Drew McAlister is recognised as one of the nation’s premier songwriters and performers. In addition to penning enduring country-rock classics as one half of barnstorming duo McAlister Kemp, McAlister has composed hundreds of tunes both with and for artists including Graeme Connors, Luke O’Shea and Tamara Stewart. He’s worked with US songwriting royalty like Brett Jones (Jason Aldean), Brian Maher (Taylor Swift), and Dylan Altman (Tim McGraw), and has performed alongside the cream of Aussie country talent: Beccy Cole, Sara Storer, Melinda Schneider, Adam Brand, Mike Carr, among countless others.
Drew’s third solo album Coming Your Way saw him enlist the help of LA and Sydney-based producer, Andy Mak from Grove Studios to achieve a progressive, modern country sound. Known for working in pop music (Vera Blue, Tina Arena, Bertie Blackman), Andy’s efforts on Australian country music trio The McClymonts‘ latest release, Endless, demonstrated his genre versatility and his influence shines through on Drew’s new album.
The single Coming Your Way is one of those anthemic tunes that is sure to connect and inspire everyone that wants to look brightly into the future.
McAlister’s work as an artist has all the warmth and healing qualities of the natural hot springs for which his hometown of Moree is known. With second solo outing and ABC Music debut, Black Sky – his first post-McAlister Kemp release – Drew shows off his versatility and trademark earthy, anthemic style as never before. Produced by McAlister with input from Ben Robertson, Black Sky swells with the singer’s heartfelt reflections on contemporary Australian life.
Recorded in Nashville and featuring additional tracking laid down in the picturesque surrounds of McAlister’s Northern NSW home, Black Sky is a landmark release from the hard-working husband and father of two.
A true labour of love, Black Sky saw Drew collaborate with friends both old and new. The album’s 11 tracks were co-written with longtime creative companion Alan Caswell, along with Caitlyn Shadbolt, Glen Harrison (Kaylens Rain), and guitarist Glenn Hannah.
Drew McAlister’s sound is best described as ‘organic country rock’: music that moves us both to celebrate life’s greatest joys and to reflect upon the challenges that confront us all. True to form, Black Sky showcases towering anthems of resilience, love, and triumph over adversity, anchored throughout by McAlister’s incisive reflections on the lessons that bind us as a people.
‘It had to tick two boxes,’ McAlister says of the album’s driving purpose. ‘It had to have an energy about it, but it still had to have that songwriter element to it, as well. I still wanted to tell a story – that’s the thing I’ve always loved about country music: the story element. There’s still that message in the songs here, but I also wanted them to translate live.’
A singer from the age of 7, McAlister went on to carve out a formidable reputation as a commercial composer for TV and radio, travelled the country with the cast of Broadway hit Jesus Christ Superstar, performed as part of tearaway Johnny Cash tribute show Aussies Walk the Line, and made several appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday and other notable programs along the way.
At the beginning of his career, McAlister landed an international publishing and record deal with industry heavyweight EMI. His early days with the label saw him focus his creative attention on writing and recording a debut album in the pop and soul style. But a songwriting visit to Nashville proved to be a turning point, steering him away from the mainstream pop superhighway and down a wide-open country road.
‘I was signed to an album deal with EMI – I was a pop-soul act, I guess, which is really weird, looking back on it!’ McAlister recalls. ‘But I was sent to a whole bunch of places to write songs. And on one of those trips, I got to go to Nashville and went to a little place called Douglas Corner, which is a songwriter’s hangout. And that’s when it dawned on me. I guess the seed was planted then – I thought, wow, this is really cool, I’m digging this, even though I was writing for a soul album! It just felt like this could be home for me.’
After taking out the coveted top spot in the Gympie Muster’s Maton Talent Search in 2003, Drew journeyed to the Middle East in 2004 and 2005 to perform for Aussie troops as part of the Forces Advisory Council on Entertainment (FACE) initiative. His 2004 debut EP turned heads and won fans with tracks such as Keep on Keeping On and Broken Angels, before McAlister netted his first Golden Guitar in 2007, taking out the Vocal Collaboration of the Year Award for A Little Bit of Country in Us All with Alan Caswell. He’s since collected Golden Guitars for APRA Song Of The Year and Heritage Song of the Year for his work on Luke O’Shea co-write Lady of the Land, penned Along for the Ride for charity bike ride event Tour De Cure, and garnered scores of TIARA, APRA, and Victorian National Country Music Awards wins and nominations.
Ramping up the intensity of McAlister’s solo debut There to Here (2008), Black Sky builds on an enviable creative bedrock. McAlister Kemp’s studio debut All Kinds of Tough (2010) landed in the ARIA Country Albums Chart Top 10, spawning irrepressible radio favourite It Don’t Buy You Love, along with Number 1 hits All Kinds of Tough, Hell Yeah, and Hard Work. The album netted him a Golden Guitar for Best New Talent, along with the 2011 CMC Music Award for Best New Oz Artist.
ARIA Award-nominated follow-up, Country Proud (2012) debuted at the #1 spot on the ARIA Country Albums Chart, dominating the Mainstream Album Chart Top 20 and launching radio and chart hits including Country Proud, Good Idea, Something to Build On, and After Midnight (with Doc Walker). Rounding out an impressive trilogy for McAlister Kemp, Harder to Tame (2014) featured profoundly resonant anti-bullying anthem Fight Me. In their six years together, McAlister Kemp performed in the Global Artist Showcase at Nashville’s peak country music meet CMA Fest, opened for the legendary Alan Jackson on the megastar’s sold-out 2011 Australian tour, and toured the US with country music giants Big & Rich.
The duo also served up essential festival sets at the Gympie Muster, CMC Rocks the Hunter, and the Deni Ute Muster. McAlister Kemp’s final release, The Best of 2008 – 2014, is a monument to McAlister’s formidable musical mind. ‘There were songs with McAlister Kemp that really affected people – songs that people really gravitated toward,’ McAlister says. ‘With Black Sky, I said right from the beginning that I wasn’t going to stray too far from McAlister Kemp. Because I wrote a lot of those songs, and I love them – they’re a part of me. I remember Adam Brand said to me many, many years ago, you need connecting songs, man. I’ve never forgotten that. You’ve got to have those songs that people feel like they’ve lived.’ Lead single and workingman’s anthem Black Sky thunders like the elusive stormclouds prayed for by its everyday heroes.
Narrabri, New South Wales
Drew McAlister gave us a brief insight into his Hometown experience.
If home is where the heart is, where is Drew McAlister’s Hometown?
The Blue Mountains, not originally from there but live there now.
What is it about the Blue Mountains that makes it feel like home?
Community spirit and good friends you can count on.
Does your hometown get a mention in your music?
Yes, it’s the blue collar hard working people in my community that feature in some of my songs.
What drew you to being a part of the Hometown Fest this year?
Always wanting to be apart of new and exciting festivals!