Dallas-based singer-songwriter Chris J Norwood knows “Love Keeps Us Strong,” and believes his new music reflects that. The 11-track debut, out NOW on State Fair Records runs the gamut of emotions, and it’s a fitting tribute to the tumultuous times that landed the alternative country artist where he is today. Most of the new songs on “Longshot” were written in the year leading up to the birth of his first daughter, with some tracks added after the family gained a beautiful new member. But his first child wasn’t the only addition to his family—Norwood, previously a one-man producing machine on his two EPs, has joined forces with a new producer and a talented team of musicians that promises to make this album his best work yet.
Norwood’s single “Longshot” caught the ear of local music veteran and label owner Trey Johnson. “I like its cool confidence,” he said. “It’s one of those songs that you can tell just tumbled out. I expect there are much more where that came from.”
Norwood and his mother moved to East Dallas after his father passed away in a tragic suicide attempt, and the then shy Chris searched for an outlet to channel his teeming creativity. His uncle bought him his first guitar when he was just ten, and the budding musician started recording songs on cassettes. “Playing music was the only place I felt comfortable and felt a part of something,” he says. “There was never really an option for me to pursue a career in anything else.” After spending a semester at The Contemporary Music Center—what Norwood calls “rock ‘n roll school”—he learned how to translate his passion into a career, and never looked back.
The new album marks a new direction for the artist, but as he looks ahead, he ponders the pain of the past and the impact it’s left on him. “Most of these songs were written as a way to come to terms with the fact of growing up without a father (and the tragic way that he took his life) in light of becoming a father myself for the first time,” Norwood said. “How do you become a good father when you don’t have anyone to model after?” Songs like “Howling in the Wing” and “If He Were Standing Here” ask this question, and also find Norwood seeking the approval of the father who abandoned him. “Are you proud of the man, the husband, the father that I’ve become?’” he asks. “It’s a question that I wish I could ask him every day.” Luckily, he didn’t have to go this road alone.
Norwood was originally going to put out a three-song EP, but the songs “just kept coming,” and when he realized that the new work was similar thematically to previous songs he’s written, he reached out to producer Chris Masterson (Steve Earle’s The Dukes/Jack Ingram) to help see the vision through and chime in on guitar and background vocals. Masterson’s wife Eleanor Whitmore (Steve Earle’s The Dukes/The Mastersons) played the violin, mandolin, sang background vocals and provided the beautiful string arrangements. George Reiff (Ray Wylie Hubbard/Band Of Heathens) lent his skills on bass guitar, Conrad Choucroun (Patty Griffin/Bob Schneider) on drums and Grammy Award-winning engineer Steve Christensen (Loretta Lynn/Steve Earle) manned the helm on engineering and mixing. “The batch of songs he sent over ranged from quirky pop tunes to emotionally haunting ballads that all fit together and worked as a very cohesive collection,” Masterson remembers.
Masterson fondly recalls Norwood’s “great spirit” in the studio, but it was the great company that propelled the album over the top. It was a family affair, as Norwood’s wife Carrie sang background vocals. “Carrie has sung with me on every release I’ve ever put out, and always makes me sound better than I am,” the proud husband says. “You can hear the way her voice blends so beautifully with mine on the single ‘Longshot’.”
That harmony helped make the album the searing summer song set that Americana, folk and alternative country fans will all love, and also helped Norwood heal.
“I don’t know what it was about becoming a father and holding my daughter for the first time, but I realized I needed to take a chance and give these songs a real shot at being heard,” he says. The road behind him was rocky, and the road ahead may have its challenges, but thanks to his talents and the team around him, Chris knows “It’s Gonna Be Alright.”
“Longshot” is out NOW on State Fair Records.