The CMA Songwriter Series is an interesting concept, some of Country music’s biggest hit-makers share a stage, playing songs acoustically that they’ve written and telling stories about how these songs came to fruition.
Sitting on a row of stools across the Whelan’s stage, the evening was introduced by Bob DiPiero, a seasoned songwriter who has written “twenty number 1’s“. His first was American Made, in 1983 for The Oak Ridge Boys. Next was Chris Young, 2006 winner of TV show, ‘Nashville Star’. It wasn’t until his second album that Young achieve success but as a recording artist, he’s now achieved his fifth consecutive number 1.
Kristian Bush has had success as a solo artist and also as part of Billy Pilgrim and more recently Sugarland. Apart from writing, he’s also produced music for artists including Beth Wood and Shawn Mullins as well as the soundtrack to ‘Shallow Hal’. On the last stool sat Brett James who has written, amongst others, Jesus Take The Wheel for Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson’s Mr Know It All. He’s also the wearer of the best cowboy boots Ireland has ever seen. Sitting behind the four is Kristian Bush’s brother, Brandon, to provide a little keyboard backup. In earnest though, his talents shouldn’t be looked at as back up. As well as playing with Sugarland, Brandon has also played with Train and John Mayer. So, these guys know how to make records that sell.
Whelan’s has an attentive, all seated audience for the show, which started promptly at eight thirty. The four are at ease with each other, three of them having definitely worked together before. The jokes and banter start with Young, telling of how his bags got lost and having to go shopping to get some clean clothes. He’s not lying, he even had to borrow a guitar for the evening. Once the introduction niceties are over, each play a song it turn, giving a back story about how the song came about . Bob DiPiero starts with The Church on Cumberland Road, a song made famous by Shenandoah.
First song of the night for Chris Young was Get You Home. At 27, Young’s voice seems older than his years. He has a timeless deep, rich velvet country voice. Throughout the night, the other comment on his voice, with Kristian Bush saying that he wants to swap seats the following night as it’s unfair to have to follow Mr. Young. When it is his turn, Bush hits the nail on the head with his description of what the CMA Songwriter series is all about as a chance to “get to play the songs you might know, with a voice you might not“.
Of the four, Kristian Bush is the one you would instantly want to be friends with. He’s not quite like the others, he wears a scarf, and a little fedora and constantly smiles. To a non country music audience, his music would also be the most accessible. American Window wouldn’t be out of place on a Bruce Springsteen record.
As Brett James introduces his first song, he tells of Kenny Chesney calling him one Christmas Eve, asking what he was doing on December 26. After leaving his wife and kids behind for the songwriting session, Out Last Night was based on the session before the songwriting.
Throughout the night, Bob DiPiero tells of how Blue Clear Sky was inspired by Forrest Gump. Brett James gets everyone laughing, doing his impression of what Kings of Leon would sound like singing Cowboy Casanova. Kristian Bush shows what catchy songs he writes with My Headphones and In My Flip Flops getting everyone singing. He tells us his songs only get the go ahead once his kids, who act as his informal A&R guys, give the OK. Chris Young admits to wearing sweatpants and gives chat up line tips with I Can Take It From Here.
The last song of the night is due to be Brett James with Jesus take the Wheel but with a standing ovation, there’s no way they can’t do at least one more tune. We get four, and they are crackers. DiPiero starts off with the infectious Daddy’s Money. Chris Young finishes with Voices, which won 2011 American Country Music Award for Best Single. Kristian Bush ends with If You Got To Go, and Brett James finishes with his version of Uncle Kracker‘s highly singalong-able When the Sun Goes Down.
Almost three hours later, the music ends. This was an amazing night of music, showcasing some of the best Nashville and Country music has to offer. There are not too many chances to catch artists like Chris Young and Kristian Bush in a venue like Whelan’s, never mind hearing the songs stripped down to how they were written. A fantastic night’s entertainment and for the uninitiated an unbelievable Country music education.
CMA Songwriters Series Photo Gallery
Photos: Abe Tarrush