In 2001, a likeable group of young twenty-somethings came to the States from Canada and were signed to DreamWorks Records in Nashville. They instantly had a couple hits (“I Should Be Sleeping” and “Fall Into Me” were both Top 5 at country radio) and sold a bunch of copies of their self-titled debut album. When it came time for their 2nd album, the band lost their charm in layer upon layer of Richard Marx’s ‘pop’ production. DreamWorks tried to work the album at radio but programmers found it too glossy so Emerson returned back to Canada (where the record was a hit) and parted ways with the label (which later folded). Emerson Drive resurfaced in late 2006 as the flagship artist for Midas Records Nashville.
Produced by Alabama’s bassist Teddy Gentry and longtime Nashville producer Josh Leo, “Countrified” is, while still thoroughly modern, a country album without any glossy production. One of the things that has set Emerson Drive apart from the beginning was that this was a band that demanded to play on their records (something few bands do in Nashville) and here the band sounds better than ever. Guitarist Danick Dupelle, keyboardist Dale Wallace, drummer Mike Melancon, bassist Patrick Bourque and fiddle/mandolin player David Pichette capably back up vocalist Brad Mates, who is one of the best male vocalists in the genre of country music. The band plays arrangements that fill in the right places and each instrument is given equal volume.
First single “A Good Man” served as a good reintroduction to radio for the band. With a melodic piano/fiddle combination opening up the song, Emerson Drive found the perfect song, with lyrics that show the value of family, to serve as a bridge from the older poppier style to their new, more confident and organic countrified pop. With sterling fiddles and rhythmic vocals, “Testify” comes off sounding like a modern version of a Charlie Daniels Band song. Written by Mates with his producers and Ronnie Rogers, the song goes further to prove that Emerson Drive does, indeed, want to be taken seriously as a country band as it’s miles more ‘country’ than any of their previous songs were. From the moment I heard “Moments” last summer, I knew that it would do very well at country radio. And like any good song man, I was right. The song just became the band and Midas Records’ first number one hit. It tells a touching story of a man who, while down on his luck, saves another man (Mates’ narrator) from suicide. It’s the kind of story song that works so well in country music. The goofy ditties may get people to buy a record (physical or digital) but it’s songs like “Moments” that make them worth listening to over and over again.
Singer/songwriter Jeffrey Steele has written so many hits the last few years (about 80% of Montgomery Gentry’s and the first three singles from Rascal Flatts’ current album) that it has become easy to spot a song written by him. “Sweet Natural Girl” has a rough, slightly rowdy country/rock sound to it that screams Jeffrey Steele. Emerson Drive take the song add in their very good country chops and let loose at the end of the song with Dupelle and Pinchette fantastically playing off of each other. “Lucky Man” is a song that reminds me of something that Collin Raye might have sang in the past and Emerson Drive does well with the song. That being said, since Montgomery Gentry currently has a single of the same name (but a different song) there’s not really much of a chance the song is released as a single. The title track, “Countrified Soul” serves a double purpose, aside from being a good song, it also reminds people that the band is a country band, not some pop band masquerading as one.
Dupelle and Mates co-wrote “Boy Becomes A Man” with their label boss, songwriter Keith Follessé and it tells a story much in the same way that “Moments” does. It’s soft, tender and showcases the human condition. The band ends the record with a rousing and spirited remake of Charlie Daniels’ classic “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” Mr. Daniels himself even guests on the song for a fun little fiddle duet. The song plays out basically the same as the original however the band melds a bit of their personality in the accompaniment of the main fiddle playing melding in licks of classic hits in there towards the end as well.
In the end Emerson Drive has made out a lot better recording for a smaller ‘indie’ record label than they did for the bigger DreamWorks label. Gone is any semblance of gloss and in its place is a fine mixture of contemporary country tunes that hit all the right notes. Fans of previous records will like it but fans of organic, harmony driven country music should check the record out as well. It is, by far, the band’s best effort and one of the finer albums to be released in 2006.