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Amanda Snedon


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DIAMOND RIO
UNBELIEVABLE
BIOGRAPHY

The members of Diamond Rio were pretty sure they were onto something special when they began noticing the names of the writers whose songs they had picked to record. Unbelievable, the band's fifth studio album (sixth album including their previous disc release, Greatest Hits), has indeed developed around a core of astonishing musical brilliance. Among the writers who contributed some of their best songs ever to the project are Academy Award-winner Paul Williams; Grammy-winners Jon Vezner, Gordon Kennedy, Tommy Sims and Will Jennings; rock legends Huey Lewis, R. J. "Mutt" Lange and Al Anderson; and such lavishly talented country poets as Sharon Rice, Bill Rice, Mark D. Sanders, Bob Regan and Annie Roboff.

With its buoyant, lighter-than-air vocal harmonies and intricately woven instrumentation, Diamond Rio has been transforming great songs into standards since the release of its self-titled 1991 debut album. In the process, the six-man band has won six "Vocal Group of the Year" awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. It has racked up seven Grammy nominations. All of its studio albums have been certified gold or platinum.

In April, 1998, the group received the highest honor that can be conferred on a country act when it was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. It thus became the first band in 14 years to join the fabled institution.

This tremendous event culminated a year of career reinforcement and incredible commercial fulfillment. Having re-gained the CMA "Vocal Group of the Year" award last September, Diamond Rio for the first time traveled beyond U. S. boundaries to personally embrace international audiences with two promotional trips to Germany and one to japan. In fact, while in Cologne, Germany last December they became the first country artists to appear on "Geld Oder Liebe," the highest-rated variety television program in Germany with over 7.2 million viewers. Also, in the last year, Diamond Rio was the only group to hold the #1 slot on Billboard's country airplay chart for 3 consecutive weeks with "How Your Love Makes Me Feel."

Because Diamond Rio had built up such a large catalog of hits during its first seven years of recording, the band had the luxury of developing Unbelievable at a more deliberate pace than any of its earlier albums.

"We started this album even before last year's Greatest Hits was released," recalls Diamond Rio's lead singer, Marty Roe. "'Imagine That' and 'How Your Love Makes Me Feel' - which ended up on the Greatest Hits -- were actually cut to be on this album. We had also cut '(I Will) Start All Over Again' and 'Long Way Back,' both of which are on this new album. We didn't realize we needed to put out a hits collection until our record label president, Tim DuBois, came to us and said, 'You know, guys, we can't go through another album and then try to do the hits, because there would be too much we'd have to leave out.' So, basically, we've been cutting Unbelievablel since February or March of 1997. That extra time really helped us raise our criteria for the material and gave us a chance to live with it.'

Dana Williams, the band's bass guitarist and harmony vocalist, says that taking your time always pays off: "We listened to this album to see what Burns' on us - what wears out, what song we're just over. Through the months it takes to finish cutting them, some songs go away. And then we cut something else. We figure if a song is going to go away on us - if it urges us to reach for the fast-forward button - then it could well be the same for everybody else."

Michael D. Clute, who has worked on Diamond Rio's entire discography, returned to his role as co- producer with the band for Unbelievable. Clute's contributions to Diamond Rio's overall sound have earned him the honorific title of "seventh member." He and Arista Records' A&R department did the first round of screening for songs and then passed the results on to the band.

"The screening process for us is pretty large," says keyboardist Dan Truman. "We, ourselves, listen to probably a thousand or two thousand songs for each album. We'll get on the bus and listen for three or four hours while we're going down the road. We're much more involved now than we used to be."

The advantage of such involvement, according to Roe, is that the band sticks only with songs it believes in. "For the past several years," he asserts, "we've refused to put an album out until we felt all 10 songs could be singles. There's not a song on here that causes us to go, 'Oh, no! Not that one." In both scope and sound, the songs on Unbelievable easily hold their own with the best on today's country charts. "You're Gone," the first single, is an elegantly told tale of epic loneliness that is as emotionally powerful as "The Dance." It's co-writers are Paul Williams, who won an Oscar for "Evergreen, and Jon Vezner, who won a Grammy for "Where've You Been." "(I Will) Start All Over Again" is a rousing testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. "I Know How The River Feels" offers such a strong statement of love fully realized that it is destined to become a classic wedding song. (The song features a string section, which marks one of the rare times additional musicians have recorded on Diamond Rio's albums.)

But there is lighter fare as well. The album's title tune resounds with total bliss over the discovery ofthe ideal woman. "Two Pump Texaco" is such a vivid and character-strong procession of images that our minds instantly see it as a comic music video.

"What More Do You Want From Me" invites us to witness, from an emotionally safe distance, devotion that is now edging toward frustration. "Long Way Back," with its down-on-luck details and wide sweeping chorus, charts the vast distance between having done wrong in love and desperately needing the chance to do right. "Miss That Girl" explores the same theme, but with more vigor and fresher wounds.

Although producer/songwriter R. J. "Mutt" Lange and singer Huey Lewis presented "I Thought I'd Seen Everything" as a rock song, Diamond Rio plumbed the song's twin themes of discovery and delight and created from them a country kind of innocence. And the band builds the incantatory "Hold Me Now" into a riveting "everyman's" plea for momentary salvation.

Overall, as lead guitarist Jimmy Olander hears it, Unbelievable "has a little bit more of a contemporary sound than our other albums. But we didn't decide in advance that it would be that way. Basically, we go into our initial sessions for all of our albums saying, "It's going to be the same guys playing and the same guys singing. So let's see how we can re-invent the wheel, yet not struggle really hard to completely change everything." Adds drummer Brian Prout, "It's hard for me to find personal favorites on this album, because I feel so good about all of them. I think "You're Gone" will touch a lot of people since we've all experienced the song's subject matter at one time or another. I love the fun aspect of "Unbelievable." We've never done anything quite like that. And I've told everyone that "(I Will) Start All Over Again" is the best song we've ever recorded --just from a performance point of view. Plus, it says so much about the kind of life we all live today. Of all the records we've put out to date, I believe this one needs the least amount of explaining. It speaks for itself."

"On this album," observes mandolinist and harmony vocalist Gene Johnson, "we realized when we completed it, the songs all seemed to fit together in some manner. The album seems to tell a little story within itself."

Diamond Rio has gained considerable attention through its high-spirited music videos, particularly with "Bubba Hyde," the ACM "Country Video of the Year" nominee "How Your Love Makes Me Feel" and the seriously off-center "mini-movie" "It's All In Your Head," which starred Martin Sheen and Ramon Estevez. However, Marty Roe says the band never picks a song because of its cinematic potential: "No, we don't do that. When we hear a song like "Unbelievable," we might say, "Man, it'll be fun doing a video for this one," because it offers so many possibilities for having fun with it. But a song like "You're Gone" made us kind of reluctant at first to do a video - because the song was so strong by itself. When you draw the pictures with a video, you run the risk of taking away that personal touch that a song can give you."

Diamond Rio evolved from The Tennessee River Boys, a country band that worked Nashville's Opryland USA amusement park during the early to mid-1980s. Over the next few years, the band kept changing and taking on new members. By 1989, it had solidified into its current makeup. In 1990, the band signed to the then-new country division of Arista Records and changed its name to Diamond Rio. Arista Records/Nashville released the albums Diamond Rio in 1991, Close To The Edge in 1992, Love A Little Stronger in 1994, IV in 1996 and Greatest Hits in 1997.

From the start, Diamond Rio has involved itself in good works. Its charity golf tournament is now in its seventh year. During the last five years, the event has raised $200,000 for the American Lung Association. The band also serves as national celebrity spokespersons for Big Brother/Big Sister organization.

All the band members were (and remain) excited by their induction into the Grand Ole Opry, but guitarist Jimmy Olander had a few special comments on the momentous evening. "I never thought in a million years that this would happen," he marvels. "While I was still living in Detroit and working as a banjo player, I used to ride down to Nashville with a buddy of mine who played for Jim & Jesse on the Opry. And I thought, Man, if I could only work for a Grand Ole Opry star someday and ride one of those Silver Eagle buses! That was big stuff for me." For lead singer Marty Poe, the induction spurred flashbacks to his first days working on the grounds of the Grand Ole Opry in 1984, when he worked at the Skyride at the theme park, one year prior to becoming a regular cast member performing with the Cumberland River Boys at Opryland. The only blood-line inductee, Dana Williams recalled childhood memories watching his two uncles, The Osborn Brothers, perform on the Opry stage.

Looking ahead, Diamond Rio wants to mount a bigger stage show for the road -and take it, and their music to more places, including the far-ranging international market.

But, most importantly, Diamond Rio is right now intent on demonstrating to one and all just how believable Unbelievable is.

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