Sunday, 21 December, 2008 12:57 PM
Jennifer Hanson Rides Her Second
Wind on 'Thankful' (CMA)
by Juan Pont Lezica
2008 CMA Close Up News Service
Not many songwriters
in Nashville would see one of their songs hit No. 1 and another
climb the Top 5 and respond with the words, "Oh, bummer."
Yet that was part of
Jennifer Hanson's reaction to the news early in 2007 when Bucky
Covington released "A Different World," her co-write with
her husband Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, less than a year after
The Wreckers lofted "Leave the Pieces," which she had
written with Billy Austin, to the top of the charts for several
After laughing and acknowledging
the irony of the situation, Hanson put it into perspective. "I
didn't really think of myself as a songwriter at the time, because
I really wrote for myself," she explained. "Both of those
songs are me, through and through. So it was kind of bittersweet,
because I was trying to have my career as an artist, and both songs
kind of slipped through my hands."
But the success of both
songs helped open the door Hanson had been knocking on since 1996,
when she arrived from Los Angeles to seek her fortunes in Nashville.
She signed as a writer with Acuff-Rose Music Publishing (now incorporated
into Sony/ATV Music Publishing) in 1998, obtained an artist development
deal in 2000 and released a single, "Beautiful Goodbye,"
from her self-titled debut album as a major label artist, that rose
to Top 15 in 2003.
Then the story got complicated,
as Capitol Records Nashville and Hanson couldn't agree on a single
that would green-light release of her follow-up album. For two years
she submitted new material, including "A Different World"
and "Leave the Pieces," only to be asked to return to
the drawing board and try again.
"It eventually became
clear to me that we weren't on the same page musically anymore,
so I did what maybe some would consider a stupid move," Hanson
said. "I asked to be released from that deal. And Mike Dungan
[President and CEO of Capitol Records Nashville] was very gracious.
He understood my frustration, so he let me go. It was all completely
It was also generous
that the label cleared Hanson to re-record and release songs she
had cut for a projected second album at Capitol. In the spring of
2006, the journey began toward Thankful, her first album
for Universal Records South.
"I felt liberated
and creative again," Hanson recalled, who co-wrote all the
tracks on Thankful. "There was suddenly so much music in me.
All of a sudden, I went from being in a really dark, non-creative
place to being overfilled with melodies and feeling good about myself."
She felt lucky too, as
income from The Wreckers' version of "Leave the Pieces"
started arriving in time for her to invest in writing and recording
Thankful on her own. To keep her budget under control while also
benefiting from essential creative input, Hanson began by inviting
Nick Brophy to co-produce the album with her.
"He's an amazing
engineer and a great producer," she said. "He plays everything.
If he doesn't know how to play something, he'll pick it up and figure
out how. He has a home studio. But I had no idea if I would ever
have any sort of major release or record deal, so we came to an
agreement. I paid him a lump sum up front and promised that if anybody
bought this album, we'd negotiate to make sure he got paid a producer
fee, paid for his studio and so forth. And he was willing to take
For Brophy, it was more
opportunity than risk. Like Hanson, he came from Los Angeles, where
he'd enjoyed success as a producer as well as a composer of theme
music for the ABC-TV series "Wasteland," the Eddie Murphy
film "Pluto Nash" and other projects. He was already a
fan of Hanson's before his relocation to Nashville in 2003, and
when their mutual friend Julie Vassar brought them together for
a three-way writing session, Brophy knew at once that he would enjoy
working with her.
"The very first
songwriting sessions we had together, I think we wrote at least
a song per day and then two in one day," Brophy said. "When
I say 'write the song,' we were recording it as well. She had deep
insight as far as what she wanted the results to be, which you don't
get so often from an artist. To be honest, I was really stunned."
As much as Hanson impressed
him as a collaborator, Brophy brought out a neglected part of her
talent by encouraging her to lay down her own acoustic guitar tracks.
"I hadn't even played on my first album," she said. "I
was very intimidated; with all the fabulous musicians in this town,
there's no way I'm going to set foot in one of those tracking booths
and blow the take. But with Nick, I had as much time as I needed
to get it right."
"Jennifer was always
suggesting that we get the best in town to come in and play the
acoustic parts, but I really wanted to hear her play them,"
Brophy said. "I didn't want a perfect, pristine performance.
I wanted to hear the grit and rawness and the ideas she has. All
of that spilled out from the first session where we wrote together."
A few last touches were
added once they'd finished the basic tracks, most critically live
drums by Steve Brewster to animate the rhythm tracks that Brophy
had programmed, sweetening from Jonathan Yudkin on strings and Russ
Pahl on steel guitar, and a stunning duet vocal from Vince Gill
on the title song, written by Hanson with Tommy Lee James. It was
intended as a duet, though no one had been lined up for the second
part when Brophy and Hanson were taking a lunch break one day.
"He asked me, 'If
you could have anybody sing with you, who would it be?'" Hanson
remembered. "I said, 'That's easy. It would be Vince Gill.
But what am I going to do - call him?' And Nick said, 'Yeah, why
don't you call him?' And then I thought, 'Well, what have I got
After getting his mobile
number from Billy Thomas, who has played drums for both Gill and
Hanson, she made the call. He picked up, and that's all it took
to confirm his appearance.
"I've always been
taken by her music and her voice," Gill said. "Everything
I've heard her do sounds adult. It sounds well thought out. She's
never done anything that feels like she's chasing the latest craze.
All those qualities remind me of Rosanne [Cash]. You can tell she's
a very, very musical woman, and there's nothing more appealing than
Most of Thankful
was done by early 2007, when Hanson took a meeting with Mark Wright,
President, and Fletcher Foster, GM and Senior VP, at Universal Records
South, who asked her to play a showcase and then offered her a recording
contract. "It was great timing because I'd known Fletcher had
already been invested in my career when he'd been at Capitol. I'm
grateful to him and Mark for just listening to what I'd done and
seeing the magic in it. They saw that I'm a different kind of artist
than I used to be. I've got a strong opinion about who I am, musically,
and that was good for all of us.
concluded, with a laugh, "I was finally able to pay Nick too."
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