keith urban - Golden Road
Reviewed by Shelly Fabian
It's been two years since keith urban has released an album. His debut self-titled solo effort earned him three Top 5 hits, including the No. 1, "But For The Grace Of God." It's also sold over 500,000 copies, earning keith a Gold record, plus he received the 2001 CMA Horizon Award, and the Top New Male Vocalist ACM Award the same year. All in all a pretty darn good start.
The collection of songs on this album is a bit more personal for keith, who wanted to make a record to show fans who he was. Of the twelve songs included here, keith wrote or co-wrote eight of the tracks, two of them with one of Country Music's best writers, Rodney Crowell.
"Somebody Like You," the banjo-driven debut single that makes you get on your feet and dance is sitting at No. 4 of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart this week, and is sure to rise further. This after only 14 weeks on the chart is quite a feat. Along with the release, a video was filmed using supermodel Nikki Taylor as keith's love interest.
But, fear not... there is much more to enjoy with this album. Most of the tracks are up-tempo or mid-tempo songs, with a couple ballads thrown in for good measure. Whether keith is singing about driving down the road with his girl in "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me," or talking about a bitter breakup in "You'll Think Of Me," the songs are equally enjoyable. The latter is sung with such emotion that you will wonder if it was something keith experienced at one time. Although he did not write the tune, the conviction with which he sings it is believable.
Keith has some fun meeting up with an old girlfriend and picking up where they left off together in "You Look Good In My Shirt," and he wonders why he's always the one to give and never to receive in "What About Me." In the Radney Foster/Darrell Brown-penned tune "Raining on Sunday," keith sings about the pleasurable ways to pass the time when it rains on Sunday. The final track is a look at his past drug addiction, and the realization that he knows now that the drugs aren't the way to go.
All in all, this is an excellent collection of music. Fans of keith's first album, as well as his work with The Ranch will surely enjoy this album.
Keith Urban swaggered out of Queensland with big dreams and a rock'n'roll attitude, but Nashville didn't want to know. After years of battling loneliness and drugs, he is about to be the next king of country. ANGELA PULVIRENTI reports.
The following appeared in the Sept. 29, 2002 edition of the Australian publication, The Sunday Telegraph
If you're a kid from Caboolture in Queensland, it's a long way to the top of the razzle-dazzle, billion-dollar world of country music and its global epicentre, Nashville, Tennessee. Just ask Keith Urban. After 10 grueling years of taking on the Americans at their own game (and on their own turf), and after battling his own demons of loneliness and drug addiction, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter is on the brink of becoming the biggest male country-music star in the world.
But don't mistake him for the next Garth Brooks. Keith Urban is a hell of a lot sexier, doesn't wear a cowboy hat and is regarded as among the best guitar players and live performers on the planet. And he's rumoured to be dating a supermodel.
With one hit album behind him, a new single rocketing up the American charts and a prestigious award from the Country Music Association on his mantelpiece, Urban has finally conquered Nashville, a city that rivals Hollywood as a place that makes and breaks the dreams of countless young hopefuls year after year.
However, not so long ago, he was perilously close to becoming just another anonymous casualty of thwarted ambition. Spirit broken, thousands of miles from home and exhausted, he sought solace in all the wrong places.
Urban landed in Nashville in 1992, a fresh-faced 21-year-old riding high after making a big splash in the small pond of Australian country music. He had picked up the Starmaker Award for Best New Talent at the 1990 Tamworth country music festival, released an album that produced four No. 1 hits on the Australian country charts and won a Golden Guitar award for best male vocalist and best instrumentalist. It was a dream start for any homegrown up-and-comer, but Urban had his sights set on a land where platinum album sales represent a million copies, not 70,000.
"I wanted to go to Nashville since I was a kid, " Urban says. "I was young and passionate and figured that rather than paying my dues in Australia then paying them all over again in the US, I may as well throw myself straight in the deep end."
But Nashville didn't exactly welcome the newcomer. "People never told me I was a loser to my face," he says. "They would tell me I was destined to be a star then tell everyone else I didn't have a hope in hell."
After playing in any bar that would have him by night and doing odd jobs during the day, Urban formed The Ranch with Australian drummer Peter Clarke and US bass player Jerry Flowers in '95. "Because we (Peter and I) were raised in the Australian pub scene, our performances were raw and confronting," says Urban. "Nashville wasn't ready for someone who sweated on his guitar and threw it around on the stage."
The Ranch performed all over the US. "We often drove eight hours to play to six people who thought we sucked," Urban says, laughing. It was a comment from an industry insider after a gig that carried him through those frustrating years. "He was saying what a great show it was and I was like, 'Why can't we get signed?' And he said, 'The thing about you is you're different. And that will be your greatest curse until it becomes your biggest blessing'."
The band was eventually signed to Capitol Records, the home of Garth Brooks - and while a self-titled album was critically well received, it was never treated as a priority by the label and flopped. Urban also suffered throat problems and was told not to sing for a few months. When The Ranch disbanded, Urban capitalised on his reputation as a guitarist, performing on albums by Brooks and the Dixie Chicks. But eventually the lack of success he had worked so hard for began to overwhelm him and in 1997 he sought solace in cocaine.
"It's a horrible, horrible thing," Urban says. "You know you have to stop and you just can't. You look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Who are you and how the hell did you let this happen to yourself'." Urban blames his descent into drug abuse on loneliness. "I just felt like there was no one to really connect with and talk to." His initial attempts to confide in friends brought little comfort. "You'll tell someone your troubles and out of concern they would tell someone else. Before I knew it, half of Nashville was coming up to me saying, 'We heard you're in trouble, what's happening?' So you clean up and go inward, and that's when you're in real trouble."
Urban's great regret is that he didn't escape to the refuge of his family and friends in Australia. "I didn't want to talk about it with my folks over the phone and worry them," he says. "But I should have gone home and gathered my strength and regained my belief in myself. (But) I did not want to go home until I felt I had something to show for myself. Even when I was getting the shit kicked out of me - I thought, 'Hang in, you're close'."
Not close enough to prevent the singer plummeting to new drug-fuelled lows. "You do it so long and you become depressed, then you become disgusted, then you become terrified you're going to die," he says. It was the terror that inspired Urban to beat drugs. "I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but I got to the point where I knew it wasn't me, and I just stopped."
The change in his consciousness coincided with a sea change in US country music. "You could feel a shift once artists such as Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks started being successful doing it their own way," says Urban. "All of a sudden it was okay to be a country singer with long hair and no cowboy hat."
Meanwhile Capitol had a new boss, Mike Dungan, who was impressed by Urban's talent and attitude and pioneered an ingenious marketing strategy for his attack on the American market - he let him be himself. "That album was sheer humility; it's crawling up out of a hole and being glad to be here," says Urban of the self-titled album. It has sold more than 750,000 copies and generated three Top 5 singles on the US country charts, including the No. 1 But For The Grace of God. It also earned him the prestigious Country Music Association's Horizon Award for Best Newcomer. CMA president Ed Benson says, "There has never been a more deserving recipient of the award than Keith. Not only has he got the looks, the voice and the songs, but he is one of the best musicians in the world."
Urban's mother Marienne was in the audience the night the award was bestowed on her son. "It's hard to describe the feeling you get when you are sitting in The Grand Old Opry in Nashville surrounded by the biggest names in country music and they call your son's name out," she says. "You're thinking, 'Is this real?'"
But she probably should have seen it coming. Marienne had moved with husband Bob, oldest son Shane and toddler Keith from New Zealand to Queensland in the early '70s. "We had a convenience store and a woman asked if we would mind hanging a sing in our window to advertise guitar lessons," she says. "I said it wouldn't be a problem as long as I could sign up my son." Keith's first three-quarter guitar was almost bigger than he was. "He just played and played it. When he taught himself a new song he'd say, 'Come and listen to this'."
Those conquests were usually tunes by Johnny Cash, Don Williams and Glen Campbell, songs from his parents' record collection. "Country music was my earliest form of musical influence," he says. "Even when I played an Elton John song, it sounded like a country song." Not that he was fussy about what he played, as long as he did it in front of people. "I'm not sure if there's something intrinsically wrong with you when all you want to do is jump up and down and go, 'Look at me, look at me," he says, "but I loved sharing the sounds of that guitar with an audience."
Marienne says her youngest son didn't fit the mould of an attention seeker. "You'd think he would have been a real show-off, but once you took that guitar away from him, he barely said boo." Says Urban: "It's like my security blanket I guess. Without it I feel exposed and naked. But with it, I always felt like I could do anything."
By age seven, Urban had joined the Westfield Super Juniors - the Young Talent Time of shopping-centre entertainment -and at 10 he performed a Dolly Parton song on TV talent show Pot of Gold. After ditching school in Year 10, Urban honed his guitar skills on the Queensland pub circuit.
One musician he has studied is his friend and mentor Tommy Emmanuel. "The first time I met Keith was on a plane from Brisbane to Sydney," recalls Emmanuel. "He was dressed like Elvis Presley and you could tell he was full of hunger and drive."
Urban's new album Golden Road is a reflection of all he has endured. "The last album was, 'I'm damn lucky to be here'. This time it's, 'I'm really happy to be here'." The album is packed with cocksure, toe-tapping melodies that capture the energy of Urban's performances against a slick, radio-friendly production. He wrote or co-wrote most of the songs and exorcises demons on tracks such as You Won and You're Not My God. "The last thing I want to do is preach to people," he says. "But I did want to say, 'This is what happened to me and it wasn't good'."
After beating drugs in '98, Urban briefly relapsed last year. "People said if you relapse, you start where you left off - your worst point - and go down from there. I didn't believe it until it happened to me."
But he is determined his dark days are behind him. Perhaps that has something to do with Nikki Taylor, the supermodel who appears in the clip for the uplifting Somebody Like You, which has rocketed into the top of the US country charts. Apparently Keith's hairstylist (also Taylor's make-up artist) told him Taylor was a huge fan and would love her to be in one of his videos. "We met and got on instantly," says Urban. "She is an incredibly soulful and spiritual woman and we had the best fun working together." So what of these rumours of a romance? "Just rumours," he says. I can't resist pointing out that if the girl is soulful, spiritual, loves your music, is fun to be with and is, after all, a supermodel, it might be a good idea to ask her out. "Maybe I should," he says mischievously.
Urban hopes to tour Australia next year. "I would love to come out and bring the whole band with me," he says. "It's just a matter of clearing the schedule." Now that the artist's biggest curse has become his greatest blessing, promotional and touring demands in the US are approaching superstar intensity. "The fact he's Australian, and one of the most genuine guys in the business, is going to make global domination a real possibility for Keith, "says Ed Benson, "because he already has a unique flavour about him."
While Urban's attitude towards his future is well grounded, his goals are clear. "I want to play to those big indoor stadiums," he says enthusiastically. "To have 10,000 or 15,000 people out there having a ball with you - that's what it's all about." It's not that he's a show-off. He was just born to do it.