Nashville veterans Anna Wilson and Monty Powell pair up as Troubadour 77 to breathe life into quintessential music traditions and affect social change. The duo emerges from behind the glass of writing hit songs for Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, and Lady Antebellum, revealing deep-rooted inspiration from the Laurel Canyon movement of songwriters.
The namesake itself serves as a tribute to the legendary Troubadour club in LA, where icons of the late 60s and early 70s, like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles gained footing. “77” points to the watershed year in music history. Marked by staple songs like “Hotel California,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “How Deep Is Your Love” that competed for chart-topping space on Billboard, 1977 was pivotal. The creative cohorts of the time birthed the new genre of California-country.
“The spirit of what we’re doing sonically, and from a narrative perspective, is rooted in that tradition. While many artists are working toward the most modern sound, we’re trying to pay homage to it,” says Wilson. “Were trying to keep the tradition of that type of songwriter alive and well in the guises happening today. Those artists wrote about issues and social activism. The times aren’t very different than they were back then. They used their voices. Similarly, we want to be artists that have something to sing out for and affect change in a positive way.”
The two acknowledged that their long-tenure as hit songwriter in Music City had generated a platform. Powell shares, “We want to use that platform not to turn out more hit songs, but share songs that have meaning and place in the context of what actually is. That is important to us.”
Wilson and Powell met in Nashville, backstage at a Diamond Rio concert, who Wilson was working for as a publicist. The two have been married for 19 years and making music together as artists, songwriters, and producers for almost three decades.
Collectively, they wrote a dozen number one songs and countless album cuts that appear on over 70 million records and penned the international theme song for Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, Powell was a key creative force in establishing the mega success story of Keith Urban. He was his early producer and one of Urban’s top collaborators for many years. He has credits on Urbans’s first single, “It’s a Love Thing,” then “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” “Long Hot Summer” “Sweet Thing” CMA nominated “Tonight I Wanna Cry.”
Their desire to purvey the Laurel Canyon tradition comes from their unique perspective after spending many years around the writers’ table. They’ve noticed a change in approach and behavior from the emerging generation of songwriters that concerns them.
“We are similar to visual artists. If you go to the Moma in New York, you will see the greatest examples of that art. The radio, the critics, and the Rolling Stone have given us a template of understanding what the great songs are. I don’t think many young, inexperienced writers put their work up against the great pieces and ask, ‘How does mine hold up against that?’ Mostly what I hear is, ‘Hey, can you get this to Keith Urban?’” Powell laughs.
As a mentor to many, Powell frequently shares this sage wisdom: “I tell everyone, it’d like an onion skin tracing project. Lay your song over one from someone like the Beatles, and try to understand why your song is hopefully similar. If it’s not, why is it different? It’s been an ah-ha moment for many people to realize how un-like a great, famous piece of work their song is.”
Powell and Wilson’s longevity as writers proves their talent in storytelling. However, they feel newfound freedom in their artistry when the song’s emotion is personal, not just circumstantially-subjective.
“To use a current metaphor, it’s like taking the mask off and breathing freely,” says Powell. “There is a place where songwriting can almost become like the service industry, particularly when you come up through the Nashville tradition as Anna and I did. The song is in service to the artist that we were working with. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I was constantly making concessions to things I would not have done as a writer or an artist. We are finally free from ulterior goals reflected in the writing or production of our songs.”
T77’s delayed their plans to release their sophomore album, Revolution & Redemption, when the COVID-19 swept the nation early this spring. They landed on a release date earlier this summer, but still felt they needed to adjust the record’s pre-pandemic tone. On August 14, the duo delivered the Deluxe Edition of the album, which included two new songs that are part of what the team is calling The Love Forward Project – aptly titled “Are You Ready for Love” and “More Love.”
Since early spring, Powell and Wilson, like most artists, have employed the available tools to connect with their audience. The T77 Squared Concerts began as a two-song set after observing the digital overload that followed the first month of stay-at-home orders.
“Even the people I love, I couldn’t watch all of it,” says Powell. “15 minutes, we thought people could commit to that. Its been great – we’ve been performing, increasing our socials, and still getting the message out that we planned to do on tour.”
The duo announced that they would be shifting to a slightly longer format, once a month, versus twice, on the seventh of each month beginning October 7. These shows will comprise five-to-seven songs after feedback from fans that they want more after virtual stream fatigue has worn off a bit from the spring.
Fortunately, T77 has managed to stay busy while off the road. Today, they share a new single, “Timeless,” in conjunction with Silver Oak Cellars’ new wine of the same name, unveiled September 1. Silver Oak has not released a new line of wine since the 70s. The duo teamed up with a friend, David Duncan, to write a song for Duncan’s father, Raymond Duncan, founder of Silver Oak, for what was to be his 85th birthday celebration. Unfortunately, Raymond Duncan passed two weeks before this milestone, and the tribute track evolved into a celebration of his life.
“Timeless” encapsulates the unwavering “Nashville Sound” of the late 50s and early 60s. The narrative track nods to the senior Duncan’s home in Colorado – a stunning lyrical snapshot of the American West. The carefully crafted words wrap around the vintage bottle label, a felicitous memorial.
“It’s pretty unique to have a song inspire a wine. Usually, it’s the other way around,” Wilson laughs.
Listen to their latest song, “Timeless” below, and keep up with updates on more upcoming T77 projects, here.