Worley’s salute to tradition came during his performance Thursday evening (Aug. 2) at a party held on the side lawn of DreamWorks Records. The event was staged to win the singer votes for the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award.
Because exposure on the CMA Awards Show can boost an artist’s album sales, record labels have been campaigning for votes this year with noteworthy vigor and directness. On July 26, VFR Records threw a similar outdoor bash for one of Worley’s first-round Horizon competitors, Mark McGuinn.
Worley had a distinct missionary glint in his eye when he told the crowd, “The music I do is a little bit different from what’s coming out of this town. I guess I’m the alternative guy.” Then, to demonstrate his fealty to country music as it used to sound, he ripped straight into the 1966 Merle Haggard lament, “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.”
Although he repeatedly reassured the celebrants that he knew they were “industry people” who want their shows kept brief, he held the stage for nearly an hour, during which time he performed eight of the 12 songs on his first Dreamworks album, Hard Rain Don’t Last, and three cover tunes. His mother, father and brother were on hand to lead the applause.
Worley had a story for almost every song. Opening with the album’s title cut, he explained that his co-writer, Rob Crosby, “brought the idea [for the song] in the same day [April 16, 1998] the big tornado came through town.”
“This song was written when I was at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life,” Worley said as prelude to “The Way Things Are Going in My Life.” His voice cracking with emotion, he added, “I want to thank my mom and dad for helping me get through it.”
After he sang “When You Need My Love” (“the song that got me started in country music”), Worley launched a barb at the inconstant ex-girlfriend who inspired it: “Like my labelmate [Toby Keith] says, ‘How do you like me now?!’”
The tall Tennessean dedicated “Second Wind,” his current single, to his mother and then sang John Prine’s “Paradise” for his father. Setting up his final number, “A Good Day to Run,” Worley said, “This goes out to all the people who like to drive fast with the windows down.”
True to the party’s purpose, Worley concluded his appearance with an appeal for votes.