Maher: Sets Up A Country Music Talent Incubator with Moraine
By Jim Patterson
a portrait of a man in his natural element. Brent Maher is
grinning ear-to-ear sitting in his recording studio at Moraine
Music Group, listening to a new recording by one of his protégés,
Sean Locke. "If you smoke a cigarette, they'll be talking
about your breath/In a town this size/There ain't no place to
hide," Locke's voice rings out while producer Maher listens
intently before giving the engineer instructions to tweak the
"Now THAT'S a Country song," Maher exclaimed about the
song written by Kieran Kane. "We're going for a sort of Don
Williams vibe with this one."
Kansas native Locke, who wrote the Pinmonkey hit "Barbed
Wire and Roses," is part of a small stable of talented
performers Maher has in various stages of development at Moraine
Music Group, one of Nashville's leading publishing and
production companies. With the addition of Moraine Records,
Maher is taking a bold step, betting that he can break new acts
with his small, aggressive staff. It's a response to the
frustration of honing artists, only to have projects falter as
they vie for attention when they finally get a major recording
"I'm not trying to change the system," Maher said.
"I'm just trying to find ways for us to be more successful.
We need to take more shots than the big giant labels can get
rolling through their systems. It's happening in the world of
rock, and I think the same thing needs to happen in
"incubator labels" have been set up by Warner Music
Group to help break urban and rock acts. Maher, the visionary
who made his name recognizing and realizing the potential of
Naomi and Wynonna Judd, considers Moraine Records to be
Nashville's answer - a safe place for artists to find direction,
learn the ropes and test the marketplace.
Maher has assembled a lean radio promotion staff, headed by
industry veteran Stan Byrd, who will take Moraine singles to
"I have lots of friends at the major labels, and they tell
me they're really excited by what I'm doing," Maher said.
"If we can develop an artist, take something to radio and
the phones start lighting up, then we can consider whether to
continue on our own or partner with one of the major
labels," he said. "Why would they say no, when we've
done half the work?"
Moraine founder Maher is one of the most successful and
critically acclaimed producers and songwriters in Nashville. He
has co-written hits including "Why Not Me" (The Judds),
"Lesson in Leavin'" (Dottie West, Jo Dee Messina) and
"Some Kind of Trouble" (Tanya Tucker). As a producer,
he has worked with artists including Shelby Lynne, Messina,
Nickel Creek and Kenny Rogers.
Songwriters for Moraine Music include Kane, Billy Montana, Mark
Selby and Kevin Welch and they have written hits for Garth
Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, Tim McGraw and many
Maher's most famous accomplishment was discovering The Judds and
helping mold their unique acoustic sound. He produced all of
their albums and co-wrote many of their biggest hits including
"Girls Night Out," "Rockin' with the Rhythm of
the Rain" and "Turn it Loose."
Byrd, Moraine's Vice President of Promotion, puts it best:
"I joined Moraine because Brent has always been a magnet
for great artists."
Moraine currently has Locke on the road visiting secondary radio
stations to promote his single "Don't Look Away."
"He's out there doing on-air stuff, playing for programmers
in their conference rooms and fielding questions he had no idea
would be flying at him," Maher said. "An artist has to
know how to deal with that for their whole career, and it's
better to learn it in an environment that's a little bit more
Another Moraine act, Country artist Jenai, had a brief run on
Curb Records but is now regrouping in the Moraine cocoon.
"As a songwriter, she's had a huge No. 1 record with Sara
Evans called 'Suds in the Bucket,'" Maher said. "She
has matured immensely as a songwriter over the last couple of
years. We'll be taking new Jenai music out to the mainstream,
probably the end of the first quarter," Maher said.
Moraine is also working with Keni Thomas, a former Army Ranger
and member of the elite Task Force Ranger assault unit that
fought in Somalia, and was part of the events that resulted in
the Black Hawk Down book and film. He also served as
military advisor for the film "We Were Soldiers."
"He's a young man who actually went back a second time when
the helicopter went down and tried to get his comrades out of
there," Maher said of the Georgia native.
Thomas received the bronze star for valor and the combat
infantryman's badge. He is also a singer and songwriter who
wrote a batch of songs about his military experiences. Part of
the proceeds for the resulting album Flags of Our Fathers -
A Soldier's Story, are going to the Hero Fund and the
Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides college
scholarships to the children of military veterans who died in
training or combat.
"He's just unbelievably dynamic as a performer and one of
the best lyricists that I've had the pleasure to work
with," Maher said, who produced the album with Selby.
There are a number of high-profile guests on Thomas' album,
including BlackHawk, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Carolyn Dawn
Johnson, Michael McDonald, Shawn Mullins and Kenny Rogers.
"Maybe because we weren't trying, we got a record
("Not Me" written by Thomas, Maher and Billy Montana)
that Stan Byrd - our promotion man - said he thought he could
get on the radio," Maher said. "We may have hit on our
It's the kind of circumstance that keeps a veteran like Maher
completely engaged in the music industry.
"I'm not a babe in the woods," Maher said. "I
know things are harder at retail. I know things are harder at
radio than maybe they were 20 years ago.
"That toughness has sort of hardened some people's hearts
to where some of the bloom is off the rose," he continued.
"I've got to go down the road that music is everything,
that good music will prevail, and that hard work will be
rewarded. That's the reason we're doing what we're doing."
On the Web: www.morainemusic.com
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