arryl Worley is first and foremost a skilled songwriter. But just like his hero, Merle Haggard, Worley can also sing a lick, giving him the makings of becoming the complete artistic package as shown on his Dreamworks debut, "Hard Rain Don't Last."
His first big break in the music business came when the "singer's singer," George Jones, recorded Worley's "Saints & Sinners" for Jones' well-received "The Cold Hard Truth."
"It was the biggest thing - to that date - that had happened to me," says Worley, 36. "I hate to say it, but when it happened, it meant as much, if not more, than signing my record contract."
"I had spent the last 10 or 12 years making a living writing songs, and the goal in all that was to have established artists record songs. So, it meant a lot."
Writing songs for the country music marketplace is no doubt a craft. But Worley says his art blossomed and bloomed exponentially once he began writing only for himself.
"In the past five or six years, I've written everything I've written, more or less, as if I would record them myself, and it seems like I've written better songs."
Such songs just can't help but be of a more personal nature.
"Usually, the songs come out of some real life experience. Also, I think I'm more honest."
Such honesty, in fact, might have held Worley back from more success as a songwriter.
"Number one, it's been hard to get 'real' country music played on the radio the last couple of years," he explains bluntly. "Number two, a lot of artists won't come out and say the things I'll say, so it makes it kind of tough as a writer."
Such an individualistic streak is expressed well in the song "If I Could Just Be Me," from the new album. In it he sings:
"I've learned to live behind these fences
But I'm not the kind of man to just go along
Now and then I need a chance to be who I am
Maybe sing a different song"
For the most part, the Pyburn, Tenn. native leans toward the more traditional side of the country fence, automatically making his compositions "different songs" from the rest of the pack.
But being country, when traditional country isn't always cool, can be a difficult and lonely road to walk.
He tries to keep his opinions to himself, but sometimes his failures still carry a sting.
"I stay down off the soapbox as much as I can, but it tends to wear on you after a decade or so."
But it is also this personal fingerprint on his work, and his dedication to keeping his music country, which ultimately earned him his deal at Dreamworks.
"I think they became interested in me as an artist," he explains "because of the songs. That was definitely one of the things that made me say, 'hey, this organization doesn't want me to change what I'm doing; they just want to help me make a great record.'"
Another main reason for signing with Dreamworks was the prospect of being a marketing priority. "They vowed to keep the roster small, and that means that each individual artist would be getting more attention, as opposed to being on one of the more traditional labels where there's a line a mile long (of artists) waiting to come out."
"Also, we talked at length about what I was trying to do as an artist and what I wanted my music to represent. And they gave me the creative freedom to make the kind of album I wanted to make."
How Worley ended up signing with Dreamworks makes for an interesting story.
Dreamworks sent an A&R representative to see Worley play at a local Moose Lodge, but there wasn't a rental car place at the airport. However, a kindhearted soul at the airport loaned the record company man his car, and in fairytale-like fashion, Worley was signed that night on the spot.
Dreamworks head James Stroud and Frank Rogers, who produced Brad Paisley, produced Worley.
Worley's songs often take on a Haggard-esque like quality, where the trials and tribulations of common working folks are sung about poetically. This is "the kind of album" he was shooting for, instead the sort of glitz and glamour associated with a Garth Brooks fireworks display. Brooks may have grown up in the Kiss Army, but you can be sure Worley never marched along.
His remarks point out the sometimes hidden fact that just getting signed is not enough upwardly momentum to propel an artist to the top these days.
"The bottom line is it's hard enough to get a label deal of any kind, and if you're not a priority, the chances of you being a successful artist are slim to none. That's what I've witnessed over the years."
It doesn't take a genius to realize that singers and songwriters, who instantly grab the ears of listeners, are usually also fascinating individuals to begin with. Worley is no exception to this obvious rule.
The grandfather on his mother's side did prison time as a moonshiner, and his father became a preacher later in life. This left Worley to deal with an ancestry having roots in both the good and evil sides of the family line. Although he won't deny living it up a bit back during his younger days, he still won't go so far as to call himself the black sheep of his family.