Josh Shilling solo project

Mountain Heart front man and lead vocalist Josh Shilling is spending the early summer putting the finishing touches on a debut solo project.

He told us yesterday that he had been wanting to work on this for some time, but hadn’t found the right time to get started.

“I’ve been writing a lot this past few years since I moved to Nashville, and have a bunch of songs cataloged. A couple of indie labels had expressed an interest, but I felt that I could put a small team together and do this on my own.”

Josh has been recording with a small scale rhythm section, tracking in a Nashville studio and cutting his vocals at home. He described the sound as rootsy, with a grassy edge.

“I recorded two songs that Mountain Heart has been doing for a couple years. Wondering If You’re Wondering is one I wrote when I was about 19 years old, which has a Sam Cooke, R&B feel to it. People come up after band shows all the time and ask if we have that one on a CD, so it seemed like a natural for my project.

The song is a duet, and I had originally thought about having John Cowan sing on it, but it felt a bit weird to have two guys singing a love song together. So I did it with Cia Cherryholmes, who sang her butt off.”

Another of Josh’s familiar songs will be included, one written with Craig Market, which served as the title track for Adam Steffey’s 2009 album, One More For The Road.

“That’s another one that fans are asking for. Mountain Heart had been doing it with just guitar and dobro since before Adam cut it. I certainly don’t want to step on Adam’s cut, so we recorded it with this scaled-down arrangement. It’s really a very different sound.

Cut it live with Randy Kohrs on dobro and Aaron Ramsey on bass, and me on guitar. There are some minor studio “mistakes” (you can hear Randy breathing), but we wanted to capture the raw, live feel.”

Though tracked with electric bass and drums, Josh said that it’s informed by bluegrass music, cut with bluegrass pickers, but with a country-flavored, modern grass sound combined with a Jackson Browne-ish ’80s rock vibe.

“That may sound extreme, but it’s more laid back than the last Mountain Heart release [That Just Happened]!

This project has a contemporary Nashville sound. It could definitely lean towards country radio but because of all of the bluegrass musicians involved and the fact that we tracked these things as live as we possibly could, we were able to really give the songs a modern but unique and fresh feel. With an organic production like the old Dixie Chicks records and Randy Kohrs playing lap steel and dobro throughout each song, it has hints of the 70s and 80s rock groups like Jackson Browne. The performances on this project are real; just great musicians getting comfortable with the song, the room, and the people.

In producing, I just got out of their way and let them do what they love to do the way that they love to do it. To add to the great mix of players and the rootsy production, the lyric content on this record is great. I’m being completely genuine when I say that these are my favorite songs that I’ve ever been able to play live or record.

It’s going to be a very, very cool project; strong material, with hit potential in several different markets.”

The other four tracks are new songs Josh has written recently with what he described as some of his favorite writers: Michael Delaney who has hits with Faith Hill, Diamond Rio and others; Jimmy Olander, Diamond Rio guitarist who has penned hits for Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean; Mark Beeson who has cuts by Kenny Rogers, Restless Heart and LeAnn Rimes; and Chris Roberts, who Josh says is a new talent currently flying under the radar in Nashville.

He hasn’t assigned a title yet, but Shilling expects to have the album available at Mountain Heart shows this summer. There should also be some online video soon, shot with multiple cameras in the studio during the tracking sessions.

Sounds like a good’n.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.