The genesis of a country song often begins somewhere between a whiskey-drenched barroom chat and the passing memory of first love set to a tune that came from childhood piano lessons. Yet its true incarnation - for listeners anyway - is once a writer flips on some sort of recording device to capture what could be the next chart-topper. That's the case here as 20 soon-to-be country hits were presented in their infancy to artists and producers.
The songwriters offer recollections in the liner notes of how these songs made their evolutionary climb from idea to hit single. Gary Harrison, who co-wrote Strawberry Wine with Matraca Berg (she sings the demo) for Deana Carter, recalls how he thought it was too long, slow and was told the bridge is a grammatical nightmare.
Kent Blazy remembers helping a then-struggling, unknown Garth Brooks craft If Tomorrow Never Comes from a song no one wanted into Brooks' first number one hit.
If the performances are a bit choppy, consider the singers - most of the demos are sung by the songwriters - never figured the tracks would get past the studio. Yet Marcus Hummon offers a stirring, bluesy performance of Bless the Broken Road, though it's not all lone voice and solo instrument.
Stephony Smith sings a polished version of the Tim McGraw-Faith Hill It's Your Love while the familiar quivering lead guitar riff on the Brooks & Dunn hit Ain't Nothing 'Bout You makes its debut on Rivers Rutherford's demo.
It's likely these writers will tell you songwriting is a job, and they are among thousands who have toiled along Music Row in relative obscurity with only a song credit and hopefully a paycheck to show for their dedication. If nothing else, these discs stand as a testament that a songwriter's work does not go unnoticed.