The quartet's non-musical legacy is equally impressive. Richie, Dean, Michael and Keech are known for their support of the nation's troops and of charitable causes--their many honors have included both the National Fatherhood Award and the ACM/Home Depot Humanitarian Award. They are, in short, among modern country music's greatest ambassadors.
Now, with the release of the song "Mountains," Lonestar has taken yet another giant step forward. A celebration of the courage of ordinary people overcoming great hardship and challenges, it has quickly taken its place among the band's best-loved songs. It has also become the cornerstone of the album of the same name, the band's ninth.
"We hoped people would embrace it and would like it as much as we did," said keyboardist Dean Sams. "The way that it's been received let’s us know that it's made a connection with people."
"It's really gotten everybody excited again," added singer Richie McDonald. "It became the focal point for an album's worth of really passionate songs that we all believe in. Throw in the fact that we were working with [producer] Mark Bright, and it's another real turning point for us."
Bright, known for his work with Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts, among others, was an enthusiastically embraced choice to produce the project.
"We had talked about returning to the sound of albums like 'Lonely Grill,'" said drummer Keech Rainwater, "but really, it was a matter of, 'Bring a really good producer in there and let him work his magic.' Mark made everything sound huge, and we really love the results."
"Mark's standout strength is his ability to find hit songs," added guitarist Michael Britt. "We knew he'd found 'Jesus Take The Wheel' and 'God Bless The Broken Road,' and we all agreed, 'Let's be proud of everything on this record,' and that's exactly what's happened."
The record's high points are many. Self-empowered women leaving bad relationships populate the landscape in "What She Had To Do" and "Long Lost Smile," and "Cowboy Girl," which shows off the band's rowdy side, is an upbeat ode to a woman of the Texas variety. Always a band quick to celebrate loving relationships, Lonestar this time offers "Nothing To Prove" and "I Wanna Do It For You," the latter a Dean Sams co-write, that offers love and devotion from a friend who wants to be more, and "One Of Those Nights" and "Careful Where You Kiss Me," two celebrations of pure conjugal passion. "I Thought It Was You" is a Craig Wiseman-penned look back at squandered chances, while the Richie-penned "Hey God" is another piece of pure optimisn in the form of a simple prayer of thanks.
If there is an autobiographical highlight, a moment where art and reality meet most dramatically, it is in the CD's closer, "Always In The Band." Co-written by Richie, it is an intimately woven look at the life these four road veterans have chosen, with soaring harmonies that get across both the sacrifice and the joys of the living they make.
Throughout, Richie's voice has never been stronger or more passionate, and the instrumental and vocal backing has never provided a more nuanced and solid setting for them. It is obviously a prime example of a band for whom the music is a lovingly personal thing, and whose maturity shows in every heartfelt note.
The journey that led them here began 15 years and 10 million albums ago, when the Texans united in Tennessee under the location-splitting name Texasee. At their first show--at Backstage Pass in Nashville--a booking agent heard them and put them on the road, to the tune of 500 shows in two years. The band traveled from town to town in Dean's Jeep Cherokee, pulling a U-Haul trailer, surviving on junk food, humor and sheer determination. They graduated to a van pulling a trailer Richie bought after selling his ski boat, and the road could mean Texas to Florida to Nashville to Calgary to Vancouver to Nevada.
"We logged some miles," laughed Keech. "We'd pass--or get passed by--tour buses and say, 'One day, that'll be us."
After a name change, they signed with BNA Records in 1994 and released their first album a year later, garnering a hit with "Tequila Talkin'." With that and their second album, Crazy Nights, they established themselves as a young force. Their third, Lonely Grill, and its smash hit "Amazed," kicked open the doors to country stardom and put them in headliner territory. "Amazed" was, of course, a phenomenon, hitting the top of the pop charts as well. There has been no stopping them since.
With fame has come an attitude of respect for fans and service to the community that has earned the guys a reputation as a true class act. They have received countless letters from people whose lives have been changed by their music.
“There are two sides of country music,” said Keech. “One is the ‘Let’s be crazy, hit the bars, and be outlaws’ side, and then there’s the other side, that talks about the positive aspects of people in relationships, in love and in families. We’ve taken that real positive spin.”
“We look for songs that really hit you in the heart,” added Richie, “and that’s what our fans have come to know us for.”
None of the passion that goes into the selection and performance of those songs has dimmed.
“I feel like this band is stronger than ever,” said Dean, “and this new material has breathed yet another breath of fresh air into us.”
“We’re thrilled that we’re still around, doing what we’re doing, making records and getting great reception from fans out on the road,” Added Michael. “We want that to keep going. As successful as we’ve been, somehow we always feel like the underdogs, and we’re going to keep right on trying to prove ourselves.”
It’s an attitude that has made Lonestar one of the most successful bands in country history, and surely one of the most loved and appreciated. With the release of “Mountains,” they’re taking both the success and their reputations up yet another notch.