Music Spotlight: Zach Top

Zach Top

Anybody who follows me or my column knows that I have a type. Traditional country music stirs my soul. When I find someone young who can do the same thing, I do my best to track them down.

Zach Top is such an artist. His name kept showing up all over my feeds. When I heard the popular “Sounds Like the Radio,” I was thrilled and couldn’t stop smiling. I relentlessly pursued his people until I got an interview.

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Music Spotlight: Scotty McCreery

Scotty McCreery

To say 2024 has been a banner year for Scotty McCreery would be an understatement. From his beloved North Carolina State making it to the NCAA Final Four to recently being added to the prestigious roster of Grand Ole Opry members, you would think that there wasn’t much left for the 30-year-old to accomplish.

In 2011, 17-year-old McCreery beat out Lauren Alaina to win American Idol. In June 2018, McCreery married the love of his life, Gabi, and in 2022, they welcomed a son, Avery. Since becoming a solo artist, the Triple Tigers recording artist has garnered five number-one hits, including the fan favorites “Five More Minutes” and “Damn Strait.”

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Music Spotlight: Skip Ewing

Donald Ralph “Skip” Ewing is a musician’s musician. To say that his singing and songwriting are brilliant is an understatement. And he can play almost any stringed instrument.

He said, “I don’t remember when I couldn’t play a guitar. I took a woman’s pink foam curler, took the plastic out of it, and stuck it up under my strings so I could play late into the night without the guitar making a sound.”

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Music Spotlight Follow-Up: Donny Van Slee

Donny Van Slee

Since I interviewed Donny Van Slee back in 2022, I’ve always been intrigued by the chiropractor/country music singer who unashamedly goes to the beat of his own drummer. He was the first person to bring artists like Zach Bryan and Jack Johnson to my attention as they are performers that Van Slee likes to emulate.

Because his life is spread in so many directions, you can imagine my surprise when Van Slee showed up on Reba’s team on NBC’s The Voice earlier this spring. When he sang Lanco’s “Greatest Love Story” he was so good that Reba blocked Dan & Shay so she could have him all to herself. He was confident, showing that he was having the time of his life.

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Music Spotlight: Presley Tennant

Presley Tennant

One thing I have learned about TV singing shows is that the finalists are nearly always as good (if not better) as the actual winner. So, I try to interview as many country singers from these shows as possible.

Presley Tennant is a powerhouse singer from Norco, California, a horse town that is 35 miles east of Los Angeles. She was a finalist on Season 16 of NBC’s The Voice in 2019 when she was just 16. She has often been compared to Whitney Houston and Carrie Underwood.

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Music Spotlight: Cody Webb

In September of 2023, my brother sent me a video of a country song called “If Daddy Didn’t Have a Truck” by Cody Webb. At the time, TikTok wouldn’t play it because of “sensitive religious content.” That naturally made me want to listen and find out what about the song was so offensive.

For inexplicable reasons, the lyrics I’da never known Jesus loves me/ Fell in love with kicking up dirt/ I’da never known how forgiveness or a carburetor works/ Only the good Lord knows how a good ol’ boy like me mighta wound up/ If Mama didn’t have a Bible/ And Daddy didn’t have a truck were not permissible to the general public.

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Song Suffragettes Celebrate 10th Anniversary

In a historic event at Belmont’s Fisher Center, the female collective known as the Song Suffragettes celebrated its tenth anniversary to a packed-out crowd last week

Each year, they celebrate their March anniversary, and they honor a significant female singer and/or songwriter. This year’s Yellow Rose of Inspiration award fittingly went to Wynonna Judd, an acclaimed singer/songwriter and long-time promoter of women in country music. Past Yellow Rose of Inspiration award winners include Laura Veltz, Ashley McBryde, Natalie Hemby, and Kelsea Ballerini.

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Music Spotlight: Kelsey Hickman

Kelsey Hickman

As a product of the 80s music scene, I discovered country music later in life. When country rocker Kelsey Hickman came across my desk, I knew she was right up my alley.

Hickman is from Central Illinois. No one in her family is particularly musical, but she can remember singing all her life. She started as a tot singing Disney songs, then joined school choirs and got her first exposure singing in musicals.

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Music Spotlight: Amy Sheppard

When Amy Sheppard who is part of the wildly popular Australian band, Sheppard, decided to put out country music, I was intrigued. I wanted to find out more about this family and their musical roots.

Amy Sheppard is an Australian singer-songwriter. Along with her siblings George Sheppard and Emma Sheppard, she is a founding and current member of the indie pop band Sheppard. The group is 34X platinum, and their massive hit “Geronimo” has had more than 750 million streams.

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Movie Review: The Neon Highway

More than 30 years in the making, the movie The Neon Highway debuted on the silver screen this last week in Nashville. Originally written by Phillip Bellury and directed by William Wages for the likes of Johnny Cash, the deal never worked out. They say everything happens for a reason: Beau Bridges was meant to play Claude Allen, and Rob Mayes was meant to play Wayne Collins.

Here is a synopsis of the plot: 20 years ago, Collins, played by Mayes, an aspiring singer/songwriter, was a heartbeat away from making it in Nashville when a car accident derailed his ambitions. Now working a 9-5 job and struggling to support his family, Collins has a fateful encounter with waning country music great Allen, played by Bridges, who reignites Allen’s musical dreams. Together, they go to Nashville with one of Collins’ songs, believing they can make it big with Allen’s fame and contacts. The problem is the industry has changed and no one is interested in the song – or Allen. Devastated and out of options, Collins creates a way to get the song out to the public; not for himself, but for Allen.

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Music Spotlight: RaeLynn

RaeLynn

An artist I have been wanting to interview for years is RaeLynn. Born Racheal Lynn Woodward, the artist has a singular spunk and sass that is a huge asset in the sea of female country singers/songwriters. But her gift for storytelling through her honest lyrics endears her so fiercely to her fans.

RaeLynn grew up in a musical family and began singing in church at a young age.

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Music Spotlight: Darci Lynne

Darci Lynne

It’s hard to believe that I interviewed 13-year-old Darci Lynne six years ago. In 2018, she was the reigning winner of season 12 of America’s Got Talent proving her skills as an exceptional ventriloquist, puppeteer, and entertainer. Lynne was in town to perform at the Ryman and the Opry.

I remember thinking, “If she can sing that well with her mouth closed, how great she would be singing with her mouth open.”  The answer is, “Very well.”

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Music Spotlight: Flat River Band

Flat River Band

Flat River Band consists of three brothers Andy Sitze, Chad Sitze, and Dennijo Sitze, who grew up in a multi-generational family band. Performing alongside their parents and grandparents, they held residencies at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, and at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

No strangers to success, the Missouri natives have charted #1 hits on the bluegrass gospel charts and have opened for Natalie Maines, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, TG Sheppard, and more.

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Country Radio Seminar 2024 Wrap Up

CRS

After three packed days of musical performances, informative panels, and engaging sessions, Country Radio Seminar (CRS) has concluded.

This year’s event was a success, with attendees enjoying a full-day Streaming Summit, with insightful panels and CRS anchor events such as the “Amazon Music Presents: Country Heat at CRS” showcase, Warner Music Nashville’s Luncheon, Bob Kingsley’s Acoustic Alley, “Team UMG” at the Ryman, Big Machine Label Group’s Luncheon, BBR Music Group Decades Party, “Paddle Royale” Ping Pong Tournament, and the New Faces of Country Music Show and Dinner.

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Music Spotlight: Bettin’ On The Mule

Bettin on the Mule

Anyone who follows my blog knows I like a good hometown rockin’ country band. When I first heard Bettin’ On the Mule (BOTM) from Rockmart, Georgia, I instantly loved their energy.

The “Hometown Rock” pioneers consist of Jacob Wilson on lead vocals, bass, and rhythm guitar, who also serves as the band’s lead songwriter, new member Phil Beavers on lead guitar and backing vocals, Rick Norris on drums and backing vocals, and Shannon “Beef” Wilson on bass and backing vocals for the band.

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Music Spotlight: Due West

Due West is a trio of country musicians who met at a house party in 2004. Tim Gates, Matt Lopez, and Brad Hull are from the western U.S., but like many aspiring artists, they found themselves in Music City.

The three of them were all invited to the same party. As happens in Nashville, when everyone gets together, they usually sing. When Gates started singing, Hull and Lopez chimed in, playing and singing harmony.

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Clint Black Announces 2024 World Tour Celebrating 35 Years of ‘Killin’ Time’

Clint Black

Following three sold-out shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Clint Black is going on tour to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the award-winning album Killin’ Time. He and his electrifying band will play the album top to bottom, along with many other number-one hits.

Black moved to Nashville over 35 years ago with his bandleader and longtime songwriter colleague, Hayden Nicholas, where he readily signed a deal with RCA Records.

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T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang Release Song Called ‘You’re Still The One’

Sheppard Lang

One of my favorite country music couples is T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang.

I learned last year that the pair were planning a new duets album for 2024. They decided the first song they would release off the upcoming album would be a cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”

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Music Spotlight: Scotty Hasting

I often encounter veterans while writing about country music. And while only a few veterans also become performing musicians, something about having served makes their music ring true, especially in the patriotic realm of country music.

Scotty Hasting is from the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. Although he was in several school choirs, being a musician was never a life goal. He joined the army in October 2010, and by April 2011, he was shot and was lucky to be alive.

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Music Spotlight: Josh Abbott Band

Josh Abbott Band

One of the bands I have been wanting to feature for a while is the Josh Abbott Band. With multiple hit songs having multi-million streams, they are hugely popular in their home state of Texas and across the globe. You may be familiar with the perennial favorites, “Settle Me Down” and “She’s Like Texas.”

They have also teamed up with megastars like Kacey Musgraves in “Oh Tonight,” Carly Pearce in “Wasn’t That Drunk” and Pat Green in “My Texas” to bring their music to an even wider audience.

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Artimus Pyle Releases ‘Anthems – Honoring The Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd’

Artimus Pyle, a distinguished Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member and former drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, unveils his tribute album, Anthems – Honoring The Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Nearly 47 years after the horrific plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd leader Ronnie Van Zant, a new album honoring him and the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band is being released.

I first heard the Artimus Pyle Band in 2020 when he, Dolly Parton, and others raised money to benefit the W.O. Smith Music School and the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. I met Pyle in May of 2022 when the former Marine was at an event honoring my ancestor, Lt. Presley O’Bannon.

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Becca Bowen Releases New EP, County Line

Becca Bowen

An artist that I have featured a few times in the past is Becca Bowen. I love her energy, passion, and big, beautiful voice. The South Carolina native mixes her authentic country charm with her background in gospel music and musical theater to bring us a traditional country sound with a soulful approach.

While Bowen has been releasing singles since 2020 and her debut album in 2022, it wasn’t until recently that she became brave enough to release an entire EP, County Line, where she co-wrote every song.

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Music Spotlight: Jake and Shelby

Jake and Shelby

A duo that kept showing up in my Instagram feed was a couple of kids, known as Jake & Shelby. Jake Lawson and Shelby Haim are teenagers from Hendersonville, Tennessee. Known for their smooth vocals and intricate guitar arrangements, their magical mix of melody and lyrics is enticing. The pop duo has nearly 900,000 followers on Instagram. Their TikTok videos have had over 70 mllion views.

At just 18 and 19 years of age, I knew if I had any chance of featuring them, I had better contact them as soon as possible.

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Music Spotlight: Krystal King

Krystal King has had country music in her soul practically since birth. Her parents told her that when she was a toddler, they were scanning the radio stations and when it got to an Alan Jackson song, she squealed, “Oh stop, stop.” And she has been listening to country music ever since.

As she got older, the North Carolina native was visiting friends on the coast. A man was DJing at a restaurant. Her parents dared to get up there and sing a song. So, she walked up to him and asked him if I could sing “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain.

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America Salutes You Presents ‘A Concert for Gratitude’

Hosted by legendary country singer Clint Black, America Salutes You Presents ‘A Concert For Gratitude’ that will air on five distribution platforms from January 20th – February 20th.

This televised event mobilizes support for our troops and first responders through music with its eighth event and telecast. The TV special features performances by Clint Black (with Lisa Hartman Black and Lily Pearl Black) Chrissy Metz, Dustin Lynch, Jo Dee Messina, Alana Springsteen, Megan Moroney, Walker Hayes, Charles Esten, Lecrae, War Hippies and Lee Greenwood (celebrating the 40th anniversary of “God Bless the USA.”) Craig Morgan, Jelly Roll and Trace Adkins will have special performances and Gary Sinise was honored with the America Salutes You Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Music Spotlight: Ashley Anne

Occasionally, you meet an artist, and you know they were born with a gift. At age 17, Ashley Anne wrote/released her first single, “Dear Dolly,” a song that she penned entirely on her own.

And while Dolly Parton is arguably the most popular country star on the planet, most people of Anne’s peer group only know “Jolene” and probably don’t realize that Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” and may not have ever heard Whitney Houston’s version of it.

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American Idol’s Taylor Hicks to Perform ‘Night Moves’ at the Franklin Theatre

As I learned last year in my original interview, Season 5 American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks is a diverse entertainer. Besides being a soulful singer and songwriter, the artist is an actor and restaurateur. A few weeks after our last interview, Taylor Hicks was asked to make his Grand Ole Opry debut, a milestone desired by many Southern singers.

He made his debut on June 18, 2023. Hicks said, “As long as I’ve been doing this, being able to grace the Opry Stage was something that I will never forget. It’s a big deal. I’ve had a lot of great invitations, and this was definitely up there for sure.”

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Music Spotlight: The Frontmen

The Frontmen

While listening to my pal, Storme Warren on The Big 615, I heard him interviewing a group of men called The Frontmen on his show. And while their voices sounded familiar, I was unsure of who they were.

It turns out that The Frontmen are a new country music trio, and I can honestly say that their harmony is next level. They consist of Richie McDonald, formerly of Lonestar (Amazed, “I’m Already There,” “Mr. Mom,” and “My Front Porch Looking In”); Tim Rushlow, formerly of Little Texas (“God Blessed Texas,” “What Might Have Been,” and “My Love”); and Larry Stewart of Restless Heart, (“Why Does It Have to Be Wrong or Right,” “When She Cries,” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” and “I’ll Still Be Loving You.”)

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Music Spotlight: Amanda Stewart

Growing up in the mountains of Montana, Amanda Stewart spent much of her time on her grandparents’ ranch, being exposed to the acoustic instrumentation and simple yet honest songwriting of Americana, folk, and country music styles.

She said, “My mom did a little bit of singing in school and was always singing in the car. And I sang with her. We actually did little karaoke contests and things like that. And my dad loved music, too. And my grandparents had a piano in their living room at their ranch. Whenever I would go, I would just be in there plugging away and singing. Nobody was professionally inclined, but it’s just always been a big part of the family life.”

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Music Spotlight Follow-Up: Shaylen

When Music Spotlight Artist, Shaylen, relocated from LA to Nashville, she had high hopes but wasn’t fully sure what to expect.

She said, “The first month I was out here, I was scared to death. I cried every day. I was like, ‘What did I do?’ And then it took about a month. I adjusted. And then I’ve made such great friends. The community’s been so welcoming.”

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Music Spotlight: Meghan Patrick

A name that kept popping up in my feed and on socials was Meghan Patrick. She is a Canadian Country music singer who moved to Nashville a few years back to make a fresh start. When I interviewed Mitchell Tenpenny in April, I learned he and Patrick had recently wed.

But it wasn’t until I saw her interview on the I Am Second platform, that I found out what all she has conquered to get to where she is today. I knew then that I wanted to tell her story.

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Spotlight Artist Grace Leer Costars in Hallmark Movie

Music Spotlight artist Grace Leer made her acting debut in a Blake Shelton-produced new Hallmark Movie, Time For Her To Come Home For Christmas. Leer costars alongside Shenae Grimes-Beech and Chris Carmack in a holiday romance mystery that is airing during Hallmark’s annual “Miracles of Christmas” programming event.

To many, the words “Hallmark Movie” and “Blake Shelton” don’t appear to belong together, but this movie is the sixth installment of the popular movie franchise based upon the book Time for Me to Come Home by Dorothy Shackleford and Travis Thrasher and Shelton’s song of the same name. Leer performs Shelton’s hit “Time for Me to Come Home” in the movie as well.

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Music Spotlight: David Morris

One thing that I have learned by writing my column is that even though I prefer traditional country music, hip-hop, and rap are tremendously popular with the younger set. There have been a few country artists who have dipped their toes into the hip-hop music scene, but the most successful one I have encountered is David Morris.

Hailing from Charleston, West Virginia, country, hip-hop artist Morris is trailblazing a path by mixing trap-style beats with slide guitars, banjos with catchy hooks, and lyrical mastery with relatable lyrics. Morris has over 120 million global streams and has supported Kidd G and Jelly Roll on tour. The song, “Dutton Ranch Free Style,” recently received its RIAA Gold Certification.

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Jamie O’Neal And Ty Herndon Bring Us ‘Merry Christmas Baby’

Two of the biggest voices from the early 2000s, Jamie O’Neal and Ty Herndon, have joined together to bring us the original Christmas song, “Merry Christmas Baby.” Last year, O’Neal put out a memorable Christmas record, Spirit & Joy, which I have added to my collection of favorite Christmas CDs.

This year, O’Neal released a deluxe edition of her holiday album, which includes the original song “Merry Christmas Baby” and a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Both songs follow the same theme of missing someone you love at Christmastime.

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Music Spotlight: Drew Haley

Drew Haley

The first time I heard of Drew Haley was when I interviewed a remarkable group of country vocalists in 2020 called The Highway Women. I was impressed at how good each artist was and how they easily blended their unique voices.

But like so many who got their start during a pandemic, they just couldn’t keep the momentum going without being able to get out and tour.

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Brei Carter Releases ‘Twinkling Tales of Christmas’

Crossover country and southern pop recording artist, and U.S. Army veteran and Music Spotlight artist, Brei Carter just can’t wait to usher in the holiday season with her new seven-song debut Christmas EP, Twinkling Tales of Christmas. Known for having a festive and vivacious personality year-round, Carter’s new EP is a multi-faceted genre-hopping collection of originals that draws upon her established country, southern pop, soul, and R&B musical influences.

And while many cling to the cherished Christmas carols on which we were raised, at one time, each of those familiar favorites had their debut.

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Music Spotlight: Storme Warren

I often ask artists who influenced their careers. Well for me, not being a musician, the person who has most influenced me is the television and radio broadcaster, Storme Warren. Although I have little desire to become a television personality, I have learned so much about interviewing artists by listening to Storme nearly every day for 16 years on Sirius XM’s The Highway.

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Music Spotlight: Adam Hood

When I was sent the artist Adam Hood to consider, I listened to one of his songs, “22 Days Too Long.” I wondered, “How in the world has he not crossed my radar until now?”

Hood has labeled his music as “southern soul” and has collaborated with artists like Brent Cobb, Josh Abbott, Jason Eady, and Miranda Lambert (to name a few). He is known to the music world as a songwriter’s songwriter as he effortlessly tells stories of everyday life in a meaningful way.

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Music Spotlight: William Michael Morgan

William Michael Morgan has been in Nashville since he was 19. Many country music fans will remember his gold-certified hit “I Met a Girl” from 2016, which continues to be a favorite at engagement parties and weddings.

Morgan hails from Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is the heart of the Delta Blues and a seven-minute drive from the Louisiana state line. His dad introduced him to country music by covering Marty Robbins and George Jones tunes on his guitar. Then, when he was 12, he got his own guitar, locked himself inside, and learned to play by watching YouTube videos.

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Music Spotlight: Alexandra Kay

Alexandra Kay hails from the small town of Waterloo, Illinois, right outside of St. Louis. Like most people I’ve interviewed, Kay grew up singing in church. At a young age, she discovered she had a gift for creative writing/poetry. Her work was entered into contests for young writers. She got some national recognition from her short stories, and her parents were like, “Okay, She ‘s a pretty creative kid.”

Like many her age, Kay was greatly influenced by Taylor Swift. She wrote down her feelings in a journal, and many of these poems eventually turned into songs.

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Music Spotlight: Orlando Mendez

 I’ll admit that I don’t watch music competition shows like I did when I was younger. When I watch TV, it’s usually a mind-numbing procedural or mystery.

But thankfully, a lot of the people I interview got their start on a show and if they are country, they often find their way into my email inbox. Because the competition is so fierce, most of the artists pitched to me are outstanding performers. Orlando Mendez is one such artist and I feel privileged to tell his story.

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Music Spotlight: Stoned Cold Country

Several years ago, when we were listening to the Rolling Stones on the radio, my husband remarked, “Listen to that. That’s country music.”

Evidently, others agree.

Long fascinated by the Rolling Stones, and specifically their country roots, CMA producer, Robert Deaton spent the past several years on a specific mission: namely, to shine a light on the Stones’ influence not only on country music at large but more specifically on some of its most convention-busting contemporary artists.

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Music Spotlight: Annie Bosko

A California farmer’s daughter, Annie Bosko’s soulful, honey-soaked vocals and neo-traditional country sound has been perfected throughout her 10,000 + hours in the music industry. And while she doesn’t quite have that southern twang, her voice is exquisite. Even more importantly, she was raised on traditional country music.

She recalled, “My dad was a farmer. We would drive around in his truck and go look at the crops and he would play me country music. The first person I remember hearing is Patsy Cline. I remember this voice jumping at me through the speakers of his truck and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what is this?’”

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Joe Galante, Duane Eddy, Don Mclean, and Darius Rucker Have Been Added to Music City’s Walk of Fame

Four extremely deserving individuals on Wednesday received their star on Nashville’s Walk of Fame: Music executive Joe Galante, rock guitarist Duane Eddy, singer/songwriter Don McClean, and rock and country artist Darius Rucker.

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