Drew McAlister has long been recognised as one of the nation’s premier songwriters and performers. The former McAlister Kemp mainstay has penned hundreds of tunes, both with and for artists from Graeme Connors to Luke O’Shea to Tamara Stewart. He’s worked with U.S. songwriting royalty including Brett Jones (Jason Aldean), Brian Maher (Taylor Swift), and Dylan Altman (Tim McGraw), and performed alongside the cream of Aussie country talent: Beccy Cole, Sara Storer, Adam Brand, and countless others.
Drew McAlister’s sound is best described, as the singer himself puts it, as ‘organic country rock’: music that moves us both to celebrate life’s greatest joys, and to reflect upon the challenges that confront us all. Black Sky showcases eleven soaring anthems of resilience and love, anchored throughout by McAlister’s incisive reflections on the lessons that bind us together as a people.
Drew McAlister has long been recognised as one of the nation’s premier songwriters and performers. In addition to penning scores of enduring country-rock classics as one half of barnstorming duo McAlister Kemp, McAlister has composed hundreds of tunes both with and for artists from Graeme Connors to Luke O’Shea to Tamara Stewart. He’s worked with U.S. songwriting royalty including Brett Jones (Jason Aldean), Brian Maher (Taylor Swift), and Dylan Altman (Tim McGraw), and has performed alongside the cream of Aussie country talent: Beccy Cole, Sara Storer, Melinda Schneider, Adam Brand, Mike Carr, and countless others.
Drew's third solo album“COMING YOUR WAY”see’s Drew enlist the help of LA-and-Sydney-based producer, Andy Mak from Grove Studios to achieve a progressive, modern country sound. Known for working in pop music (Vera Blue, Tina Arena, Bertie Blackman), Andy’s efforts on Australian country music trio The McClymonts‘ latest release, Endless, demonstrated his genre versatility and his influence shines through on Drew’s new album.
The single”COMING YOUR WAY” is one of those anthemic tunes that is sure to connect and inspire everyone that wants to look brightly into the future.
McAlister’s work as composer, performer, and recording artist has all the warmth and healing qualities of the natural hot springs for which his Northern NSW hometown of Moree is known. With second solo outing and ABC Music debut Black Sky – McAlister’s first post-McAlister Kemp release – the versatile star shows off his trademark earthy, anthemic style as never before. Produced by McAlister with input from Ben Robertson, Black Sky swells with the singer’s heartfelt reflections on contemporary Australian life.
Recorded in Nashville with the cream of Music City’s mythic session players, and featuring additional tracking laid down in the picturesque surrounds of McAlister’s Blue Mountains home, Black Sky is a landmark release from the hard-working husband and father of two.
A true labour of love, Black Sky saw McAlister collaborate with friends both old and new. The album’s eleven tracks encompass co-writes with longtime creative foil Alan Caswell, along with Caitlyn Shadbolt, Glen Harrison (Kaylens Rain), and sought-after guitarist Glenn Hannah.
Drew McAlister’s sound is best described, as the singer himself puts it, as ‘organic country rock’: music that moves us both to celebrate life’s greatest joys, and to reflect upon the challenges that confront us all. True to form, Black Sky showcases towering anthems of resilience, love, and triumph over adversity, anchored throughout by McAlister’s incisive reflections on the lessons that bind us as a people.
“It had to tick two boxes,” McAlister says of the album’s driving purpose. “It had to have an energy about it, but it still had to have that songwriter element to it, as well. I still wanted to tell a story – that’s the thing I’ve always loved about country music: the story element. There’s still that message in the songs here, but I also wanted them to translate live.”
Black Sky draws assuredly on a lifetime of experience. A singer from the age of 7, McAlister went on to carve out a formidable reputation as a commercial composer for TV and radio, travelled the country with the cast of Broadway hit Jesus Christ Superstar, performed as part of tearaway Johnny Cash tribute show Aussies Walk the Line, and made several appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday and other popular programs along the way.
At the outset of his career, McAlister landed an international publishing and record deal with industry heavyweight EMI. McAlister’s early days with the label saw him focus his formidable creative attention on writing and recording a debut album in the pop and soul style. But a songwriting visit to Nashville proved to be a watershed for the versatile star, steering McAlister away from the mainstream pop superhighway and down a wide-open country road.
“I was signed to an album deal with EMI – I was a pop-soul act, I guess, which is really weird, looking back on it!” McAlister recalls. “But I was sent to a whole bunch of places to write songs. And on one of those trips I got to go to Nashville, and I went to a little place called Douglas Corner, which is a songwriter’s hangout. And that’s when it dawned on me. I guess the seed was planted then – I thought, wow, this is really cool, I’m digging this, even though I was writing for a soul album! It just felt like this could be home for me.”
After taking out the coveted top spot in the Gympie Muster’s Maton Talent Search in 2003, McAlister journeyed to the Middle East in 2004 and 2005 to perform for Aussie troops as part of the Forces Advisory Council on Entertainment (FACE) initiative. His much-admired 2004 debut EP turned heads and won fans with tracks such as “Keep on Keeping On” and “Broken Angels”, before McAlister netted his first Golden Guitar in 2007, taking out the Vocal Collaboration of the Year Award for ‘A Little Bit of Country in Us All’ with Alan Caswell. He’s since collected Golden Guitars for APRA Song Of The Year and Heritage Song of the Year for his work on Luke O’Shea co-write ‘Lady of the Land’, penned ‘Along for the Ride’ for charity bike ride event Tour De Cure, and garnered scores of TIARA, APRA, and Victorian National Country Music Awards wins and nominations.
Ramping up the intensity of McAlister’s careworn solo debut There to Here (2008), Black Sky builds on an enviable creative bedrock. McAlister Kemp’s studio debut All Kinds of Tough (2010) landed in the ARIA Country Albums Chart Top 10, spawning irrepressible radio favourite “It Don’t Buy You Love”, along with Number 1 hits “All Kinds of Tough”, “Hell Yeah”, and “Hard Work”. The album netted MK a Golden Guitar for Best New Talent, along with the 2011 CMC Music Award for Best New Oz Artist.
ARIA Award-nominated follow-up Country Proud (2012) debuted at the No. 1 spot on the ARIA Country Albums Chart, storming the Mainstream Album Chart Top 20 and launching radio and chart hits including “Country Proud”, “Good Idea”, “Something to Build On”, and “After Midnight (with Doc Walker)”. Rounding out an impressive trilogy for McAlister Kemp, Harder to Tame (2014) featured profoundly resonant anti-bullying anthem “Fight Me”, along with a slew of rousing tracks including “What a Woman Can Do” and “Stand a Little Taller”. In their six years together, McAlister Kemp performed in the Global Artist Showcase at Nashville’s peak country music meet CMA Fest, opened for the legendary Alan Jackson on the megastar’s sold-out 2011 Australian tour, and toured the U.S. with country music giants Big & Rich. The duo also served up essential festival sets at the Gympie Muster, CMC Rocks the Hunter, and the Deni Ute Muster. McAlister Kemp’s final release, The Best of 2008 – 2014, is a monument to McAlister’s formidable musical mind. “There were songs with McAlister Kemp that really affected people – songs that people really gravitated toward,” McAlister says. “With Black Sky, I said right from the beginning that I wasn’t going to stray too far from McAlister Kemp. Because I wrote a lot of those songs, and I love them – they’re a part of me. I remember Adam Brand said to me many, many years ago, you need connecting songs, man. I’ve never forgotten that. You’ve got to have those songs that people feel like they’ve lived.” Lead single and workingman’s anthem “Black Sky” thunders like the elusive stormclouds prayed for by its everyday heroes.
‘Sweat drippin’ from a young man’s brow, he’s workin’ hard and he’s workin’ it out. Keeps an eye on the sky above, but it never comes. He’s raising up a young family and every mornin’ she makes him coffee. Been waitin’ for the day when she’s had enough, but it never comes.’
“I wanted to go back to my roots with the first single,” McAlister explains. “Both of my parents came from properties outside Garah, which is just outside of Moree – so my history is from the land. I still remember stories that mum and dad told me about growing up on the land, and also about the tough times with the drought. I guess it’s more important now than it’s ever been, because this El Niño thing is just screwing everything up and we’re in for a lot more tough times. So I wanted to put a spotlight on it, and to tell a bit of story about these two people who are doing it tough. They’re like a lot of people out there.”
The infectious “In a Band” honours those aspects of the musician’s life that most fuel McAlister’s creative fire.
“If you look at the career someone might have in music, what it comes back to is – and I noticed this about McAlister Kemp – the one true thing, the one really real, organic and honest thing about music is, first, the creation of it, and then the actual performing of it,” McAlister says. “That hour-and-fifteen-minutes on stage is still like nothing else you can ever do. It’s like a rush that you can’t not want more of. ‘In a Band’ captures a bit of that journey.”
Soul-steeped anthem “Storm Front” harnesses organ, chiming keys and tearing guitars to an all-important message: that the most important of life’s labours is the defence of those things we hold most dear in the face of impending disaster – whatever the cost.
A nod to festival favourites such as Dierks Bentley and the unstoppable Zac Brown Band, “Til Summer Slips Away” is another anthem – this time to the simple joys of unending summer days and balmy nights filled with cold beer and easy living.
Driving country rock statement “Bills” is the first of several tracks to consider both the pressures and simple joys of family life.
‘Just when you think you’re gettin’ there and you’ve almost paid them off, you get reminders in the mail for money you ain’t got. Ninety days it’s overdue and it’s underlined in red.’
“Well, there’s plenty of fodder to write about!” Drew says of the inspiration he draws from family. “‘Bills’, for instance – that’s me! It’s me and 90 per cent of the population. Bills, man, they never go away. So I can relate to that – I can relate to every song on the album because I’m living it. ‘Miracle on the Way’ is about my wife and I having our first daughter, Jessica. Both of my girls were IVF, and with Jess it was like, man, we don’t care if it’s a boy or if it’s a girl, we’re just happy to have a baby!And it literally was a miracle.”
At once delicate and powerful, “Last Night on Earth” introduces stirring strings to the mix, while the sensuous, radio-ready “You Get Me” gives thanks for the constancy, love and support of a tireless life companion.
There’s driving rock in barroom country stomp “More To It” – an impassioned defence of country music – and the electrifying “Clyde”, a cautionary tale of youthful rebellion and escape gone wrong.
‘If I wondered why she ran that night I never thought to ask, we were headin’ into trouble we were goin’ there real fast. Two teenage desperados with my foot down on the gas, I was lookin’ for a future she was runnin’ from her past.’
Black Sky is Drew McAlister at his rousing, honest best – a rare album of both formidable pedigree and boundless immediacy and heart. Above all, Black Sky is an album overflowing with stories of us.