The musicians who make up country music's lively band Lonestar have already won award statuettes, earned a Gold Record and have enjoyed a string of chart-topping songs. But with Lonely Grill, Lonestar's third BNA Records album, they're experiencing something even more intense and fulfilling.
"For the first time in our career we're feeling what it's like to have creative control," says keyboardist Dean Sams.
Adds drummer Keech Rainwater, "The great thing about this album is that we had the freedom to really get in there and have everybody in this band contribute to the sound, to the direction we were going.
"This whole experience has brought new energy to this band, and an excitement we haven't had in the past," says lead singer Richie McDonald.
"It's all about music... about creativity," offers guitarist Michael Britt. "Every song on this album has something really clever going on musically to accompany the vocals and lyrics."
Lonely Grill is a wonderfully diverse demonstration of how sophisticated and skilled this band has become during its four short years as a hit-making outfit. Peppy, "young country" romps like "Don't Let's Talk About Lisa," "Saturday Night" and "Simple As That" show that Lonestar still has the flare that propelled "No News" to the top of the charts. Heart-piercing ballads such as "Smile" and "I've Gotta Find You" enrich the reputation for emotion and depth that the band earned recently with "Everything's Changed."
There's more. Even loyal fans will be startled by the new vocal finesse the group displays on the lushly melodic "Amazed" and "All The Way." The stark, powerful production on "You Don't Know What Love Is" also charts a new direction for the band. Blue-collar rock doesn't come any more exuberant than on the band's recording of "What About Now." And Lonestar has seldom performed lyrics as perfectly crafted as "Lonely Grill" and "Tell Her."
"You go from one emotion to another from song to song," explains Dean. "You go from really happy 'Saturday Night' to really sad, like "Smile," and it's an emotional roller coaster. When you finish listening to Lonely Grill, you'll feel like you've been to a Lonestar concert.
"And that's the first time this has happened since we got a record deal. I never thought our true sound transferred to a record, until now."
The journey to Lonely Grill began last summer when "Everything's Changed" was at the top of the charts for Lonestar. The group had been performing "unplugged" shows when it stopped at various radio stations. So in gratitude, the members decided to record an acoustic version of the ballad as a gift to the broadcasters.
All of its previous recordings had been done with Nashville's superb session musicians. This time the band worked up its own arrangement of "Everything's Changed." The result was a stunning reawakening of the song's poignant lyric. Listener response has been so enthusiastic that the performance is included as the 12th track on Lonely Grill. The band found that experience so invigorating that it decided to "reinvent" itself. Dean, Richie, Michael, and Keech went in search of a producer who would let them continue to pursue Lonestar's individuality. They found him in Dann Huff.
Best known as one of Music City's hottest guitar players, Dann has been earning a reputation as a sympathetic and caring record maker in recent years.
"I don't think anybody had any idea of what we were going to do, what direction we were going," says Dean. "One person did; and that was Dann Huff," adds Michael.
"We sat with him and he said he wanted all of us to be involved," Michael remembers. "He wanted to find out what our vision was and help us achieve it."
"When I heard that I thought, 'That is exactly what we need,'" says Keech. "Dann brought us completely in the creative process."
That's why we moved to this town, to be creative forces," says Dean. "And now we've finally arrived, I can't tell you how much this record means to all of us."
If any band has earned its place in the sun it is surely Lonestar.
As the name implies, all of its members drifted into Music City from Texas. Dean Sams was working at the Country Music USA show at the Opryland theme park (as were future recording artists Ken Mellons, Chely Wright and James Bonamy) when Dean began rounding up personnel for a band. By late 1992, he'd recruited singer/songwriter Richie McDonald and two former members of the band Canyon, Michael Britt and Keech Rainwater.
From the get-go they shared a tremendous work ethic. Lonestar hit the road and performed more than 500 shows in 1993-94. Traveling in a Jeep Cherokee pulling an equipment trailer, the guys did four or five sets a night in town after town. One of the performances was as the "house band" at the grand opening of The Wildhorse Saloon dancehall in downtown Nashville.
Lonestar promoted itself with a six-song live CD and a string of label showcases. After some near-misses, the band was offered a recording contract on BNA Records and their debut single, "Tequila Talkin'," became a top-5 hit in 1995.
The band continued to work like mad, visiting radio stations, doing showcase performances and taking advantage of every promotional opportunity. The Jeep became a van, then a tour bus.
"We still have the same drive we did then," says Richie. "The only way to get our music out there is to hit the road hard and heavy. We're still doing 130-150 dates a year."
"You get out of it what you put into it," adds Keech. "We're responsible for our own success. We know it is our job and no one else's."
The hard work paid off in 1996. The endless string of shows had polished Lonestar into a superb performing unit. When "No News" became a disc sensation, the band was ready. The single hit No. 1 and remained there for three weeks. The Academy of Country Music named Lonestar its Top New Group of the Year. "Runnin' Away With My Heart" hit the top-10. Billboard, Music Row, and Country Weekly all gave year-end awards to the band. The Lonestar album became a Gold Record (it is now nearing Platinum sales levels).
Original bassist John Rich departed to pursue a solo career and Lonestar hired bassist/vocalist Robbie Cheuvront, as well as fiddler Kurt Baumer and steel guitarist Jeremy Moyers to round out their touring ensemble. The shows got better and better.
Crazy Nights was issued as the second Lonestar collection in 1997. "Come Cryin' To Me" became the act's second No. 1 single. Bryan Adams and Mutt Lange provided yet another rhythmic hit, "You Walked In."
In 1998 Lonestar revealed a new dimension. Previously noted for its catchy uptempo performances, the band issued "Say When" as its first ballad single. That was followed by the touching "Everything's Changed," which became yet another No. 1 hit.
That set the stage for the recording of Lonely Grill. In typical fashion, the band threw itself into the creation of its third album with gusto. Song searches became eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week listening marathons at BNA. Recording sessions became long, stimulating studio experiences where guitar sounds, percussion touches, keyboard techniques and vocal harmonies were developed and shared.
"The work is worth it," says Dean. "This album is about song quality. We're in this for longevity, not for the quick buck."
"I think we are still learning, every day, to be better at what we do," contributes Richie. "The fans can count on us. They know how much we appreciate them. It's not like we are separate from the people. We are the People."
"We feel like we have been given so much, because we get to do what we love to do," says Keech. "We are four grateful guys, I can tell you. That's why we give it everything we've got."
"We just like to jam," says Michael. "That's Lonestar."
by Robert K. Oermann
-from the official Lonestar website
--- from the official Lonestar website