It took an appearance on TV’s “America’s Got Talent” in 2013 for fans to realize that neither Marty Brown nor his career was sleeping with the fishes. But you couldn’t exactly blame folks for making those assumptions. After all, Brown had essentially been out of the public eye for about 17 years. Brown released several singles, including “High & Dry” and “It Must Be the Rain,” along with three albums, for MCA Records, between 1991 and 1994. In 1996, he cut the album “Here’s to the Honky Tonks,” which met with little success. Fans and critics alike praised Brown for his traditionalist style and solid songwriting, but he failed to come up with that one big career hit.
You barely heard his name again until that magical year 2013, when, well into his late forties, he reintroduced himself to the country on “America’s Got Talent,” finishing in the top ten. “That was just a man chasing a dream,” Brown says in his Kentucky-bred Southern tone. “My wife [Shellie] kind of tricked me into it because I would not have done it.” Seems that Shellie drove Marty to an audition in Nashville, which came as a complete surprise to Marty. He wowed the TV audience with his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” which became a viral smash. “I was no stranger to this business but I had been gone for so long,” Brown says. “I actually had the butterflies. Fortunately, the crowd liked me and once they responded to me, I was fine.”
Brown parlayed that appearance into a deal with Plowboy Records, and that’s turned his game around. On May 17th, he’ll release his first album for the label, “American Highway.” It’s also his first for any label in more than 20 years. That begs the natural question of what he’s been doing with himself for the past couple of decades. Suffice to say that he hasn’t been idle.
“I was writing the whole time,” Brown, now 53, explains. “I always had a passion for the written word and telling a story.” Brown enjoyed several major cuts through the years, among them Tracy Byrd’s “I’m From the Country,” Brooks & Dunn’s “It Ain’t Me If It Ain’t You,” and “When I Stop Loving You” by Trace Adkins. He and his wife also have eight children, certainly enough to keep one occupied and off the couch.
For “American Highway,” Brown co-wrote all 10 cuts, one with son Marty Jr. He describes the songs as slices of life collections, like Norman Rockwell artwork. “I always loved Rockwell’s paintings,” Brown notes earnestly. “He was painting scenes of these great moments in people’s lives. I gravitate toward people like that.” Brown relates that the title track appeared to him in little Rockwell-type vignettes. “I was driving down Highway 100 in Kentucky when I came up with the idea for that,” he recalls. “It was like a dimmer switch, it kept growing and growing.” Brown adds that he tweaked the song a bit, changing a verse after the proverbial light bulb went off. “After I wrote it, I realized I was cutting my listeners in half,” Brown says. “I had kept the song in the country, but America isn’t just the country. These roads go everywhere, big cities and small towns. So, I changed that up a little.”
The first single from the album, “Umbrella Lovers,” a soulful, romantic ode to everlasting love, is available now. The video for the single is also out, and stars Shellie along with Brown’s daughter Emma and her real-life boyfriend.
Brown peppers “American Highway” with autobiographical memories and songs from true-life experiences. “Most everything I’ve ever written is like that,” Brown smiles. “There’s a song on [the album] called ‘Right out of Left Field’. That is a true-to-life story. Coming up as a kid, I played baseball and I was pretty good. I played right field and this one game, I remember holding my glove up and catching that first fly ball. The feeling I got was a great memory and I just tried to capture that moment.”
Keeping with that theme, Marty based the tune “Casino Winnebago” on his wife’s parents. “[He] is a professional poker player,” Brown begins. “He and his wife travel around in an RV and they would go to the casinos.” Brown adds that it took a few years to complete the song, and he’s proud of the final product. “The second verse is about him,” Brown says. “Chances are, he’s not the only one living that life.”
You could rightly assert that Brown has taken something of a gamble himself with his relaunched career. Few artists would even consider rolling the dice and making a comeback at this stage of life. But Brown feels that he still has much to contribute.
His voice takes on a measure of assured pride when he says, “I’ve never messed with drugs or anything like that. But I have had a lot of hurt and a lot of pain. I like writing the truth, things that are going on around me. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Marty Brown released his new album “American Highway” on May 17th. The first single from the album, “Umbrella Lovers,” is available now.