Few acts have carved as distinctive a niche in modern musical history as Confederate Railroad. With their high-energy combination of honky-tonk rockers, sensitive ballads, and offbeat humor, they have created a unique identity that has brought them chart success, multi-platinum sales, and continued popularity as a road band. Versatility, likeability, and a willingness to stretch boundaries are all part of the mix, but if there is a formula, not even they can put their finger on it.
"I don't think I have any more of a clue now than I did when we started," laughs founder/frontman Danny Shirley. "I know that if you start thinking, 'Is radio going to like this"' or 'Is this going to offend anybody?' that it really waters things down, so I don't try to second-guess anybody. What I do is look for songs I like--that seems to work best."
Nearly five million albums later, there is no doubt that it works. Songs like "Queen Of Memphis," "Trashy Women," "Jesus And Mama," and "Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind" became major hits and established Confederate Railroad as a key part of country music's landscape during the genre's expansion of the '90s. The accolades kicked off with the Academy of Country Music's Best New Group award in 1993 and have included a Grammy nomination, and a host of nominations from the Country Music Association and the British Country Music Foundation.
For guys who started as a Georgia bar band, it was the stuff of dreams. "I remember saying when we got our first platinum album," says Shirley, "'At this point, our success has pretty much surpassed our talent, and from this point on, everything else is just icing on the cake.'" The latest swirl of icing is the band's new Audium Records CD, Unleashed, a microcosm of everything Shirley and company do best. There is sensitivity, hard-driving honky-tonk, and a generous dose of pure fun, not to mention good-natured new assaults on decorum and political correctness. The rollicking "I'm Diggin' It," as well as "White Trash With Money" and "That 'R' Word" have attitude to spare, and show that time has not dulled the edge of the band's skewed and witty worldview. Likewise, "That's What Brothers Do," "Wasted Time," and "Between The Rainbows And The Rain" show the band's flip side, its ability to capture life's poignant and tender moments. "Body Like A Temple," a duet with country legend and longtime friend George Jones, brims with honky-tonk fire, and "Still One Outlaw Left," finds the band and David Allan Coe, who share a great deal of road history, teaming up for the first time on record. "Borrowed Time" show's the band's way with a pure Southern rocker, and "Thick As Thieves" celebrates the camaraderie that has marked CRR's long road history.
Jones and Coe continue a CRR tradition involving guest artists. Steve Earle and Charlie Daniels are among those who have sung on the band's earlier projects, and this time, songwriters have joined the chorus. Bob DiPiero and Craig Wiseman sing backup on their "Diggin' It," Anthony Smith on his "What Brothers Do," and newly signed Mercury Records artist James Allen Otto on "Borrowed Time."
This album also showcases Shirley's writing skills. He is a co-writer on "White Trash With Money" and "Wasted Time," both based on real-life events. Confederate Railroad's current line-up includes, along with vocalist/guitarist Shirley, Mark DuFresne on drums, Wayne Secrest on bass, Gates Nichols on steel guitar and vocals, Jimmy Dormire on lead guitar, and Cody McCarver on keyboards and vocals. The quintet's love of the give-and-take of live performance is such that they still perform a hundred dates a year, and their legions of fans are as appreciative as ever.