As the world becomes aware of singer/songwriter Adam Hambrick, listeners will get a two-fold reward – a short-term jolt from an engaging musical package and a long-term satisfaction as repeated plays unveil the depth in his word play and storytelling.
Hambrick cut his teeth as a Nashville songwriter, penning two #1 hits – Dan + Shay’s “How Not To” and Justin Moore’s “Somebody Else Will” – plus Lindsay Ell’s Top 40 single “Waiting On You.” He knows how to hook a song, and he does that brilliantly on his debut album, invariably imbuing the 16 songs with cool melodies and structures that balance mystery and optimism.
Those musical aspects are worthwhile in themselves, but after multiple listens, Hambrick’s subtle mastery of the classic country twist works as a delayed bonus. The turn of a phrase in “Country Stars” – where his youthful desire to become a travelling musician gives way to an adult appreciation of star-filled country skies – is likely obvious the first time around.
But the hidden-in-plain-sight meanings and phrases in other songs make it an album worth revisiting often. “Heart To Break” casts a steely barroom beauty who seems “heartless” at first glance as someone who’s “all out of heart to break.” “Do The Math” measures a man’s pain by adding up the drinks he uses to drown it. The album’s first single, “Rockin’ All Night Long,” takes a big-picture view of after-midnight activities, showing how the late-nights romps of a carefree kid turn into the early-morning expressions of comfort provided by a loving dad to his crying daughter.
That’s part of what Hambrick learned as he honed his songwriting craft on Music Row: how to create songs that work for a casual, surface listener but still reward invested fans who take the time to look under the hood. Those interlocking levels are key to understanding him.
“I’ve always found there is an innate power in music,” he says. “When you say something, you say it, but when you sing it, there’s a level of intentionality and force behind the weight of the words. So it’s a different thing. I love getting to sing these songs and mean them. To sing a song and mean it, you have to be saying something substantial.”
Hambrick accomplishes that while pulling together a passel of influences in a unique way. Atmospheric steel guitars, heavily reverbed rhythms and soaring melodies support the ‘90s country, 2000s pop and timeless blue-eyed soul at the heart of his art. It’s all delivered with a guy-next-door tenor that mixes angst and sensitivity while taking an adult viewpoint on topics that are familiar to consumers of every age.
“A lot of this record is me dealing with the younger me,” he notes. “It’s the emotional fallout from that, and missing that kid, and just trying to make sense of who I am as a means of understanding how I got here.”
As is the case with nearly every success story, Hambrick’s arrival in a much-coveted vocation is an opportunity created by both sweat and luck. Growing up in Corinth, Mississippi, he found himself in a sort of bridge locale between multiple Southern music centers. To the west was Memphis, a mecca for gritty soul. To the north was Jackson, Tennessee, the home of the Rockabilly Museum. To the east was Muscle Shoals with its raw pop/rock history. To the south was Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Corinth itself was awash in country, and Hambrick’s personal interpretation of all those influences was filtered through the church, where his father was a Baptist pastor and his mom played piano. He had a natural gift for performing, though he didn’t initially think of it as much more than a hobby.
“As a kid, making music as a career is kind of a pipe dream,” he says. “There were some cover bands and stuff I had seen around town, but country music, radio, the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville – all that stuff felt so distant from where I was.”
And yet that music made a huge impression. Country hits from the ‘90s “laid the bedrock foundation for my love of songs,” Hambrick says, pointing to Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie and Alan Jackson, whose “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” earns an oblique reference in Hambrick’s own “Country Stars.” Hambrick wore out Garth Brooks’ landmark No Fences album when he received his first cassette tape player as a Christmas gift.
As he aged, rock acts such as Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Taking Back Sunday provided the soundtrack for a more rebellious stage. But Hambrick found the key to unlock his own skills when he discovered John Mayer.
“John Mayer was really the first singer-songwriter that just came out of nowhere and had a direct and lasting impact on me,” Hambrick enthuses. “That was the common thread that runs through all of it, because with all these bands and artists, it’s about their songs. They’re real-deal stories, vivid imagery, lyric-driven songs. That’s the thing that’s always been important to me, like ‘What are you actually saying?’”
The Hambricks had moved to Mississippi from Arkansas before Adam’s birth, but they spent enough time with relatives back in rural Des Arc that the Natural State felt as much like home as Mississippi. So when it came time for college, he majored in mass communications at Central Arkansas University, a campus known for its purple-and-gray football field (“Go Purple Bears,” Hambrick wryly cheers), located in Conway, the town that gave late Country Music Hall of Fame member Conway Twitty the first half of his stage name.
Hambrick became a bit of a local sensation, packing fraternity houses and Little Rock clubs for a time. One of his buddies in Conway, Kris Allen, won a season of American Idol, and watching that experience gave Hambrick motivation to start recording his own songs.
In the process, he ended up on Little Rock TV station KATV, promoting his first self-released album, Fighting From the Ground, and a local club show. As it happened, country star Justin Moore caught the televised performance and was impressed enough that he called his producer, Jeremy Stover (Jack Ingram, Drake White), and recommended Hambrick. Within days, Hambrick had a meeting in Nashville and started visiting regularly to write songs.
“Justin changed my life that day,” says Hambrick. “He could have been like, ‘That guy’s pretty good’ and then gone about his day, but just the fact that he made a phone call to the guy that’s now my mentor, that got a really incredible ball rolling for me.”
Roughly 18 months later, Hambrick signed his first publishing deal and made the move to Nashville. He intended to continue making the occasional album to appease his inner artist, but the real focus was writing songs. Initially, he put his focus in the writing room on creating material for Nashville’s A-list acts, but that evolved as he discovered that redirection took some of the character out of his compositions.
“If I’m trying to put myself into somebody else’s head and trying to say what I think Luke Bryan would say, I’m full of crap ‘cause I don’t know what Luke Bryan is gonna say or what he’s even comfortable saying,” Hambrick notes. “So it was kind of a process of getting smaller – don’t worry about what’s on the chart, just do what I feel. When I started doing that, I started becoming more inspired to write and those songs were becoming more reactive with people in town.”
Particularly with Universal Music Group A&R executive Stephanie Wright, who was in the audience when he played a songwriters round. She was intrigued by his melodic prowess, his unique outlook and his self-effacing sarcasm. After the show, she made a point of cultivating a relationship.
“Over that next year I just kept writing and kept sending her songs and she kept being a fan and kept making fans in the Universal building,” he says. “It was just a very organic, very relational development. I didn’t choose to go after country radio. That was an opportunity that opened up, and I walked through that door.”
He brought a figurative truck load of music with him. Hambrick had 110 songs that seemed ideal for his own artistry. They narrowed that to 40, then settled on a final 16 that showcase his passionate vulnerability and his ability to depict the drama in human interaction.
Splitting his time between two next-generation musician/producers – Andrew DeRoberts (Brantley Gilbert, James Blunt) and Paul DiGiovanni (Jordan Davis, Dan + Shay) – he came up with a project that balances country, soul and the occasional tinge of electro-pop. The incandescent “White Lying,” the ultra-catchy “Forever Ain’t Long Enough,” the hypnotic “Broken Ladder” and the melancholy “Sunset” are immediately gratifying. But like the other dozen songs in the package, their biggest reward is their long-term value, the payoff from exploring the layers of sound and pockets of meaning that are key to understanding Adam Hambrick. The multiple styles that feed his brand of country are authentic, but so is his commitment to songs that stand the test of time.
“I’m always gonna be invested in country music,” Hambrick says. “I’m always gonna be invested in the community around country music, but at the end of the day, I want to make good music. Period.”
Little Big Town, has earned the top spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart with their latest release, Nightfall. The album, released on January 17, has critics and fans alike enamored by its powerful and touching lyrics paired with the band’s harmonic vocals.
Though released during the first month of the year, with its meaningful lyrics, organic instrumentation and pure chemistry between the beloved group, Nightfall is poised to be one of the best albums country music has to offer in 2020. – Sounds Like Nashville
Nightfall has also garnered the foursome a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their empowering song, “The Daughters.” The song serves as an inspirational and motivational call for young girls to pursue their passions and believe in themselves regardless of societal expectations of women.
Nightfall finds Little Big Town in prime form, using harmonizing and honesty to get themselves through the high times and the low moments. – Entertainment Weekly
Little Big Town also recently kicked-off The Nightfall Tour with a full album showcase at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall followed by a two-night sold-out engagement at The Apollo Theatre.
Be sure to catch performances by Little Big Town during their upcoming appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers this Wednesday (January 29th) on NBC and LIVE! with Kelly & Ryan Friday (January 31st) on ABC.
Jon Pardi is closing in on the top spot of the country charts with “Heartache Medication,” the first single and title track from his latest album. He says having a hit record is a great way to kick off a new year and a new decade.
“It’s country. It’s fun. It’s upbeat, and I love the song. I love how country it is. I love that the fiddle kicks it off, and just for a new decade, kicking off with a song with a fiddle and keeping it more on the low-key country-side. Even getting to No. 2 has been an awesome way to kick off the new decade, so that’s probably the biggest thing to me is putting a new record out and getting all the way to 2, and hopefully No. 1, and just getting ready for the next single and getting ready for touring and it’s all coming together.”
Jon has several fairs, festivals and rodeos on the books this year. Go to jonpardi.com for more information on tour dates, music and more.
Jon Pardi (Heartache Medication nearing top of the charts) OC: …coming together. :42
“‘Heartache Medication’ kicking off the record, Heartache Medication the album, it’s the first single off that record. It’s country. It’s fun. It’s upbeat, and I love the song. I love how country it is. I love that the fiddle kicks it off, and just for a new decade, kicking off with a song with a fiddle and keeping it more on the low-key country-side. Even getting to No. 2 has been an awesome way to kick off the new decade, so that’s probably the biggest thing to me is putting a new record out and getting all the way to 2, and hopefully No. 1, and just getting ready for the next single and getting ready for touring and it’s all coming together.”
This Sunday (February 2nd), millions of people around the world will be tuning in to the Super Bowl (the Big Game), including some of your favorite country artists. Some will be rooting for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, while others will be pulling for the Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers.
Check out all the action at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida at 6:30pm ET on FOX.
(more audio to come)
Billy Currington (football fan) OC: …love football. :36
“I’m a big football fan. I mean, when I was growing up, if you asked me who my favorite team is now, I couldn’t tell you. But when I was a kid, it was the Dallas Cowboys. And I don’t know if it was because my mom bought my brother a Pittsburgh Steelers pennant for some reason, and bought me a Dallas Cowboys pennant, and of course over the year I fell in love with the Cowboys, and then I wanted a jersey the next Christmas, and then the next one, I wanted [more Cowboys stuff]. So, I became a long-term fan with those guys. But I like it all now that I’m older. I’ll watch any game, it doesn’t matter who’s playing. But [I] love football.”
Darius Rucker (football) OC: …football season. :20
“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve loved football, and I love how physical it is. I love the chess match of the game. I love the speed of the game. I love college football, but for me watching pro football is better because the speed is so much more. For me, there’s two times a year, man — football season and waiting for football season.”
Keith (Nicole and football) OC: …new to me. :04
“She’s a big NFL fan, and she sort of turned me on to it.”
Lauren Alaina (Super Bowl) OC: …I love it. :30
“My dad raised me to love football, so I think it’s like kind of in my blood to be obsessed with it. I feel like the guys are so passionate and they try so hard. Those people love playing that game as much as I love singing. I just love the heart and the drive and the passion behind it. I feel like those boys are playing as hard as they can – in college football and pro football – because it’s what they love to do and it’s their passion, and I just, I don’t know. I love it.”
Lauren Alaina (Super Bowl foods she wishes she could eat) OC: …with cheese? (laughs) :30
“Gosh, let’s see cheese dip. I would really like some cheese dip in my life again. Um, I’m a big fan of wings and hot dogs and pizza and cheesecake and poppers and cheese sticks and cheese, anything that has to do with cheese. Did you realize everything I named besides the wings, which you dip in blue cheese, had to do with cheese?” (laughs)
LBT (Super Bowl 2020) OC: (Phillip) …win this game. :29
JIMI: “This game is gonna be fun. Of course, my team is the Tennessee Titans, so I don’t have quite the heart connection that I do with these two teams. (Phillip: “I like Mahomes though.”) But I’m excited because I think it’s gonna be a great game. They match up very interestingly, and I think it’s gonna be fun to watch. I don’t think anybody’s gonna stop Mahomes, though. Shew. The 49er defense, they are for real.” PHILLIP: “If you can pick apart the 49er defense, you can win this game.”
LBT (football story) OC: …my lip. :40
“I was the quarterback to my powder puff team. I was running the ball and I came around the corner – this was in high school – and a foreign exchange student, I think her name was Inga (KIMBERLY: “Inga.”), and I didn’t want to fumble ‘cause my brother and my dad were there, and I come from this very athletic family, so I held onto the ball. I knew I was going to go down, so I let my head hit first and I bit all the way through, but I didn’t fumble and I had a hole in my face, though. The sad thing is that it was just flag football, but I left my flags on and cleats and everything, ‘cause it looked cool, and I had blood running all down my jersey. I went to the emergency room like that, and they sewed up my lip.”
Luke Bryan (Super Bowl food) OC: …over again. :22
“Definitely Super Bowl is like the queso, the Frito Lay scoops with the Ro-tel situation. I guess it’s like, what’s the black-eyed pea stuff too? All of that, just stuff that you can sit there and have lots of sodium, and then just, it’s like Thanksgiving all over again.”
Sam Hunt (Super Bowl 2020) OC: …one for the books, for sure. :35
“I think it’s gonna be exciting. It’s like the new generation Super Bowl almost. The quarterbacks are great. I really like that Mahomes guy. I mean he represents a whole new era of quarterback. The game has changed a lot over the years, and it is, it’s exciting to see two teams…I like watching great offenses. I like quarterbacks who throw the ball around, score lots of points, and these two teams do that. They’ve got a lot of exciting players. So, I think this one’s gonna be one for the books, for sure.”
Sam Hunt (Super Bowl & music) OC: …combined there. :24
“It’s become such a massive pop culture event, and I love that they’ve incorporated music and entertainment with the sport itself and the entertainment value that comes from that. It encompasses just a strong representation of American culture, and I’m a huge music fan, obviously, and I’m a huge sports fan, so those are two of my favorite worlds combined there.”