Billy Ray Cyrus is a busy man these days. Writing and starring in his own sitcom, Still The King, which was picked up for a second season by CMT, would keep anyone busy enough. On top of that, Billy Ray decided to release a brand-new album, Thin Line—which drops Today (Sept. 9)—chock-full of guest appearances and classic country songs.
Known for his striking good looks, hip-shaking moves, multi-million selling album, Some Gave All, and smash-hit single, “Achy Breaky Heart,” in the 1990s, Billy Ray Cyrus is now a sentimental family man, a deep thinker and relaxed in his own skin. Over the course of three decades, Billy Ray has sold millions of albums and reached international success. But on his latest project, Thin Line, all Billy Ray wants is to represent how he lives his life.
“The album actually started as a tribute to my heroes, The Outlaws—Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash,” Billy Ray told Nash Country Daily. “I had been working on it for a couple years and in the mean time CMT picked up [my show] Still the King. During the upfronts [upfronts are gatherings hosted by television networks at the start of advertising sales periods, attended by the press and major advertisers to see how they feel about the shows.] in New York City, someone from Viacom said ‘Okay we need one sentence to put in our sales pitch. One sentence to describe Still the King, how would you describe it?’ Well I said, ‘It’s kind of a thin line between Elvis and Jesus.’ Somebody goes ‘That’s great, that’s a hit!’ You should write that as a song.’ I am a singer/songwriter first and foremost, so as soon as I got back to my room, I wrote it down and said ‘Yeah, it’s a thin line between Elvis and Jesus.’ When I write a song the words and the music comes really fast and so I just started singing it, and the words came—just kind of fell from the sky.”
And thus the song “Thin Line” was born.
Thin Line Tracklisting
2. “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)”
3. “They’re Playin’ Our Song”
4. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”
5. “Stop Pickin on Willie”
6. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (feat. Shelby Lynn)
7. “Tulsa Time” (feat. Joe Perry)
8. “Hillbilly On”
9. “Killing the Blues” feat. Shooter Jennings
10. “I’ve Always Been Crazy” (feat. Shooter Jennings and Lee Roy Parnell)
11. “Hey Elvis” (feat. Bryan Adams and Glenn Hughes)
12. “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (feat. Kenley Shea Holm)
13. “Home (Let It Find You)”
14. “Going Where the Lonely Go” (Tribute to Merle Haggard feat. Braison Cyrus)
15. “Angels Protect This Home” (feat. Miley Cyrus)
Aside from Billy Ray’s vocal talents, the album also features many alt-genre guest stars, including Bryan Adams, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Shooter Jennings, Lee Roy Parnell and Billy Ray’s kids, son Braison Cyrus and daughter Miley Cyrus. But it was by shear coincidence that you hear Grammy-winner Shelby Lynne’s voice on the record—on both “Thin Line” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Billy Ray was writing with Shelby—best known for her 1999 album, I Am Shelby Lynne—when he played her the song.
“It’s kind of crazy to think about the people on this album. When I wrote the song [“Thin Line”], I got fortunate enough that Shelby Lynne had come over to write with me,” recalls Billy Ray. “I played her ‘Thin Line’ and she loved it. So we just fired up the microphone. Shelby Lynne is one of the greatest voices—I’m going to go ahead and say it—in the history of country music. She’s so identifiable and she brings so much emotion. The old cliché of dynamite comes in small packages—well it really does. That little teeny lady just got behind that microphone and just blew it up. Shelby said ‘Got anymore?’ I played her ‘Sunday Morning Comin Down,’ and she said ‘I always wanted to record that song.’ So I said ‘Well, now’s your chance!’ She jumped on ‘Sunday Morning Comin Down’ with me also.”
Billy Ray, the father to six children—Christopher, Trace, Brandi, Miley, Braison and Noah—also made the album a family affair by inviting two of his kids, Braison (22) and Miley (23), to sing on the record. Braison Cyrus—a model/actor—adds his voice to the Merle Haggard tribute, “Going Where The Lonely Go.” Sadly though, Billy Ray had plans to sing the song with Merle but his sickness prevented them from getting together and eventually he passed before they could get it done. Billy Ray’s daughter, Miley Cyrus, helps her dad out on what Billy Ray calls a prayer on “Angels Protect This Home.”
“This is kind of a debut for Braison,” said Billy Ray. “It is appropriate that it is a tribute to Merle Haggard because both he and Miley first learned to play the guitar listening to Merle Haggard. We always played ‘Going Where the Lonely Go.’ So it was kind of appropriate that he joined in on that.
“Miley and I do a little thing on the album. Because it’s a track, a lot of people call it a song, but it’s actually a prayer. It’s very different. It’s a chant. A couple years ago she brought me this bowl for my birthday. A big bowl that you hit with a drumstick, and the sound just goes on forever. It’s kind of like a bell only it just keeps going. It made such a crazy frequency that as I was sitting in my studio one day I thought I want to see what this sounds like to record it. I hit it, held it up, and it just lasted so long. The song’s nine minutes long, that’s because that’s how long the bell rang. Miley came in later and goes ‘oh my God, you love the bell?’ I played it for her. She starts chanting these words about saving the Earth and taking care of the animals. It was just very deep. It became a prayer.”
Thin Line—Billy Ray’s first studio album in 4 years—has the “Achy Breaky Heart” singer covering a number of country classics from his musical heroes. You’ll find songs like Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time” featuring Joe Perry,” Willie Nelson’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and a number of Kris Kristofferson tunes, including “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).” The singer/songwriter also offers his own self-penned tunes such as the fun-loving “Stop Pickin’ On Willie,” “They’re Playin’ Our Song,” and the title track, “Thin Line,” featuring Shelby Lynne. The album’s title track is a song that Billy Ray feels relates to his own life as well as those who listen to it.
“The whole song came—the verse, chorus and another verse,” recalls Billy Ray. “As soon as I wrote it I thought ‘Man, it really is strange, at least in my world, how art imitates life. Though I wrote it for Vernon [Billy Ray’s character on Still The King], it’s so apropos for Billy Ray Cyrus. It’s a thin line for everything in my life— certainly a lot of people I meet. It seems like we’re all kind of on the edge. It can always turn really quick and be something different. That’s what “Thin Line” is about. It certainly applied in my life as Billy Ray Cyrus, and certainly Vernon’s.”
Speaking of Vernon, Billy Ray created a TV show, Still The King—with the help of friends Travis Nicholson and Potsy Ponciroli—about a troubled guy named Vernon Brownmule, aka “Burnin’ Vernon.” The show came about at a crossroads in Billy Ray’s life as he pondered what the next step in his career would be.
“Coming out of Hannah Montana—The Disney Channel’s mega-hit show in which he co-starred with his daughter Miley—I knew that if I was going to try to do anything else that I would need to reinvent,” says Billy Ray. “Reinventing out of that monster, that’s pretty tough. I had done a couple reinventions before, but none could compare to coming out of [Hannah Montana] because it was so visual. That was just very visual as Robby Ray [his character in Hannah Montana] and the whole Disney thing. It was a bit of a double-edged sword because as a musician—how do you seriously come out of that? The answer was possibly you don’t and as an actor possibly you don’t. Maybe you just go to the barn and enjoy the rest of your life as best you can. That wasn’t really an option for me because I love acting and I really love writing songs and singing and being a musician. I couldn’t stop. Even if I wasn’t here doing this right now, even if this album didn’t exist, I’d be somewhere locked up in my little room with my little microphones pretending that I was making some music that somebody gave a damn about, and writing songs and doing harmonies and doing this stuff. Because that’s what I do, I love making music.”
Still The King is Billy Ray’s reinvention. The thirty minute sitcom is about Vernon Brownmule, a washed up one-hit wonder—played by Billy Ray—who was driven away from country music only to return 20 years later as the second (yes, I said second) best Elvis impersonator around. Vernon finds himself in trouble with the law and has to help the local church, as a handyman, for part of his parole. In a mix of events Vernon convinces the church he is the new minister. On top of that, Vernon is reunited with his former flame and learns that he has a 15-year-old daughter he never knew. The idea just came to Billy Ray on a bus ride in the middle of nowhere.
“In the middle of the night the bus had stopped to fuel up at a Pilot. I got my dog, Tex, off to let him go out and walk in the grass a little bit. As I was walking I saw an old dilapidated Pentecostal church. It was falling down, it needed love. At the same time I look over and there was a big billboard and an old building saying Elvis Hayride. It was like a big neon sign flashing in front of me. It just popped up like ‘Dude there’s your reinvention— a dysfunctional Elvis impersonator who lies his way into that church.’ I pointed at the church and said to my dog, ‘Dysfunctional Elvis impersonator lies his way into that church as the preacher, only to find out he has a fifteen-year-old daughter he never knew existed. In a way that’s kind of the opposite of your previous character.’
“I just went straight on the bus. When I write as a writer for a screenplay — I’m writing a scene, it just has to come like my songs do. They come really fast. I really can’t sit down and do it intentionally. They just come when they come, and because that thought was there, I walked on the bus and started writing. In about 15-20 pages later I had the basic synopsis for Still the King.”
And 13 episodes later, Still The King was picked up for a second season on CMT and will begin filming the second week of November with plans to air sometime in 2017. In the meantime, Thin Line, is available today (Sept. 9) for your listening pleasure.
Photo courtesy of Aristo Media PR