An ear toward the past and an eye on the future
With an ear toward the past and an eye on the future, Chris Young is quickly distinguishing himself as a newcomer who honors country music’s best traditions while adding a fresh, new chapter to the genre’s legacy. With his rich, warm baritone and penchant for writing relatable, slice-of-life songs, Young’s sophomore project, The Man I Want to Be – featuring his current smash single, “Gettin’ You Home” – is an album that showcases a new traditionalist poised to take his place among his musical heroes.
One of those heroes, the legendary Willie Nelson, joins Young on the album for a duet of “Rose in Paradise,” the hauntingly beautiful Waylon Jennings classic. “I love Waylon, and I love traditional music,” says Young. “We sent Willie a copy, and he came in to record it. I still can’t believe I got to spend time in the studio with Willie Nelson!”
It’s that combination of youthful enthusiasm and seasoned musicianship that has earned Young both the respect of his elders and the devotion of country fans. His self-titled RCA Nashville debut project made him country’s best-selling new male artist of 2006 and earned him a nod in the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist category. Produced by James Stroud, Young’s sophomore set builds on that momentum with a solid collection of songs that not only showcase his skills as a vocalist, but also provide a portrait of Young – the things he values and believes in.
“It’s who I am as a person,” Young says of the new album. “It represents the things that are important to me. My family and I are very close, and they mean more than anything to me, but I’m also the kind of guy who likes to go out with my friends and have a good time on Friday nights. I think these songs show who I am. Hopefully a lot of people will listen to the record and will feel like they know me a little better.”
Indeed, one song from the new album, “Voices,” penned by Young, Chris Tompkins and Craig Wiseman, is a prime example. “Your family are people you lean on and learn from,” he says. “When I told my family I wanted to do music, they were really supportive. I think writing songs like ‘Voices’ portrays the importance of that.”
Young knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in country music. Raised just minutes away from Nashville in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he began making trips to Music Row at a young age, trying to land a record deal. He began performing while still in high school, and was doing 150 dates a year by the time he was in college. When he was offered an opportunity for a regular gig at the famed Texas honky-tonk, Cowboys, Young jumped at the chance to hone his skills on the competitive Lone Star circuit.
“It was a great way to get experience,” he says. “I had a seven-piece band and we played three nights a week. Plus there were major acts constantly going in and out of there, so I’d get to watch their show and see how they worked the crowd. It was a good learning experience for me.”
When Young landed his deal with RCA, he not only brought to the table his innate ability to deliver a lyric with enviable country soul, he also had that arsenal of live experience to draw from. That combination produced a debut of unusual depth and maturity, and Young admits the timing was right. “If you were to ask me when I was 17 if I was mad because I didn’t have a deal, I would have probably said, ‘Yeah,’” he admits with an easygoing grin. “Now I’m so glad I got it when I got it. People tell you to be patient and wait. Patience is not a virtue of mine, but I think everything definitely happened the right way for me.”
Working with Stroud on his new album was special for Young because he’d known the veteran producer for years. “He was an intern for my wife at her publishing company when he was in college,” recalls Stroud. “We just hit it off. He was just a young kid, but he was always into every type of music going on around him, and he was like a sponge. He was soaking it all up.”
Young’s passion for music impressed Stroud right from the start, but he also grew to appreciate his character when Young helped the Strouds deliver Christmas gifts to an underprivileged family in a bad part of town. The two forged a friendship that made for a relaxed, comfortable experience in the studio. “He’s watched my songwriting develop, and saw me mature as a performer, so when we went into the studio, there wasn’t any of that ‘getting to know you’ thing,” says Young. “James and I were just ready, and said, ‘Let’s make a great record!’”
And so they did. In the tradition of his heroes, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis and Waylon Jennings, Young crafted an album filled with songs that capture the emotional experiences that make life so rich and meaningful. “The Shoebox,” penned by Jeffrey Steele, is a poignant treatise on the things that matter most, and Young delivers it in a warm, conversational tone that makes it feel like an intimate revelation from an old friend.
“It Takes a Man” is a touching look at young love and unplanned fatherhood with a visual lyric that places the listener in the middle of that life-changing conversation as the rain gently spills down. “Gettin’ You Home,” co-written by Young, is his current hit single and an appropriately sultry number about a man who only has one thing on his mind while enjoying a romantic night out with his lady.
“That Makes Me” is a raucous anthem penned by Young that finds the strapping artist declaring his unabashed love for country music, old trucks, straight whiskey and good old-fashioned values. “Twenty-One Candles” is a driving up-tempo about a girl who knows how to celebrate. On the other end of the spectrum, title track “The Man I Want to Be” is a vulnerable self-examination that features one of Young’s most compelling vocals.
“The Dashboard” tells the story of a young Marine heading off to war and leaving his beloved truck with his brother, telling him, “If I don’t come back, you can have this Ford, just tape a picture of me on the dashboard.” The song ends on a happy note with the Marine coming home, but Young’s performance builds the sense of suspense in the lyric and then delivers the emotional punch in the payoff line.
It’s Young’s amazing, resonant voice that brings each song vividly to life. Deep and soulful, his delivery seems almost effortless. Nowhere is that more evident that on his cover of the classic, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” written by Tony Joe White. They had already finished recording the last song when Stroud suggested Young take a pass at the vintage hit. The band began playing it, and Young walked into the studio and began singing. That first take is on the record. “I get chills when I think about it,” says Stroud, recalling how Young nailed the song immediately, not even knowing that run-through was being recorded. “We mixed the record just like that, and it’s one of the most awesome takes that I’ve ever heard. Tony Joe White, he told me, ‘Not since I wrote this have I heard this song done so well by a great singer.’”
Willie was equally effusive in his praise. Stroud recalls Young nervously approaching the legendary artist. “Chris was saying, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ and Willie said, ‘Drop that, man! Come here and let me tell you how good your voice is.’ So they just hit it off. The record is such a good match-up of these killer stylists. I believe that Chris is sort of the savior of country music right now because I think our music is great music, but we have lost a little bit of the soulfulness.”
Young takes such heady praise in stride with his characteristic, self-effacing charm. Like his heroes Keith Whitley and Randy Travis before him, he doesn’t see himself as the savior of country music, just a lucky guy living his dream. “I love playing music,” he says. “There’s no way I could do anything else.”
"Drinkin' Me Lonely"
"Gettin You Home (The Black Dress Song)"
"The Man I Want to Be"