A Honky Tonk Christmas
William Michael Morgan
William Michael Morgan has only just arrived in his mid twenties, but with a love of country music deeper than The Big River itself, the Mississippi native is the very definition of an old soul. His pristine Southern vocal, timeless sound and honest lyric represents a new generation of hit makers in Music City; a modern day descendant of artists like Randy Travis, Alan Jackson and George Strait.
After signing his major label deal at the tender age of 19, Morgan began by hitting the top of the radio charts, landing at No. 1 on Mediabase with the Gold certified “I Met a Girl…” He then released an acclaimed EP and earned a Billboard Top 5 with his 2016 album debut, “Vinyl”. He has performed more than 50 times on the Grand Ole Opry and was featured by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as a highlighted artist in the 2017 American Currents exhibit.
But now that he’s a few years older and few hundred shows wiser, this old soul is looking toward a new horizon.
“I thought our first album was a very good representation of what we do and what we like, so we set the bar really high,” says Morgan of his next batch of country tunes. “My whole message with this project is that I want to show growth not only musically, but also personally.… I feel like now I understand myself, and I understand the music I want to make.”
Produced once again by Scott Hendricks and Jimmy Ritchey, five new tracks show off the man Morgan has become. A hard worker and big time dreamer, a single father and hopeless romantic, and a pure country stalwart who’s not afraid to embrace the here and now. His new music is still drenched in twang and tenderness, but also infused with fresh energy from across the musical spectrum.
“We tried to diversify on this project,” Morgan says with an easy grin. “That can sound scary, like ‘Oh no, Willy’s changed,’ but it’s not that at all.… I’m from Mississippi, so I’ve got a lot of that rhythm and blues in my soul. I’m influenced by a lot of music. I could be listening to Frank Sinatra and switch over to Barry White, or go from Pink Floyd to the Isley Brothers and AC/DC to Merle Haggard.… We were trying to find a happy medium between what’s current and what we love.” That happy medium shows up in full force on “Tonight Girl,” a grooving anthem about living in the moment that drips with the same casual country soul Morgan grew up around. Think of it as the steamy second chapter of the “I Met a Girl” saga
“Where I’m from in Vicksburg, a lot of the casinos down there get packed out every night with blues music and soul,” he says. “It’s everywhere, and they play right from the heart, so I wanted to put some of that sound on there.”
With plans to release a video alongside every new track, Morgan will paint pictures in fans’ minds to enrich each story. But according to him, the foot stomping country rocker “Workin’” doesn’t need any help. He first heard the track while traveling through Mexico, and it immediately struck a chord. “It was just a rough work tape, but I saw those pictures,” he says. “I saw the guy out there working and the girl with her feet up, drinking some red wine and waiting on me to call quitting time.”
“Gone Enough” features a wide open Texas Country feel –– plus a full, orchestral string section. Three fiddles, two violas and a cello bring the heart wrenching breakup anthem to life. “I could get in the darkest room, drink the strongest drink, drive the longest road, but I’m not gonna get gone enough to get gone from you,” he says of the track.
“Brokenhearted” features a throwback, ‘90’s country sound and highlights how the genre and country sound Morgan loves so much is changing. “It is changing, the world is changing,” he explains. “Everybody is having a good time at their bonfires and, trust me, I love a bonfire and the whole idea of cold beers flowing, girls on the tailgate. But people also work, people have real lives and go through bad times. The whole message of the song is, ‘Ain’t nobody brokenhearted in country music anymore?’”
Meanwhile, “Talking to a Girl” puts a hopeful spin on that same emotional honesty. Co–written by Morgan and taken straight from real life experience, the uplifting ballad stands in classy contrast to a wave of hookup anthems –– and as a reminder that every romantic cloud has a silver lining.
“I feel like we all have those moments in life where it just doesn’t go the way you thought,” Morgan says. “Sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s nobody’s fault –– and sometimes you’re just not ready. That was the case with me… I don’t think you can truly love somebody until you love yourself, and I learned that.”
Clearly, Morgan has grown a lot since he first slid into the Music City mainstream. But no matter how much growing he does, some things will never change –– like his passion for sharing country lyrics with pure, raw emotion with the fans who feel the same way.
“I think we all still feel like kids sometimes,” he says. “Every time I hit that stage I go back to my old Mississippi honky–tonk nights. Those four-hour sets, loading in and loading out in a smoky bar, sneaking a beer or two when mom and dad weren’t looking –– just having a good time. Even today, it’s still for the pure joy of it.”
With over 40 million Streams on Spotify, TWELVE #1 singles on the Texas Country Music Chart and a #1 song on the national Power Source Christian Country Music Chart, Curtis Grimes is proving to be a force in the country music scene that can’t be denied.
To hear Grimes sing is to take a trip through the heart of country music. As a Texas native, he was raised on a steady diet of Alan Jackson and George Strait. He possesses the everyman charm of both influences along with a refreshingly mature voice that truly stands out. After a childhood filled with playing baseball and eventually earning a Division I scholarship, Grimes was given the opportunity to appear on the hit reality TV show “The Voice” in 2011. Under direction of coach CeeLo Green, he ended up finishing as a coveted Top 10 finalist of Season 1.
Following success from the show, Grimes hit the ground running and released new music while performing shows across the United States. In 2014, Grimes and his hit single “Home to Me” were picked up by the salon chain “Supercuts” and placed in the mainstream spotlight. Not only was the song featured across the country, but Grimes also got to put on his acting boots and star in the national television commercial. That same year Grimes started to see his hard work pay off when he was awarded “New Male Vocalist of the Year” at the annual Texas Regional Radio Awards.
In 2019, Grimes was named “Entertainer of the Year” at the TCMA Awards Show hosted by the Texas Country Music Association. He also received the honor of “Christian Country Song of the Year” for the second year in a row! In 2020, Grimes took home the “Christian Country Artist of the Year” award along with “Country Single of the Year” for “River Road Dream”, a song co-written with Trent Willmon.
David Adam Byrnes
He left his home in central Arkansas in 2008 at the age of 19 years old and ambitiously moved to Nashville, TN in an attempt to, like millions of folks before him, deliver his brand of country music to the great Music City, and secure a budding career as a music artist. Within his first year he signed a publishing deal/record deal with Better Angels, a company that would later represent hit songwriters like Thompson Square, Josh Thompson, Ward Davis and Matt Rogers. His first taste of success came with the release of his single “Sweet Distraction” that hit #62 on Billboard and Top 20 on Music Row, which was the highest debut from a new act that year. He became a quick study in the art of songwriting, a talent he previously undervalued having starry eyes only for the stage. When you are a young kid sitting in a room with the picks of the litter among the songwriter society, the sheer enormity of the opportunity is a sobering affair. In such a situation, one would do well to keep his ears open more than his mouth, and to become a sponge that soaks up the savoir-faire required to survive and thrive in this elite world. Monday through Friday, David Adam Byrnes sat in rooms pumping out the kind of songs that were groomed for the country music charts.
In 2013 a new chapter began. Now a free man able to ditch the “bro country” songs he had been writing to satisfy the Nashville appetite, he circled back to his own personal style of honky tonk country and focused, once again, on the stage. The first time he heard Cody Johnson on the radio he became a man in a trance. This was “his sound,” the one he left behind years ago in order to bat in the big leagues. He was soon introduced to Trent Willmon who produced Cody Johnson, and the two began a songwriting relationship that would become so much more. David and Trent joined forces on the recording front and went to work on his new album. The pairing could not have been more perfectly matched. Every aspect of the writing and recording was a continuous stream of harmonious flow, each song perfectly rendered to define his true artistry. With Willmon’s help and influence David snagged several opportunities to open for Cody Johnson and the buzz about Texas quickly swarmed him. Reoccurring comments from his peers about how he belonged in the music scene that nurtured artistic authenticity began to take root. The proverbial straw came from Aaron Watson himself when he told David after a show together that he should not waste another minute in Nashville, and to get down to Texas immediately.
In 2018, David made the move to the Ft. Worth area, a place where his re-donned cowboy hat fit right in. His lead single to Texas Radio “Beer Bucket List” was released in October of 2018, a true Texas salutation if there ever was one. The song becomes his first # 1 on The Texas Regional Radio Chart. In October 2020, David released his full album “Neon Town”, which made its debut in the Top 5 on the iTunes Country Music chart. Now with 4 back to back # 1 songs, a music video that was premiered by CMT and a nomination for “New Male Vocalist of the Year” at The Texas Regional Radio Awards under his belt, David Adam Byrnes has earned himself a music business education that just can’t be bought.
Like many young talents that move to Nashville seeking stardom as a country music artist only to find themselves roped in and caught up in the songwriters legion of Music City, Brian Callihan’s story is a familiar one, but (pun intended) he is still very much writing it. He left his little hometown in rural southern Georgia with ambitious designs on Nashville and spent years on a tight rope in a balancing act between his need for the stage and the demands of a published songwriter. As a kid he was able to do this with greater ease because a tough childhood and the lack of contentment at home made plenty of room for the pursuit of escapism…and that’s what music was for him. He was already well into writing songs at the age of 12, and by the time he was 16, Callihan was a local hotshot playing 2-hour sets in bars, venues and at house parties. The scope of his original songs at such a ridiculously young age, and his unflinching presence on stage brought him constant notice. So, after several more years of honing his stage craft, he finally packed up and headed to Nashville at the age of 21.
The key to setting up community in Nashville is to find your “group” of people to write with, and for Callihan, it was making those songwriting bonds with Josh Martin and Cole Swindell. Though his living arrangements were rather spartan, calling a friend’s shed his home, he wrote every day, built up both his catalog and connections, and two years later in 2011, he signed his first publishing deal with Better Angels. Now, the proud renter of a full blown house, Callihan is shoulder to shoulder writing songs with folks who have basked in the golden light of a #1 hit. He hits the pavement running with a few of his songs put on hold for Scotty McCreery, Dustin Lynch and Dierks Bentley. Though he never had intentions of moving to Nashville to be a songwriter for other artists, his knack for it kept that path under his feet. His songs have been recorded by several artists including Cole Swindell, Dylan Scott, Trent Tomlinson, Halfway To Hazard and many others. Callihan also snagged a coveted spot at the Key West Songwriters Festival, and debut performance at the CMA Music Festival. Over the course of nearly a decade Callihan has had a total of five publishing deals, and while his love for writing songs burns bright, his clamorous need to be “the artist” burns with even greater force. So, in early 2020 he began working on his new album, and in the summer released the first single “Broke It Down” written by Callihan, Harrison Kindy and Larry McCoy (Thomas Rhett “Make Me Wanna”). The song quickly hit home with music critics who deemed it a “classic country tune, spinning lyricism that shows the vulnerability of his past, and transforms his sad story into something beautiful.” The song made a big introduction and offered just a taste of what the bright young songwriter packs as an artist. His forthcoming self-titled debut album is, on the other hand, a full and hearty meal. It will be released on November 27, 2020.
Right off the bat the next single “Hometown Boys” once again grabbed the attention of music critics, specifically American Songwriter Magazine who said the song “relates to every man,” and premiered the music video. The song stands as a sort of anthem for the country life that shaped him. He went back to his old stomping grounds to film the music video and even had some old friends join him on screen. The third single “Same Thing She Told Me” followed on its heels, a gut punch ballad gasping for air when he tries to warn the next guy that her cunning love trap doesn’t change, only the guy who falls into it. If you consider that the entire album is Callihan’s personal country boy declaration all dressed up in Wranglers, boots and a cowboy hat, then “All A Man Needs” is the theme song. It’s an old dog, and old car, and an old time type of country living that marks the essentials in life. In an ode to his grandfather, “Proud” is a two-sided coin representing both the legacy of such a full life led, and the pride in sharing that family name. “Fallin’ For Her Angels” is a prime example of the seasoned songwriter Callihan truly is. It’s an age old story about the bad boy and the good girl, but brilliantly described on the soul level. Anyone who truly knows Brian Callihan can testify to his iron fortitude in life in general, and his stubbornness in particular. He is the kind of man who targets his passions like a top gun fighter pilot and always flies with confidence. So, it’s not really a surprise that he chose to self-produce his first full length album, only that it took him so long to do it. On this impressive opener to what will no doubt be a very long season of notable future album releases, Brian Callihan proves he can do it all. With his pen, with his guitar, with his voice, and also behind the controls, his brand of country music is 100% him from start to finish.
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