Drew Baldridge browses the soul and country sections at Grimey’s New and Preloved Music in Nashville when his eyes stop.
“Earth, Wind & Fire is one of my favorites,” he says picking up their Greatest Hits. “‘Serpentine Fire’ has one of the greatest grooves ever. You look back at music in this time and you’re like, these guys really put a lot of time and effort into making their music very unique. Today, if we mess something up, we can fix it. Those guys didn’t have that chance.”
His appreciation for solid soul-funk grooves plays a heavy hand on his debut album Dirt on Us. Out June 10, the 13-song collection fits perfectly between the two sections at Grimey’s with dance-ready country tracks “Everyday Night,” “Curious Girl,” current single “Dance With Ya” and “Train.”
“I call it ‘funktry,’” he says. “When you listen to the record, there are a lot of small town lyrics on there, but a lot of the songs have a good groove and make you want to dance.”
And Baldridge loves to bust a move. Growing up in Patoka, Illinois, with a population of 600 people, his first public performances were dance routines in talent shows to the music of Grease, Blues Brothers and Michael Jackson, whom he likes to call Mike.
“I’m not saying I’m a great dancer by any means, but I just loved it,” he says. “I love the feel when a good groove comes on. If I’m in the car, and I’ve never heard it, it makes you feel something. It makes you want to move.”
Baldridge’s signature dance moves are all over the official “Train” music video, which was shot at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the video, he is the soul train conductor with a group of rowdy friends and his band onboard.
“I think people are really going to enjoy the video when they watch it,” he says. “My goal is to let everybody see that this is fun. It’s all about having a good time and letting loose.”
Dirt on Us lands at a time when soul and funk are having a moment in country music. Eric Paslay continues to climb the charts with the horn-heavy “High Class.” New Orleans jazz musician Trombone Shorty appears on “Mardi Gras” on Dierks Bentley’s latest album, Black. Little Big Town is about to release the danceable Wanderlust with Pharrell. Keith Urban enlisted Pitbull and funk legend Nile Rodgers on the Ripcord song “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” Thomas Rhett credits the funk band War as co-writers on the Tangled Up track “Vacation” for its similarities to “Low Rider.”
As a major music fan himself, Baldridge says he isn’t afraid to experiment with the sounds of his influences.
“I just started digging into what I loved,” he says. “Then it started coming out in my own music. This is who I am. … One day I will have a horn section with me on the road.”
Baldridge is among CMT’s “16 for 2016” artists to know as part of a year-long Listen Up campaign. He makes his Grand Ole Opry debut on June 15.