Used with permission of CMA Closeup News Service
By Crystal Caviness
An interesting thing happened to Curb Asylum recording group Trick Pony, known for its sass and party spirit, during a recent unplanned two-year hiatus.
"I think we've grown up," said bassist Ira Dean. "We still like to throw down and have fun, but we've definitely grown up and spread out a little bit."
Dean and his bandmates, singer Heidi Newfield and guitarist Keith Burns, showcase their newfound maturity on R.I.D.E. (which stands for Rebellious Individuals Delivering Entertainment), the trio's third album and first at its new label home of Curb Asylum.
Trick Pony was Warner Bros. Records' shining star when the band released its self-titled debut album in 2001, a Platinum-selling project that garnered the trio Academy of Country Music and American Music Awards nominations.
One year later, the group's follow-up, On a Mission, earned Trick Pony a GRAMMY nod.
In 2004, they were nominated for CMA Vocal Group of the Year, but the band's momentum screeched to a halt when Warner Bros. underwent a major leadership change, a corporate decision that resulted in a bumpy and uncertain road for Trick Pony and R.I.D.E.
They left Warner Bros.; bought the rights to R.I.D.E. (which had been recorded but was sitting unreleased in the Warner Bros. vault), and were picked up by Curb Asylum President Mike Curb. R.I.D.E. was released on Aug. 23.
"Unfortunately, in the music business everything changes," Dean said. "You'd like to stay at the same label, with the same manager, the same crew and have everything stay the same like Elvis did."
When the changing of the guard happened at Warner Bros., the staff that had embraced Trick Pony's honky-tonk playfulness was gone and the trio recalled that the incoming regime had its own ideas about the group.
"I think [the new Warner Bros. leadership] had a view of a different direction for us that I don't think we were really hip to," Dean said.
"We really stood behind this album," Newfield said about the firm stance she and her band partners took with R.I.D.E. Still, Newfield, Dean and Burns revisited their third album while the politics played out.
"Obviously, we weren't happy that the album wasn't coming out," Burns said. "But we said, 'If it's going to be delayed, then let's take the time to go in and find some better songs.'"
At the same time they were writing new material and searching for additional songs, the bandmates' personal lives were in turmoil.
"I ended up going over the deep end," Dean recalled, adding that he was drinking alcohol to cope. "There's nothing worse than feeling powerless over your own career. I checked myself into rehab."
Around the same time, Newfield's mother, Mary Ann Henthorn, was losing her battle with multiple sclerosis and Newfield got engaged to Bill Johnson. Henthorn died Feb. 22, 2004 and Newfield married Johnson less than four months later on June 6.
As they pushed through the tumultuous times, the members of Trick Pony found themselves taking some different directions with their music. On R.I.D.E., the group added vocals by Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish ("Sad City"), horns from Branford Marsalis ("Cry, Cry, Cry") and a recitation from Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson (the gospel-tinged "Mary Ann's Song," written in memory of Newfield's mom).
The end result, all three bandmates agree, is better than the originally completed version. "Now, looking at the album, the finished product, it's been a tough row to hoe to get to the end of this, but all of those things we've gone through has made this album better," Newfield said.
"We're very excited to have Trick Pony on our label. Their unique individual talents combine to form a group that has absolutely unlimited potential," said Curb Asylum President Mike Curb. "Their new album is awesome and we believe it will take them in new directions. This group has an incredible future."
Newfield, Dean and Burns said the turmoil they've endured has made them stronger both as friends and business partners.
"There's strength in numbers, and that's what we have going for us," Burns said. "There's three of us, and we sort of lean on each other.
"This ship is righted again, I think, and we've got the wind in our sails."