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Major leap returns big dividends for Texas country act



It's been a whirlwind year for the Eli Young Band, and drummer Chris Thompson's still trying to catch his breath. They've not only watched music from their Universal South debut, "Jet Black & Jealous" climb the Billboard country charts, but have fueled it with nearly nonstop national and radio tours.


"We've been together for eight years, and thought in a way we'd seen it all, and just might get a little more coming at us partnering with a major label. We thought surely there's no way they will get us to work harder than we're already working," Thompson said, laughing from a frigid West Palm Beach, Fla. where the band is promoting the single, "Always the Love Songs," at country radio stations. "Needless to say, I think we were home, about four days a month for the whole year."

Eli Young Band began while the members attending the University of North Texas together. Guitarists Mike Eli and James Young lived next door to Thompson and bassist Jon Jones in the school's dorms, and soon started playing together, juggling gigs, multiple jobs and school.

"At one point, Mike had three jobs. You'd do the gig, be done at 3 a.m., go home. Then go to work at 6 a.m. and class at 11. That's how it had to be really. I don't think we'd change any of that. It's just what you got to do as a band coming up," Thompson said.

Thompson conceded that none of it would've probably happened had they not formed a friendship with Grammy-nominated country star Miranda Lambert. The pair met touring around Texas during the years before NBC's "Nashville Star," where she made a name for herself as a finalist in the televised competition. She remembered the Eli Young Band, and invited the group to open a label showcase she was headlining and mentioned the act to potential producer Frank Liddell who'd come to the Dallas show to see her play.

Liddell must've been impressed because he took the band under his wing, helping them finish their second studio album, "Level," and distributed the release through his label/publishing company, Carnival Recording. Liddell also helped introduce the band to the business side of making music, and later produced "Jet Black & Jealous."

"That's when we started going to Nashville and talking to people up there. We saw there was a business aspect to this and some success we could chase," Thompson said.

Chase it they have with their ballad, "Always the Love Songs," which currently resides just outside Billboard's Country Top 25. While not as rocking as a "Level" breakout, "When It Rains," they're both characterized by tight-knit playing and Young's bittersweet baritone croon, which like the band, calls country home, but frequently flirts with pop and rock.

That stylistic felicity comes courtesy a quartet that have forged their own identity from four very different individuals with only a love of music in common.

"It's like a brotherhood, as cliché and corny as that sounds," Thompson said. "Fortunately, being young men when we started we had lots of  leeway to learn each other's kinks, hot buttons, and just grow up and mature together. Today we're best friends and business partners. We're four lucky guys really, and I think all of us know, expect and appreciate it." "Chris Parker

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