NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country music as a genre has always been a melting pot of influences and cultures, often shifting and morphing to reflect popular sounds and trends. BRELAND’s debut full-length album “Cross Country” builds on that history, interpolating and sampling older songs and bringing in his background in gospel, R&B and hip-hop under the expansive umbrella of country music.
“I’ve gone on and on about cross country being the intersection of country and all these other genres,” said the 27-year-old New Jersey native. “But when you zoom out from that definition a little bit, and in practice, in reality, cross country is a movement.”
Since his breakout viral hit, “My Truck,” landed in 2019, BRELAND has quickly immersed himself in Nashville’s songwriting rooms, taking over as the king of country collabs. He’s had songs with Keith Urban, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Jimmie Allen, Dierks Bentley, Tennille Townes, Lauren Alaina and Chase Rice, just to name a few. With each co-writing session, he’s building on his brand of a more fluid and inclusive genre.
“We live in a world where there are a lot of different divisions,” said BRELAND. “They pop up everywhere, whether it’s political or not, people don’t really agree on a lot. And music is one of the unifiers that we have. It’s one of the only things that we have that really brings people together.”
The Georgetown University grad grew up in a very musical family, which he jokingly referred to as the Von Trapps. His parents met in a gospel choir and they have continued their musical ministry. After singing in a cappella in college, BRELAND moved to Atlanta to write songs for other artists. But his goal has always been to be a singer, and after seeing positive reaction on social media to a demo for “My Truck,” he took the leap.
He got early support from Urban, a similarly minded country artist who brought him into the studio to work on tracks for Urban’s 2020 record “Speed of Now, Pt. 1.” Since then, BRELAND has been hopping from one collaboration to the next. Those collabs also led to his first CMA nomination for musical event of the year on the Bentley No. 1 song “Beers on Me” with HARDY.
“When I’m in those types of rooms, I’m not really worried about what the outcome is going to be. I just want to try to make the best song possible,” said BRELAND. “I think musically I bring so many different sounds and possibilities on a record that if I’m on a more country-leaning song, I might be the hip-hop element as a feature. If I’m on a more hip hop-leaning song, I might be the country element.”
His album has even more features with other artists: a country trap song anchored by Urban’s banjo and vocals, a poppy duet with Ingrid Andress, a slow jam drinking song with country group Lady A and the title track with Mickey Guyton.
Together with his producers Sam Sumser and Sean Snell, BRELAND also reinterprets samples and interpolations of older country songs to bridge his music to country’s past, most notably songs by female artists. In a homage to Shania Twain, BRELAND’s “Natural” mimics the distinctive guitar riffs from “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” while the song “County Line” uses the jingly keyboard from the No. 1 crossover hit “Nobody” by Sylvia, which came out in 1982.
Co-written with Hunt and country singer-songwriter Ernest, BRELAND raps about small town characters with tongue-in-cheek lyrics over a beat built over the distinctive ’80s sounding “Nobody” melody. Ernest said that Sumser brought them the sample, and the writers immediately started vibing on its throwback sound.
“Trends come back around,” Ernest said of reworking the song. “I think we’re just all tipping our hat and paying homage to the stuff that had the sauce before us.”
BRELAND said, “Both of those songs can exist under the umbrella of historical country music.”
Given that gospel was his family’s cornerstone, BRELAND said his parents ideally would have wanted him to continue that path of religious music. But he found a different way to preach a unifying message.
“Whether or not it’s a directly religious message, I do think that there is a God message in the music, which is being positive,” said BRELAND. “I want people to feel good. I want people to be positive. I want people to love each other.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall
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