Tex­ans get­ting closer to big stage

> Eli Young Band’s eclec­tic sounds stir the coun­try

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - News - By Mark Jor­dan

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

As their ma­jor-la­bel de­but inches up the coun­try mu­sic charts and they play big­ger venues be­fore larger crowds, mem­bers of the Eli Young Band have found a sim­ple way to track their progress in the mu­sic world.

“We’ve been go­ing to a lot of awards shows re­cently,” says the band’s lead singer, Mike Eli. “The first one we went to, we were up in the rafters, but as the awards sea­son has gone on we’ve got­ten a lit­tle closer and a lit­tle closer. Fi­nally at this last awards show — we played the CMT Awards (in June) — we got to be on stage. We played 40 sec­onds of ‘Al­ways the Love Songs.’”

If the suc­cess of Jet Black & Jeal­ous is any in­di­ca­tion, the Texas quar­tet will likely be on award show stages a lot more in the fu­ture. Re­leased last fall, Jet Black & Jeal­ous climbed to No. 5 on the coun­try charts and has al­ready spawned three Top 40 sin­gles, in­clud­ing the band’s cur­rent hit “Ra­dio Waves.” The record also earned them a nom­i­na­tion for Top New Vo­cal Duo or Group ear­lier this year at the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic Awards.

The hits have

cat­a­pulted the eight-year-old Eli Young Band into some pres­ti­gious com­pany, open­ing for, among oth­ers, such di­verse head­lin­ing acts as Alan Jack­son and the Dave Matthews Band. On Wed­nes­day the group, which opened for Jamey John­son at Min­gle­wood Hall in the spring, head­lines their own show at the Mid­town venue.

“This has been the busiest year we’ve ever had,” says Eli. “We’ve gone from trav­el­ing just in the South­west to trav­el­ing na­tion­ally and play­ing shows all over the United States.”

The Eli Young Band started in Den­ton, Texas, as a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween its name­sakes, Uni­ver­sity of North Texas stu­dents Eli and gui­tarist James Young. In 2000, fel­low Ea­gles Jon Jones and Chris Thomp­son signed up on bass and drums, re­spec­tively, and the band made its of­fi­cial de­but.

“The first few years it was just go­ing and play­ing and hav­ing a good time,” says Eli. “We were play­ing mostly cov­ers be­cause we had just started writ­ing to­gether. So the sound kind of evolved on its own.”

When the band did start pro­duc­ing orig­i­nal ma­te­rial, they drew on a wide range of in­flu­ences — ’70s pop coun­try, Amer­i­cana, Paul Si­mon — that re­flected the in­de­pen­dent spirit of Den­ton.

“Den­ton is a dif­fer­ent kind of town. The peo­ple there and the mu­sic there is ex­tremely di­verse,” says Eli. “It’s a mu­sic school, so you have all kinds of ... mu­si­cians in one town.”

With its tremendous cross­over ap­peal, the Eli Young Band be­gan winning over fans across the state, in­clud­ing an­other young artist named Mi­randa Lam­bert. When the “Nashville Star” fi­nal­ist signed her record deal in 2003, she in­vited the band to open for her in Dal­las and told her pro­ducer Frank Lid­dell to get there early to check them out. Lid­dell was so im­pressed with the group he formed a la­bel to release their 2005 de­but, Level , and the 2006 con­cert al­bum, Live at the Jolly Fox.

“We owe (Mi­randa) a huge debt of grat­i­tude,” says Eli. “If we get any big­ger she might start ask­ing for some pay­back.”

Lid­dell and the band had al­ready started work­ing on their third record, Jet Black & Jeal­ous, when Uni­ver­sal Records-South picked up the band. Con­se­quently, the al­bum has no in­flu­ence from Nashville tastemak­ers.

“We just wanted to make a cool record,” says Eli. “We were lucky enough with this record to have fin­ished most of it be­fore we signed with the la­bel. They al­ready kind of liked what we had done in the stu­dio, so we were able to just go in and fin­ish it.”

Now, the Eli Young Band faces the prospect of fol­low­ing up their break­through, a process they’ve al­ready be­gun with a slew of songs they hope to have recorded by the end of the year.

“Hope­fully, we’ll just keep get­ting closer and closer,” says Eli of the band’s seat­ing prospects at fu­ture awards shows. “We want to be in that front row.”

Up and com­ing Texas coun­try-in­clined but broadly in­flu­enced group The Eli Young Band plays Min­gle­wood Hall on Madi­son this Wed­nes­day.

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