You sense a mix of cheer and restlessness as Jerrod Niemann guides a conversation. Here we are, discussing the good fortune of a country music career that most recently included a hit album (2014’s High Noon) and a platinum-selling single (2013’s Drink to That All Night).
But foremost on the Kansas-born singer’s mind at present is what transpired the previous evening — specifically, a recording session with pal and fellow country star Lee Brice. They were up until the wee hours tinkering on a song that may or may not be included on an album that may or may not be finished.
“We stumbled into this song that neither one of us wrote,” says Niemann, one of the featured artists at Tuesday’s WBUL-FM-sponsored Acoustic Jam concert at the Opera House. “He was going, ‘Dude, I heard this song and they nabbed it for me, but it sounds like your style.’ Then, after he listened to it, he goes, ‘I don’t know. Maybe I should keep it.’ Maybe we’ll just do it together. Either way, we were pretty pumped.”
Regardless of the destiny of the mystery tune, Niemann is promising a change-up when his next album surfaces in 2016. Then again, his fans have become accustomed to the singer’s shuffling of sounds from record to record.
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“I’ve always tried to make every album sound different,” he says. “Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious. On our second album (2012’s Free the Music), we used a horn section for the whole thing. For this one, I didn’t want to cut a bunch of old songs just because I had them sitting around. My new manager got into the business working in A&R (artist and repertoire) at a publishing company, so her ear for great songs is awesome. I only wrote a couple of songs this time. All these other ones she found. It was exciting to get into the studio to find a way to put my stamp on what was basically somebody else’s thoughts.”
Niemann got to do that in an entirely different setting after the release of High Noon. He was part of a Nashville roster enlisted by the Doobie Brothers for Southbound, a 2014 album that revisits several of the band’s most formidable hits with a bit of country companionship. Niemann collaborated on a new version of South City Midnight Lady, a tune co-founding Doobie Brother Patrick Simmons penned for the 1973 album, The Captain and Me.
“Aerosmith and the Doobie Brothers were two bands my parents really played a lot. I always loved South City Midnight Lady because it had a steel guitar on it. So when I saw the list of songs available that they wanted to do, I immediately nabbed that one before anybody else could. I thought, ‘This is the most country song on the list.’
“What’s crazy about this business I work in is that stuff comes up that you didn’t even know could be on your bucket list because it’s just so far out there. So to be able to call my parents, who have always had my back while I was chasing this crazy dream, and tell them about working with the Doobie Brothers was really special.”
Collaborations with artists as stylistically varied as Brice and the Doobie Brothers have become part of a career that has seen success come in gradual but pronounced increments. It’s a pace that suits Niemann just fine.
“They say ‘slow and steady wins the race,’ which is great because I know I’m all over the board,” Niemann says. “I really just love so many areas of country music. I’m always changing up everything, so I think it takes awhile for folks to connect the dots.
“I’m just hoping that eventually when something kind of crazy comes on the radio, people will just have to guess that it might be me. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a whirlwind of emotions, but they are all part of the journey.”
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com
If You Go
Performing: Jerrod Niemann, John Michael Montgomery, Charles Kelley, Easton Corbin, Thompson Square, Scotty McCreery, Raelynn, Craig Campbell, Cassadee Pope, Chase Bryant, Lauren Alaina and Brandy Clark.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 8
Where: Lexington Opera House
Tickets: $98 (proceeds benefit Kentucky Children’s Hospital)