Jason Aldean changed the game in country by adding loud rock guitars and stadium anthems to the genre. The reigning Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year just returned with another hard-hitting album—his seventh—They Don’t Know.
“When Big Kenny and I were first considering doing music together some 15 years ago, I can recall like it was yesterday him saying, ‘Man, we’re like two individual planets— wouldn’t it be awesome to collide and smash the universe together,” John Rich recalls. “We definitely felt that creative gravitational pull from the beginning and I think it continues to translate into the music.”
Brantley doesn’t just write songs, he shares from the heart the chapters of his life through music. He is adamant about the fact that the devoted “BG Nation” is made up of his friends, not fans. He’s created a high-energy, in-your-face sound with plenty of adrenaline and testosterone. He also evokes a softer connection, proving a tough guy can be tender, too. No matter the song, he plays the guitar like an extension of his voice—an ebb and flow of emotion that resonates with millions.
Chase Rice pulls no punches when he hits the stage. “You’re gonna be mine and I’m gonna be yours for an hour and a half. We’re gonna be in each other’s face. If you don’t like that, walk out the door.” Take it or leave it. And his fans love it: “I’m looking for people who are looking to have the best night of their entire life,” Rice says of his raucous, get-down-or-get-out live ragers. “If you aren’t here to party, I’m gonna make you party!”
Meeting in December of 2012, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney quickly hit it off with their musical similarities. The duo discovered an infectious original sound all their own, mixing country rock/pop seamlessly throughout intimate power-ballads and stadium-worthy hits, including “19 You + Me” and “From The Ground Up.”
“Life got rocky when I was 12,” Kelsea Ballerini says, referencing her parents’ divorce. But after that, “This gift of songwriting just fell into my lap. It was literally this blessing that came at the perfect time. And for me, it’s always been that steady thing in my life that I can always go back to.” Songwriting has worked out quite well for her, as has singing. She’s been dubbed “Country’s Next Queen” by Billboard, and is the first solo female artist in 15 years to hit #1 with her first two country singles and one of only 11 women to have ever hit the top of the charts with a debut.
“I can’t hold back,” Randy Houser says of the passion and power he delivers with every song, every album, every live show. “I close my eyes and sing like I’m in my bedroom and no one’s watching. I sing it like God is coming out of me.” The man speaks from experience: eight years since his debut album, he continually adds new achievements to his impressive resume, and he keeps pounding the pavement as hard as ever, forever hitting the stage with venom, kicking up dust, scratching out those vibrant songs.
“We knew right away we had something special,” says Jay DeMarcus of the duo he, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Ronney formed back in 1999. “Even if we were the only ones who ever got to hear it.” Of course, many more people would hear it. Their list of hits constitutes one of the great bodies of work in modern country music, with “These Days,” “Bless the Broken Road,” “What Hurts The Most,” “My Wish,” “Take Me There” and “Here Comes Goodbye” as just the tip of an ever-expanding iceberg.
Tyler Farr’s a thinker, an observer of the human condition, an artist who insists on digging a little deeper, getting a little realer and owning how hard it can be. “I could sing you heartbreak ballads for over an hour and a half,” laughs the easy-talking Farr. “I have a lot of heartbreak ballads, because I think there’s a lot more heartbreak than happily ever after… But happily ever after is still what keeps you going after it.”