Charlie Worsham Takes Flight on Star-Studded Life-Inspired EP, ‘Compadres’ [Interview]
Perseverance, tenacity and grit take center stage on Charlie Worsham’s new Warner Music Nashville-issued EP, Compadres.
A heartfelt tribute to his Nashville journey and the “compadres” he’s made along the way, this personal, star-studded five-track set is a labor of love for Worsham and has been, as he humbly admits, a whopping 10 years in the making.
“The beautiful thing about this moment [with] Compadres is that I feel like I’m the only person that could have made this particular project, and I could have only made it at this point in time, 10 years in on a label,” Worsham tells Taste of Country in a virtual interview from his Nashville home.
“I’ve thought a lot about what it means to [be] on Warner,” he continues. “I think what it really comes down to is this: them sticking with me, I really believe, is evidence of the fact that they saw me in a light that, maybe for a long time, I didn’t see myself in. And I, between the last couple of years and now have learned to see myself the way they’ve always seen me — as a star.”
A star is indeed what Worsham is on Compadres. Breaking out from the supporting roles he’s held over the years, Worsham takes centerstage to let his formidable light shine on the project, with Luke Combs, Lainey Wilson, Dierks Bentley, Kip Moore and Elle King fanning his flame.
Getting a global superstar like Combs on the project wasn’t a hard ask. In fact, perhaps unbeknownst to many, Combs has been a fan of Worsham since his 2013 debut album, Rubberband, which flew under the radar at a time when bro-country music dominated radio charts and airwaves.
“This album deserves so much more credit and attention than it got when it came out. Front to back, every song. The writing, instrumentation, and production are A+. If you’re a country fan you should give this a listen,” Combs shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2019. Since then, the two have become friends, with Worsham playing acoustic guitar on Combs’ latest effort, Gettin’ Old, and now, sharing a tug-at-your-heartstrings duet rendition of Rubberband’s “How I Learned to Pray.”
“It wasn't in a church with a chapter and a verse / Some preacher made sure everybody heard / Or just some words somebody taught me to say / I can fold my hands and bow my head / But there are just some things that can't be said / Without a little walk on water kind of faith / And that's how I learned to pray,” they sing tenderly in the introspective chorus. 10 years on, Worsham’s rerecorded version seems to pack more emotions, perhaps owing to the numerous faith-tested moments of his unconventional career.
Another standout track on Compadres is the ebullient Wilson-assisted cover of Patty Loveless’ “Handful of Dust.” Recording it was in part inspired by Loveless’ longtime friend and fellow ‘90s country legend, Vince Gill.
“I played it on the Opry and Vince was there that night. And as I was walking offstage, he said, ‘Hey man, that song, you singing it, is very compelling,’” Worsham fondly recounts.
While compliments are a dime a dozen in Nashville, Worsham says getting Gill’s stamp of approval was extra special.
“The great thing about Vince is he gives compliments that really mean something, and they’re useful. You can throw a rock and get 10 compliments here in Nashville that don’t necessarily mean anything. But when Vince says it, I’ll listen.”
Putting his spin on a Loveless song also meant a great deal to Worsham. After all, she’s one of his enduring “arrow-to-the-heart” artists.
“I think especially given my love of bluegrass and my background there, I can just connect with the high lonesome in her voice. I tend to sing in a higher register as well, so I just have a natural affinity for her and her music and her records,” the Mississippi native shares with a smile.
Enlisting Wilson for his jubilant tribute came naturally, too. As Worsham says, it was Wilson’s own “funky Baton Rouge area version of High Lonesome” that made her the perfect duet partner. “When I hear her sing, that’s what I connect with too. It’s that pure, authentic back-from-the-mother-diamond-of-country-music kind of voice — and that’s the kind of music I want to be around, and that’s what makes Lainey a sister in country music,” Worsham shares.
The EP is bookended with the aptly titled, “Things I Can’t Control.” David Lee Murphy, Ross Copperman, and Ashley Gorley penned the track, and the breezy, universally relatable life ode finds Worsham and Bentley declaring with carefree surrender: “I get there when I get there / Hope we all get there alright / I’ve loosened up my grip a little bit on this old life / It’s kinda like the ocean, just got to let it roll / I’m learning not to worry about the things I can’t control.”
Working with Bentley in the studio was a full-circle moment for Worsham. 12 years ago, Bentley recorded a song he had written called “Heart of a Lonely Girl” for his 2012 album, Home, giving Worsham his first major-label artist cut. Since then, the two have bonded as dads, country artists, bluegrass fans and for the guitar virtuoso, a member of Bentley’s Gravel & Gold Tour band.
“Dierks has taught me so much about just accepting the moment and accepting that I don’t have control and just rolling with it and just being ready to laugh at myself, instead of getting all worked up,” he says.
Staying present in the present and not worrying about the future hasn’t always been second nature to Worsham. In 2021, he released “Fist Through This Town,” a song that plainly chronicled his flightless dream and personal resentment of Nashville. Fast-forward two years later, Worsham’s no longer the angst-filled individual he once was. Instead of bellyaching the atypical, far-from-straight-laced trajectory of his career, he’s letting the fuel from his past frustrations feed the inspiration of his next-level work on Compadres.
“If I had been given the keys to the kingdom on the first draft of my dreams, there’s no telling what kind of trouble I’d be in,” Worsham humbly admits. “What needed to happen was I needed these experiences over these last few years to come into my own to get a deeper sense of self, to put to bed that anger, fear and some insecurities, and just be a grown-ass man at the end of the day,” he says with a laugh.
Today, the 38-year-old is more than just a “grown-ass man.” On the professional front, he shines as one of Music Row’s most beloved musicians, who's clinched the 2022 ACM Acoustic Guitar Player of the Year award and is now up for CMA Musician of the Year at the 57th CMA Awards. But on the personal front, Worsham’s a doting son, loving husband and proud father to two-year-old Gabriel.
At the end of the day, Worsham isn’t hoping Gabriel boasts to his friends about his celebrity and award-winning dad. Instead, his one wish and hope for his son is that he knows that Daddy’s always there for him every step of the way — a lesson he’s gleaned from his own parents.
“One of the great gifts my parents gave me that I hope to pass on [is] all the ways in which they made me feel supported [and] all the ways in which they made me feel like I could call them and not be scared,” Worsham recounts.
“So 20, 30 years from now, I just hope that Gabe knows that I love him and can brag and say that, ‘I’ve always felt like I could call my dad no matter what kind of trouble I was in, and I knew it’d be okay and if he couldn’t help me, he could point me to where I could get help.’ What a gift that is for a parent to give their kids.”
Until then, with newfound vigor to elevate his singer-songwriter career to new heights, Worsham’s putting the pedal to the metal as he establishes a name for himself in Music City and beyond. He’s not quitting being a session player or road musician. That remains. The only difference is that this time around, it’s coupled in tandem with his full-fledged artistic pursuit.
“It’s obvious that a lot of my efforts and time and energy over the years have gone into other people’s stories and their records. I’ve been a part of my compadres’ stories for a long time, and that’s been a mindset that comes naturally to me,” Worsham realizes.
“But right now, something’s shifted in me and I’m ready for all these other people to be part of my story. Warner knew this deep down, and they continued to bet on that deep down for a long time, and now their bet is paying off because I see it too and I’m ready.”
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