Jewly Hight | KUNC

Jewly Hight

A few years back, a band called Hot Country Knights began opening amphitheater and arena dates for country star Dierks Bentley. The group stuck out as the most inept, inappropriate and unprofessional act in the lineup, with the most memorable hair, most energetic thrusting, and most zipper-straining Wrangler jeans.

In making her first album, Expectations, Katie Pruitt wanted to accomplish the same thing that most singer-songwriters want to with their debuts: to convince a new audience of her sharpness as a writer and charisma as a performer.

It's common practice for chart-topping Nashville songwriters to see their accomplishments celebrated with lawn signs in front of industry offices, but Jenee Fleenor arrived at Sound Emporium Studios for her NPR interview to see a banner congratulating her on a different kind of milestone. This November, she became not only the first woman to win the Country Music Association's Musician of the Year award, but the first fiddle player to be honored in more than two decades.

Behind the microphone in a club a fraction of the size of her usual venues, Miranda Lambert was nervous. "We always get a little jittery when we play in Nashville," she admitted briskly, "'cause the energy is high and the expectations are high."

The entertainment industry has given us countless tales of romantic pairings that were products of proximity or convenience — on film sets, club stages and world tours, in TV and recording studios — but didn't survive the transplant to other, more mundane settings. Buddy and Julie Miller have lived a different narrative: persevering, continually adapting companionship, in public and private.

Yola Carter caught the music bug as a small child growing up in a tiny seaside town in southwest England.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

On the coffee table of his cozy East Nashville apartment, Aaron Lee Tasjan has a notebook open to autobiographical scrawling — it's a kind of cheat sheet to his musical past, which he prepared, with his mother's help, just in case he forgot anything during his interview with NPR. To be fair, it isn't all that simple to retrace his weaving, winding musical path. The singer-songwriter tried out a variety of musical niches, cities and scenes before landing in Nashville.

Ask Rodney Crowell to point out musical mementos in his home 40 minutes south of Nashville, and he'll hurry you past the plaques commemorating his professional success. "I didn't put these up," he calls over his shoulder, striding down the hallway. "My wife did."

John Prine never really liked his singing voice. "The only reason I figured out I didn't like my old records to listen was I could hear how nervous I was, and how uncomfortable I was," the venerated musician says. "And who would want to sit around and listen to yourself being uncomfortable?"

Today, Prine is releasing The Tree of Forgiveness, his first album of new material in 13 years, to an audience that spans generations.

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