Me”
Writers: Ross Copperman/Jon Nite/Josh Osborne; Producers: Kurt Allison/Tully Kennedy; Label: BBR/BMG
–Recommended. Rocking and stomping, it’s an ode to being a good ol’ boy. Canadian Ludwig is also a TV and movie actor of note.

Chris Janson Signs With Big Machine Label Group

Pictured (L-R, back row): Kelly Janson, Big Machine Label Group’s Julian Raymond, Big Machine Label Group’s Megan Joyce; (L-R, front row): Big Machine Label Group’s Scott Borchetta, Chris Janson, BMLG Records’ Jimmy Harnen. Photo: Nick Rau

Chris Janson has signed with Big Machine Label Group Records, in partnership with Janson’s Harpeth 60 Records.

Janson’s breakout No. 1, debut single “Buy Me A Boat” claimed iHeartRadio Music Awards’ Country Song of the Year, and was certified triple Platinum. The multi-instrumentalist followed that success with a string of Gold No. 1s, including “Fix A Drink,” “Good Vibes” and “Done,” as well as his award-winning “Drunk Girl,” which was voted MusicRow Song of the Year and received the ACM Video of the Year trophy. Janson has earned more than 7.4 billion airplay impressions to date, and racked up more than 1.7 billion career streams.

Also an avid outdoorsman, Janson was presented with The Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Dan and Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award for outstanding volunteer service. He has also partnered with Bass Pro Shops to find ways to give back to meaningful causes.

“Chris has always been a force of nature and he’s coming to BMLG at the perfect time to take his career next-level,” shares Big Machine Label Group Chairman & CEO Scott Borchetta. “His experience, determination, and vision for what he wants to do next completely aligns with our long-term label group ideal and continued artist development. Did I mention he blows a mean harp?”

“I am so proud to be teaming up with Scott Borchetta, Jimmy Harnen and the team at Big Machine Label Group. This opportunity is an absolute dream come true and I’m honored to be working with such a talented crew and roster of artists,” says Janson. “Julian Raymond and I are hitting the studio for this first album, and we are on the fast track for great new music! This whole partnership just feels right, and I couldn’t be happier.”

The entertainer joins the imprint alongside other BMLG roster artists such as Lady A, Brett Young, Riley Green and Janson’s protégé, Shane Profitt.