Original Songwriter Demos
[Rating: 4.5 stars]
Countless aspiring songwriters pull into Nashville every day, with nothing but their guitars and their (usually incorrect) notions of how to get started in the music business. And the vast majority of those who manage to stick it out longer than a year often spend the rest of their lives toiling in obscurity, playing in vain at writer’s nights and working day jobs that have nothing to do with what they believe they were called to.
Many of those hopefuls make demos of their songs in hopes of getting them to a publisher or artist who will be absolutely knocked out and want to cut their tunes immediately. It can take a while to sink in that 1) Nashville is just as political as Washington, D.C., and 2) you have to have a good demo of a great (or at least really good) song, sung well and in tune, to get a cut, period. And a professional demo that sounds almost radio-ready is going to get you further than a guitar/vocal done on a boombox.
So the aim of Original Songwriter Demos is to show what some of country’s biggest hits sounded like before they were pitched, how they were sometimes sung by the writers and how they were produced (or not) for maximum impact. This two-disc project (each CD sold separately), which includes songs that were hits from over 20 years ago (“If Tomorrow Never Comes”) to today (“The House That Built Me”), was produced by Scott Hendricks, whose resume includes best-selling albums by Trace Adkins, Brooks and Dunn and others.
Disc one of this series includes Tony Arata’s guitar/vocal demo of “The Dance,” sans the strings that producer Allen Reynolds would add later to Garths Brooks’ hit. Matraca Berg sings a produced version of “Strawberry Wine,” which she wrote with Gary Harrison and which Deana Carter cut, only to have its release stalled for years (but that’s another Nashville story). Gretchen Peters, a fine artist in her own right, sings “Independence Day” here, in a rare example of how a demo was more produced than the final hit version (by Martina McBride).
Disc two includes Hollywood-based vocalist Gia Ciambotti performing the Diane Warren demo of “How Do I Live,” which was cut by both Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes. Rivers Rutherford, who should have had his own deal long ago, performs “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You,” which he wrote with Tom Shapiro. L.A.-based singer Alissa Moreno sings the Rascal Flatts hit she wrote with Jeffrey Steele, “Every Day.” If there’s anything to be gleaned from these discs, it’s how closely the finished radio versions resemble the produced demos. The recording artists may take an occasional liberty with the original melody, but in the end, the less thinking and work a producer or artist has to do, the better. Sorry, but time is money and that’s the truth.
So if you’re an aspiring songwriter, the lesson here is that a cheap demo or a guitar/vocal usually isn’t going to get the job done, and you should buy these albums as a learning tool if nothing else. And if you’re a fan of Nashville hits, you’ll find these recordings fun and interesting. This collection gets such a high rating because Hendricks does such a great job of picking representative demos, and because the people who worked for years to get these songs cut deserve the recognition.