With their new album, country’s most explosive hillbilly band have reached a musical and professional crossroads, then grabbed the wheel and fl oored the gas pedal. BR549’s Tangled In The Pines features no cover songs, no outside producers and no concessions to anything other than fi ve uncompromising musicians following their own creative instincts. For vocalist/guitarist Chuck Mead, multi-instrumentalist Don Herron, drummer/vocalist Shaw Wilson, new bassist Geoff Firebaugh and new vocalist/guitarist Chris Scruggs, Tangled In The Pines is in many ways the ultimate BR549 album ""Through the years we’ve gotten real close to capturing what we do,"" explains BR549’s Chuck Mead, ""but for one reason or another we were never able to carry it right off the edge until now.""
Produced by the band with their longtime soundman ‘Cowboy’ Keith Thompson and mixed by Ray Kennedy, Tangled In The Pines scores a direct hit from the jubilant opening cut ""That’s What I Get"" cowritten by Mead (who wrote or co-wrote all but one song on the album) and The Mavericks’ Raul Malo, through such standout tracks as Chuck and Shaw’s Sun-powered ghost ride ""No Train To Memphis,"" Mead and Herron’s dark cinematic stunner ""Run A Mile"" and the rocket-fueled ""No Friend Of Mine,"" which the band describe as ‘George Jones Meets The Clash.’ ""The songs all sound big and honest and right in your face,"" asserts Shaw.
Tangled In The Pines is BR549’s most conceptual album in a way that surprised even the band. ""We dug deep for this record,"" says Chuck, ""And putting all the songs together unwittingly ended up being kind of a story. In a sense, it tells a tale about guys trying to ‘make it’ and their journey through themselves and their world. It’s a record about chasing away and in some cases trying to outrun your demons, then coming back for more. It’s a story about us.""
BR549 named for Junior Samples’ ever-fl ubbed phone number on Hee Haw has always been has always been the band that beat the odds on their own terms. The group began in the in the mid-90s on Nashville’s then-seedy Lower Broadway where the original quintet began playing marathon sets in the window of bar/bootery Robert’s Western World. BR soon drew a rabid following, fevered press and a recording contract with Arista Records, who released the acclaimed EP Live From Robert’s in 1996 followed by their self-titled full-length studio album later that year. They were called ""without question, one of the best groups to ever walk out of the roadhouse circuit and record an album"" by The New York Times, crowned ""Nashville’s hippest band"" by Playboy, nominated as Best New Country Group by the Academy Of Country Music, named the same by Rolling Stone and Grammy nominated for Best Country Performance. The band appeared on Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Letterman, Conan O’Brien, MTV, VH1, the BBC and beyond. They were invited to tour with country superstars like Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, rock icons including Bob Dylan and The Black Crowes, and stole the show at major rock festivals throughout Europe and Japan. Two more albums 1998’s Big Backyard Beat Show and 2000’s Coast To Coast Live earned more raves, more accolades, and another Grammy nomination. In a time when Music Row considered country’s tradtional roots to be ‘alternative,’ BR549 rocked the industry as the band that was taking country where it hadn’t gone in decades.
Following the 2001 release of their sole Sony/Lucky Dog album This Is BR549, the group faced a sudden period of reassessment with the departure of longtime bassist Jay McDowell and co-founder/ co-lead vocalist Gary Bennett. Unsure of what their future held, Chuck, Shaw and Donnie returned to Lower Broadway and began playing weekly shows with The Hillbilly All-Stars, a loose-knit gathering of the town’s tightest left-fi eld talents. Once again, Nashville’s downtown strip fi lled with punks, rockers, college kids and traditional country fans were all knocked out by cool covers and hot originals played with pure joy and zero compromise. ""It literally took us back to where we started,"" remembers Herron, ""back to a time and place where things were crazy and unpredictable. And it was the best thing that could’ve happened to us.""
Among the hottest All-Star players were bassist Geoff Firebaugh and teenaged vocalist/guitarist Chris Scruggs. Firebaugh, a native of the Pacifi c Northwest (and veteran of the fi rst Gulf War), was known for his fi ery work in several Seattle and Nashville punk and rockabilly bands. Scruggs held a third-generation classic country pedigree, being the grandson of both the legendary Earl Scruggs and Louisiana Hayride performer Tex Dickerson, and son of famed Nashville musician Gary Scruggs and maverick singer/songwriter/producer Gail Davies. When Mead, Herron and Wilson decided to continue BR549, they invited Scruggs and Firebaugh to join the band.
Following triumphant tours of the U.S. and Europe, the revitalized group returned to the studio in mid- 2003. ""We had no record deal,"" says Mead. ""We had no schedule to meet. We paid for the studio out of our own pockets. We simply wanted to get in there and make our songs sound like we’d always wanted them to sound, and we wanted to have fun doing it. The only expectations we had to live up to were our own.""
No single act will ever redefi ne country, but Tangled In The Pines stands tall as the album that redefi nes BR549. If the band’s true story is fi nally in the music, their most real deal chapter is now about to begin. ""This record is not ashamed to be country,"" offers Chris Scruggs. ""And at the same time, it’s not afraid to be something new. BR549 was always about making sincere country music with no strings attached. And we still are.""
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