Kane Brown’s hands have the words “Home” and “Sick” tattooed across the knuckles, a letter for each finger. From the serious young man from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, much thought went into the ink, a reflection of traditional values shooting through his progressive country.
If the mixed-race vocalist with the deep tenor that mixes Vern Gosdin’s oak with Randy Travis’ presence didn’t look like an eye-catching model, it would be easy to recognize the resemblance of his origin story to those of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. Haggard’s family were dust bowl immigrants, living in a box car, trying to make ends meet, and Cash’s parents raised him in an Arkansas’ sharecroppers’ shack as they worked hard to provide for their children.
And like Haggard and Cash, the triple American Music Awards winner is determined to break ground as he creates a distinctly country music of the moment.
Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Brown’s new album Experiment released November 9. This follow-up to his Platinum-certified 12-week No. 1 self-titled debut album pushes his kind of country forward to smooth ballads and brisk midtempos that capture the soul of commitment, the sweep of desire and the stumble of doubt. But rather than just follow the pack, he reaches back to embrace elements of the traditional that are missing in so much of today’s modern pop-centric country.
“I want that in music,” he acknowledges. “It’s fiddle-driven, and also slide guitar and steel guitar. Just to kind of give it those old school instruments, I feel, is the closest way to bring the old school country music into the new school country music (happening) right now.
“I’m trying to bring the traditional aspects of instruments back into today’s country, and not just use your loop heads or fake drums. I just want to get as close back to that sound as possible while still sounding hip.”
Kane Brown was a certified phenomenon long before the majors came calling. Through online videos, downloads, streams and virulent word of mouth, the young man working at Lowe’s and Target was a certifiable sensation through fans posting and “a crazy dream” turning into a musical mandate.
By February 2016, when he signed with Sony Music Nashville and the now-Platinum-certified “I Used To Love You Sober” was re-released as a single on RCA Nashville/Zone 4, Brown had already experienced exceptional commercial success with his independent debut EP Closer. Due to the strength of his viral fanbase, Closer topped download charts and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart in October 2015. Five months later, his major-label followup EP Chapter 1 debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart (March 2016).
“I didn’t think (music) was going to be like a job. I thought it was just writing songs in the meantime for fun. When I put (‘Sober’) on iTunes and Facebook, and it ended up getting like 32 million views, I was shocked. Suddenly, ‘Sober’ was competing with ‘Die A Happy Man’ when it was at its peak.”
Modest and soft-spoken, Brown may have first tasted commercial success over a year prior, but, by the time he released his RCA Nashville/Zone 4 debut album in December 2016, Brown was well on his way to making history. With the nearing-quadruple-Platinum multi-week No. 1 smash “What Ifs,” featuring former chorusmate Lauren Alaina, he became the first (and remains the only) artist to top all five Billboard country charts concurrently: Top Country Albums, Hot Country Songs (“What Ifs”), Country Airplay, Country Streaming Songs (“What Ifs”) and Country Digital Sales (the nearing-triple-Platinum multi-week No. 1 “Heaven”).
At the close of 2018, Kane Brown’s Experiment was named one of the 10 best albums of the year by the New York Times and “Heaven” was singled as Billboard’s most-played country song of the year.