Riding Wave To Pop-country

April 16, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Pat Green had done well for years all on his own.

The country artist sold more than 250,000 copies of his first three albums between 1995 and 2000, all without a major-label contract. He made a nice living, too, as he toured regularly. But although he was well-known on the Southern club circuit, especially in his native Texas, Green felt limited.

"I felt like there was a wall in front of me," says the singer-songwriter, who headlines Rams Head Live on Friday night. "Without somebody with some clout, it's really difficult to get your songs played on the air. Without your songs playing in the Top 40, it's really difficult to tour nationwide."

So in 2001, Green took his budding country career to another level. He signed with the mighty Universal Records, releasing two albums: 2001's Three Days and 2003's Wave on Wave. The latter, his biggest-selling album to date, went gold thanks largely to the hit title track. Since then, Green has put out two more CDs, 2004's Lucky and 2006's Cannonball, both peaking in the Top 10 on the country charts.

His latest album, What I'm For, came out in January. On it, he moves further from the good-ol'-boy-next-door charm of his earlier releases. Instead, he goes for an unabashedly pop-glossed country approach - universally themed songs couched in big, big production.

"I always try to make music for big places. Also in a small place, these songs seem to be bigger than life," says Green, 37. "I try to make songs that get your attention on the iPod or on the stage."

The heavy application of commercial polish is part of his growth, Green says. It's also part of the mainstream machine for whom he now works.

"I'm a businessman. I know they call it showbiz, but it's a business," says Green, who was calling last week from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. "People get mad at artists for making these decisions. But I wish they could understand that this is how I pay the bills for my family and also the bills for everybody in my crew, for my manager, everybody in my manager's office, my agent's office. It takes a lot of people to put a band like mine out on the road. And everybody's got to get a piece of the action, or it's not worth doing."

What I'm For is not in the same league with more freewheeling early releases such as Dancehall Dreamer or Carry On. The slick production, aimed squarely for country-pop radio, is engaging nonetheless. But as Green reaches for lyrical themes that go beyond the simple pleasures of heartland living, he stumbles a bit. On "Footsteps of Our Fathers," presumably one of the "earnest statement" cuts on the album, Green sings, "Now I'm the first to say I don't know what I'm doing/And I ain't gonna preach what I don't know/I ain't no deep theologer, no Ph.D psychologer/I'm making this [stuff] up as I go."

About his more universal shift in songwriting, Green says, "That's a natural progression as you get older, I think. I'm not 25 anymore, and there's a bigger world out there in front of me than it was when I was 25. ... There's a deeper ocean for me to swim around in when I'm writing. It's more fun to explore things I haven't explored before."

On What I'm For, Green works with producer Dann Huff, best known for collaborating with John Mellencamp. The band sounds invested throughout, punching up the music with pronounced traces of rock. A muscular rock vibe informs the yearning "Let Me," his current single.

"It's way outside the box for me. It's almost like a Coldplay country song," Green says. "It's really drone-y and kind of out there."

Actually, it's quite similar to the rock-inflected fare commonly heard on today's commercial country-pop stations. But Green says that it's a style he embraces. It doesn't undermine his artistry.

"Every song I put on a record, I'm proud of it. And I write 90 percent of my music all the time," he says. "Hopefully, it's just interesting enough. You just can't put out any dinky ... song. You actually have to [care] about what you're putting out there in the public."

Green says he didn't go through any quality control at BNA, his current label, which is distributed by Sony-BMG.

"Nobody walked in the door and said, 'You need to change those lyrics or write better songs,' " he says. "I felt that if a company is going to put several million dollars on the table to promote my songs, I'm going to listen to their opinion. But I'm very fortunate that the opinion makers at the label and I share the same taste."

Nothing on What I'm For achieves the smooth yet rootsy feel of "Wave on Wave," which reached No. 3 on the country charts and broke into the pop Top 40. It's Green's biggest hit single to date. But he says he has felt no pressure to repeat the success of "Wave on Wave." Instead, he has focused on pushing his music further into the amiable, streamlined world of country-pop, which he hopes will continue to broaden his fan base.

"I don't really care about No. 1s or accolades. I don't even go to award shows," Green says. "I'm not impressed by that. What counts is that there are people still coming to your show and clap for you."

if you go

Pat Green performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place. Tickets are $27.50. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.

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