Chris Young has become a pillar in the country genre with his distinctive baritone and memorable storytelling. Since signing his record deal with RCA Nashville at the age of 20, the multi-platinum artist, one of Billboard’s top country artists of the decade, has amassed over five billion career streams and 12 No. 1 hits, ten as a songwriter. Now, Young has entered an exciting new chapter with an expanded version of his eighth studio album – Famous Friends (Deluxe Edition).
A traditionalist who continues to push the genre forward with modern production, adept songwriting and captivating collaborations, Young reflects on his hometown crew on the charttopping title track lead single with an assist from real-life friend and labelmate Kane Brown. The anthemic ode to his hometown has Young shining a light on his own friends with soaring guitar features and a pounding beat that will excel in the live setting.
Written with frequent collaborators Cary Barlowe and Corey Crowder while at a headline tour stop several years ago, the double-platinum “Famous Friends” has Young name-dropping real friends in his life. The three songwriters had already penned “Raised On Country” that weekend and after catching Young’s live show, Barlowe and Crowder wanted to capture the crowd’s energy and the singer’s electricity onstage. Young embraced the idea and says the song gives him the ability to share how he grew up. He later sent the song to Brown who loved what he heard, and Young suggested a collaboration on “Famous Friends.”
“He and I are good buddies and being able to have that history together, it comes off as totally real – because it is,” Young says of Brown adding his vocals to the track.
Capping 2021 as Billboard’s Country Airplay Song of the year, “Famous Friends” took home Collaborative Video of the Year at the 2021 CMT Music Awards and earned 3 Country Music Association Awards nominations, 7 Academy of Country Music Awards nominations and his first American Music Awards and iHeart Radio Music Awards nods. It has Young mentioning Rutherford County, the area where he grew up in Tennessee, and Brown’s hometown of Hamilton County before singing of their current locale – Nashville’s Davidson County. “It means a lot because it’s honest and it’s the truth,” Young says of the autobiographical lyrics. “Being able to sneak something like that into a song, that’s a piece of me.”
Young’s many famous friends are featured throughout the album. In addition to Brown on “Famous Friends,” Lauren Alaina, Old Dominion, Jimmie Allen, Cassadee Pope and Mitchell Tenpenny each collaborate with the singer on the 20-track project. Co-writers Sarah Buxton and Hillary Lindsey also provide backing vocals.
“There are so many incredibly talented artists, writers and producers who made this album possible,” Young, who served as producer alongside Crowder, Mark Holman and Chris DeStefano, explains. “Having friends lend their vocals to songs they were a part of was only natural for an album titled Famous Friends.”
Alaina’s vocal talent and captivating energy complement Young’s memorable baritone on the nostalgic breakup anthem “Town Ain’t Big Enough.” Meanwhile, Tenpenny’s assist on the introspective “At the End of a Bar” further elevates the project. Young and Tenpenny wrote “At the End of a Bar” with DeStefano in February 2021 during a Nashville snowstorm where most of the city was shut down. It was Tenpenny who suggested the song’s title.
“It’s a true testament to never skip a day of work because you never know what you might write,” Young says. “It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to sing, and Mitchell Tenpenny and I had entirely too much fun stacking vocals on this, so we had to make it a duet.”
Young has had an impressive track record with duets as his previous 2016 collaborations – “Sober Saturday Night” with Vince Gill and the Grammy nominated “Think of You” with Cassadee Pope – both reached No. 1. The success of those songs as well as his next two chart toppers, “Losing Sleep” and “Hangin’ On,” kept Young on the road as headliner for several years. In 2019, Young sold nearly 500,000 tickets throughout his Raised On Country World Tour playing for fans in three countries.
The singer is no stranger to putting himself into his songs, whether in the writing room or on the stage. The deeply personal “Drowning,” released in 2019, was written about a close friend Young lost several years ago. He and co-writers Crowder and Josh Hoge were each thinking about someone they lost too soon when they sat down to pen the song. The poignant music video for “Drowning,” in which Young made his directorial debut, includes people sharing photos of loved ones they’ve lost.
His live performance of “Drowning” from CMT Artists of the Year in 2019 struck a major chord with country fans and garnered the singer his first-ever award for CMT Performance of the Year at the fan-voted 2020 CMT Music Awards. Young’s award-winning performance happened when he stepped in to perform for Brown, who lost his drummer Kenny Dixon in a car crash days before the awards show.
“I wrote ‘Drowning’ about a friend of mine, Adam, who passed away,” Young said in his acceptance speech. “Kane had just tragically lost a really close friend of his and that was really the meaning of this song. It was a really difficult moment for me to get up there and play that knowing that he was watching and knowing everything he was going through.”
Young, who frequented writers rounds and sought out co-writers to work with before moving to Nashville in 2006, gets just as much joy out of songwriting as he does touring. Songs like album opener “Raised On Country” embody the best of both worlds for the singer as he says the upbeat track encompasses what his live show is while also allowing him to tip his hat to his influences including Joe Diffie, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Strait, who he name-drops in the song. In fact, Strait serves as a bookend to the album as final track “Tonight We’re Dancing” also mentions the singer. “It wasn’t deliberate at all, but it’s definitely amazing to have a nod to one of my biggest influences opening and closing an album this important to me,” Young says.
The late Diffie, who passed away in 2020, was the first artist to reach out to Young and thank the singer for mentioning him in “Raised On Country.” “He was one of the people that I grew up listening to and loved his voice,” Young says of Diffie. “Songs like ‘Pickup Man’ are fun and everybody knows all the words to that, and then to be able to turn around and give you ‘Ships That Don’t Come In.’ The breadth of what he was able to do as an artist was always really cool.”
It is this same musical breadth that Young showcases on Famous Friends as “Raised On Country” and “Drowning” demonstrate the emotional spectrum of the project. “Those are very different songs,” Young, who has over 13 million singles sold and 24 R.I.A.A. Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum certifications, says. “You might have something fun and anthemic that name-drops a whole bunch of people that I grew up listening to and then on the other end of the spectrum you have something that is very deeply personal and talking about losing somebody too soon.”
Additional album highlights include the vivid and vulnerable “Rescue Me,” which serves as a twist on the typical love song, and “Cross Every Line,” the only track on Famous Friends that Young didn’t write. “That first verse hooked me, and the rest of the song never let go,” he says of the latter penned by Lindsey, David Garcia and Chase McGill. “Whenever I think, ‘I wish I wrote this one,’ I know it’s time to cut it.”
Young has remained a mainstay on country radio since his first No. 1 in 2009 with “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song).” Written with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten, the song is a staple in Young’s live show and one of his favorites to perform. While the steamy ballad marks Young’s
upward trajectory within the country genre, other career highlights include being asked to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2017 and selling out Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in 2018. And in 2021, Young received a Tennessee Music Pathways marker in his hometown of Murfreesboro, TN, installed on the Middle Tennessee State University campus outside the newly renovated Chris Young Café, a learning lab and live entertainment venue that bears his name.
With the release his eighth studio album, Famous Friends, the 36-year-old singer and Tennessee native nostalgically reflects on his past while optimistically looking forward to his future.
“I’ve been very lucky that all this stuff has happened to me at this point in my career. It just makes me want to work harder for whatever’s going to come next,” he says. “I think there’s a whole lot for me to look forward to with the next step and what the next chapter is for me as an artist. Hopefully it blows people away.”
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