Music News & Reviews

Kentucky's Sundy Best builds on a big year with new album

Sundy Best's cajon player Kris Bentley signs a cajon Shaun Charlton (back, in cap) built for his son, Jackson. Sundy Best met fans at the Walmart in Hamburg Pavilion in Lexington, Ky., on Dec. 3, 2014, to sign copies of its new CD, "Salvation City." Photo by Rich Copley | Herald-Leader staff.
Sundy Best's cajon player Kris Bentley signs a cajon Shaun Charlton (back, in cap) built for his son, Jackson. Sundy Best met fans at the Walmart in Hamburg Pavilion in Lexington, Ky., on Dec. 3, 2014, to sign copies of its new CD, "Salvation City." Photo by Rich Copley | Herald-Leader staff. rcopley@herald-leader.com

Sundy Best didn't set out to be the most overachieving band in country music this year.

Certainly releasing a career-jolting album and spending most of the year on the road supporting it would be pretty good for any band. But then the Lexington-based duo of Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley turned around and recorded another album, Salvation City, that was released last week.

"If you had asked us back in March when we put the first one out, I don't think there's any way we would have imagined putting another one out this year," cajon player Bentley said before a Wednesday night CD signing at the Wal-Mart in Hamburg Pavilion. "We kept writing music, and this summer, we felt we had some strong enough songs to entertain the idea, and we were given the opportunity to go into the studio.

"It all kind of happened organically."

And that kind of works for Sundy Best.

Thus far, the Prestonsburg-raised duo has thrived on word-of-mouth promotion, as opposed to trying to knock hit singles up the charts. So it is helpful to keep a steady stream of new music flowing.

"If we have the songs, and it's finished, and we can put it out the right way, let's do it," Jamerson said. Bentley added, "We've been playing three or four of these songs on tour all year."

Some of the tunes will be familiar to fans, including the ballad Distance, which was an extra track on the group's 2013 release, Door Without A Screen.

But what really makes the duo happy about the new album is noting maturity and development in their music. For instance, Bentley, the percussionist who has primarily played the boxy cajon, worked on a full drum kit on a number of the album's tracks.

"We weren't sure how it would go, and we put him behind a drum kit, and he's a fantastic drummer," said Van Fletcher, the group's manger.

Drums was how Bentley started, but he pared down to the cajon, which he sits on and slaps with his hands, when Sundy Best was first making its way through smaller Lexington venues like BD's Mongolian Grill at Hamburg and Redmon's on Main Street, where the group developed a huge University of Kentucky following.

In addition to drums, which Bentley says is mixed with cajon on the album, listeners will hear expanded sounds like the very 1970's country and western sound of I Want You to Know (World Famous Love Song).

"We had been introduced to this band, the World Famous Headliners, that's kind of rockabilly, but also soul," Jamerson said. "It's kind of a tribute to them almost."

Bentley added, "We've always liked that sound with that sort of southwestern feel. Someone commented yesterday that it reminds them of an old Glenn Campbell song. And that's exactly what we were going for.

"We're starting to see some of the things that have inspired and influenced us in our own music."

I Want You to Know and some of the other distinctive songs on the album came from the hardest work. They spent weeks trying to find the right tempo and feel for Fishin' which takes on a driving groove after a gritty opening.

The Wal-Mart signing gave them a chance to encounter something else they have been developing over the past year: A growing fanbase. A line of folks clutching CDs lined up through several aisles at the store waiting for signatures, which Bentley and Jamerson now expertly blow on so they won't smudge.

Many fans wore Sundy Best T-shirts with the name of the group's signature song, I Wanna Go Home written on them. Then there were the Charltons.

Shaun Charlton handed Bentley a cajon he had built for his 6-year-old son, Jackson, with the band's name on one side and a blue panel with the shape of Kentucky on the other.

"We're big Sundy Best fans," Charlton said, his wife Deanna adding that Jackson had a Sundy Best-themed birthday party.

Though they were buying CDs, most fans I talked to had already heard the new album and liked it.

"It feels like we broke into a new world," Jamerson said of Salvation City. "I feel like we're becoming a lot more comfortable in who we are and what we're doing."

After traveling most of this year, one thing they look forward to in the next month is being in Lexington, which they say feels like home.

"I never expected to feel the way I feel about this town, because it always seemed like this huge, overwhelming place," Jamerson says. "That's not it at all.

"We love it here, now."

And they've been productive here. The duo points out that if they include their first album, Door Without a Screen, which came out in the summer of 2013, they have put out three albums in 16 months. They laugh at the suggestion of keeping up the pace. But they've also proven they aren't going to sit on new tunes waiting for the right time.

"We realize, hey, this thing will keep growing as long as we're putting music out," Bentley says. "So let's keep putting music out."

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