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.
With second solo outing Black Sky, the versatile star shows off his trademark earthy, anthemic style as never before.
Recorded in Nashville with the cream of Music City’s mythic session players, Black Sky is a landmark release from the tireless husband and father of two, encompassing co-writes with longtime creative foil Alan Caswell, along with Kaylens Rain’s Glen Harrison, and Caitlyn Shadbolt.
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.
“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.”
After winning the Gympie Muster’s prestigious Maton Talent Search in 2003, McAlister netted his first Golden Guitar in 2007, taking home 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 Song Of The Year and Heritage Song of the Year (for Luke O’Shea co-write ‘Lady of the Land’), and garnered scores of APRA, TIARA, and Victorian National Country Music Awards wins and nominations.
Ramping up the intensity of careworn solo debut There to Here (2008), Black Sky builds on an enviable creative bedrock.
McAlister Kemp’s three-album run firmly established McAlister as one of Australian country music’s enduring greats. All Kinds of Tough (2010), Country Proud (2012), and Harder to Tame (2014) stormed the ARIA Country and Mainstream Albums Charts, spawning irrepressible radio favourites such as “It Don’t Buy You Love”, “Something to Build On”, and anti-bullying anthem “Fight Me”, along with a slew of Number 1 hits including “All Kinds of Tough”, “Hell Yeah”, and “Hard Work”. Along the way, MK picked up a Golden Guitar for Best New Talent, took out the 2011 CMC Music Award for Best New Oz Artist, performed at Nashville’s CMA Fest, opened for the legendary Alan Jackson on the megastar’s sold-out 2011 Australian tour, and joined country music giants Big & Rich on the road in the U.S.
“With Black Sky, I said right from the beginning that I wasn’t going to stray too far from McAlister Kemp,” McAlister says. “Because I wrote a lot of those songs, and I love them – they’re a part of me. You’ve got to have those songs that people feel like they’ve lived.”
Lead single “Black Sky” thunders like the elusive stormclouds longed 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.’
“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.”
The infectious “In a Band” honours those aspects of a musician’s life that fuel McAlister’s creative fire.
“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. ‘In a Band’ captures a bit of that journey.”
Soul-steeped anthem “Storm Front” harnesses organ, chiming keys and tearing guitars, serving as a timely reminder that the most important of life’s labours is the protection of those things we hold most dear – whatever the cost.
A nod to festival favourites such as Dierks Bentley and Zac Brown Band, “Til Summer Slips Away” is another anthem: this time to long 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. It’s a theme reprised by the intensely personal “Miracle on the Way”.
“‘Miracle on the Way’ is about my wife and I having our first daughter, Jessica,” McAlister explains. “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 country rock in barroom stomp “More To It”, and a cautionary tale of youthful rebellion and escape gone wrong in the electrifying “Clyde”.
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.