By Geoffrey Rowlands
It is sometimes said of sports teams that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The same is true for American country music duo Dan and Shay.
Things were not happening individually for Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney. Dan was trying to establish himself as a songwriter while playing in a band called Bonaventure. Shay was also attempting to write songs while pursuing a largely unsuccessful solo career. As Dan remarked, the two men “couldn’t get a publishing deal to save our lives.”
Everything was changed by a chance encounter.
“We met at a party,” Dan stated. “We were both fairly new in Nashville. I’d come from Pennsylvania and Shay was from Arkansas. We’d both come to Nashville hoping to make it in the country music business.
“We didn’t know each other but we did have a mutual friend who brought Shay to the party and introduced us. It was one of those times when two people have an instant rapport. We started singing together, singing harmonies and cover songs. The other people at the party were obviously enjoying us and we kept going way into the early hours.
“Everything had gone so well that we said we should write together. Not in a few days though but that very day. A friend found us an open writing room and we wrote two songs together before we’d even known each other for 24 hours.”
The songwriting magic which had eluded them as individuals sparked into life when Dan and Shay joined forces. Their first song was put on hold by country stars Rascal Flatts.
“That was a dream for us,” Shay recalled. “Rascal Flatts were, and still are, one of our favourite bands. It was unbelievable that they should want our song. We kept writing together every day and then played gigs in small venues showcasing our songs.
“We’d been struggling to pay the rent and getting nowhere. Then everything clicked into place. We suddenly found folks listening to our songs and publishing deals on the table.”
Publishing deals were soon followed by recording contracts. But despite writing and performing their songs together, Dan and Shay had not thought of themselves as a duo.
“It was crazy,” Dan laughed. “We didn’t know we were a duo. Nobody told us we should be a duo. But we were writing the songs together and performing them together. We realised we didn’t really need to recruit other musicians and become a band. We thought we should just go for it as a duo.”
The boys found immediate chart success. Their 2013 debut single, 19 You and Me, hit number seven on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It was the first track taken from Dan and Shay’s 2014 debut album, Where It All Began. The LP stormed straight to pole position on the Top Country Albums chart and reached number six on the Billboard 200.
“We knew we had a following,” Shay reflected. “We’d played a lot of gigs, done some television, played at the Grand Ole Opry and opened for Hunter Hayes on his We’re Not Invisible tour. But we never expected to have a number one with our first album. To say we were super excited is a massive understatement.”
Two more albums have brought Dan and Shay further success. 2016’s Obsessed stalled at number two in America but topped the UK Country Music chart. It also gave them another top ten entry on the Billboard 200 peaking at number eight. Their recently released self-titled third LP is another smash hit returning the duo to number one on the Top Country Albums chart and number six on the Billboard 200.
Their success has been maintained despite some changes in Dan and Shay’s musical style.
“I think we’ve actually become better songwriters,” Dan suggested. “Having chart success makes you want to keep raising the bar in terms of the quality of your songs. Our first record was a bunch of songs which were basically laptop demos. The second record was more experimenting, finding out who we were. Now we know, we’ve figured it out. We know where we want to go with our music.”
The duo are prolific writers and frequently collaborate with other songwriters. They will pen perhaps 60 or 70 songs for each album before gradually paring them down to the final track-listing.
“We have occasional disagreements along the way,” Shay acknowledged. “But everything is unanimous by the end of the process. It’s not just us who have a say. A few folks from our management and label give their opinions but it’s our wives who are probably the best choosers of the right songs.”
While Dan and Shay enjoy working with other songwriters, they have never previously had a guest artist appear on any of their albums. This changed when Kelly Clarkson provided additional vocals on the track, Keeping Score.
“The song is about appreciating what you have rather than constantly measuring yourself against everybody else,” Shay explained. “It felt special when we recorded it but we agreed the song would sound better as a duet.”
“I think Shay is the best singer I’ve ever heard,” Dan added. “I knew we needed a duet partner who could match his vocal ability and there were very few who came to mind. But when we thought of powerful female vocalists, we reckoned Kelly Clarkson was outstanding. We sent her the song and got a positive response in no time. We think the finished product sounds great.”
Twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas have not only become stars on the British country music scene but hit number one on the UK mainstream Albums chart in 2016 with their second LP, Cartwheels.
It’s a different story on the singles chart. Despite their undoubted popularity, Ward Thomas have never had a UK hit single.
Perhaps this might change with the release of their latest single, Lie Like Me. The first track taken from their upcoming third album, Restless Minds, it just could be that Ward Thomas fans will buy the single because the new album will not be available until October 5.
Lie Like Me deals with the issues involved in being on social media. The need to appear perfect and be well-liked online despite offline life often being rather different.
The accompanying official video can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bq385GUyds.
A video detailing the creation of Lie Like Me is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuL2-4c6oKI
An acoustic version of the song is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvRxF-aFix0
Singer Dua Lipa has not been averse to writing songs about her past relationships. But the boot is on the other foot now as her broken romance with Lany singer and songwriter Paul Klein is laid bare on the American indie-pop trio’s forthcoming sophomore album, Malibu Nights.
Paul described writing the songs on Malibu Nights as a “cathartic experience.” It was his way of dealing with the heartbreak he suffered from Dua ending their relationship.
The raw emotion expressed in lead single, Thru These Tears, perfectly captures the torment of a man desperately struggling to cope with losing the love of his life while trying to convince himself he will feel better in the fullness of time.
Paul insists the track is “devastating but also really hopeful and optimistic.” There is no official song video as yet but see what you think by checking out the lyric video for Thru These Tears at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkWTuvdFbJI
Galen Weston Band
A digital download of the Galen Weston Band’s latest album, The Space Between, is being offered to fans for free.
All 14 tracks can be heard in full at the Canadian jazz-rock outfit’s official website. Visit www.galenweston.org/store/the-space-between-digital/ where you will see a photo of the album cover and a name your price box. Type 0 in this to download the album free of charge.
Before doing so, scroll down the webpage to find a link to the album. Click on this to hear The Space Between in its entirety.
If you enjoy what you hear, Galen Weston’s 2015 debut album, Plugged In, can also be downloaded for free. The free download page is www.galenweston.org/store/plugged-in-digital/ However, the album cannot be heard here. Instead, the 12 tracks are posted at www.galenweston.org/music-media/
The respective webpages also feature information about Galen and both albums.
It was 2009 when Italian/American indie-punk-rockers Bellini released their third album. Although work on new songs began as long ago as 2012, only now has The Precious Prize of Gravity finally been followed up by their fourth LP, Before The Day Has Gone.
Both albums, along with their second LP, 2005’s Small Stones, can be found at (no www) bellini.bandcamp.com/ Click on the cover artwork to access each album and then scroll down the resulting webpages to find the tracklistings. Click on the arrow against each title to hear the songs.
Bellini’s 2002 debut album, Snowing Sun, is not on their bandcamp page. However, it can be heard in full on the Spotify or Deezer streaming websites.
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