There’s only so much room at the top, but it’s still a bit of a mystery why JD Shelburne’s name isn’t on the charts with artists like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. This Kentucky-born country singer-songwriter has been paying his dues for over a decade now, playing 200 shows a year or more while making records and shooting videos in his never-ending quest for major recognition.
Shelburne just released his new album Straight From Kentucky, which was produced by Phil O’Donnell (Craig Morgan, Mo Pitney). The album was recorded entirely in Nashville, where Shelburne’s been living for years. “We recorded at Omnisound and Sound Emporium,” he said. “Phil O’Donnell brought in session guys for the whole album. We had Grady Saxman on drums, used a bunch of the newer guys around here who are getting all the work, who are playing for people like Luke Combs. I spent a lot of time with this record, we spent about six months recording it.”
With its new single “Hometown In My Headlights” just released to radio, Shelburne is hoping for big things with the new album. “This record is the best I’ve put out, man, and I’m really really excited about it,” he said, just after rolling off the bus following an all-night ride from a show. “I actually wrote five of the songs myself. The others are co-writes, so I wrote almost half by myself. I had a lot of time during the pandemic to write at home, not feel rushed, and I feel like I got the best songs I could have gotten. And the pandemic actually allowed me to go back in and record more songs, make the record longer than I’d planned. So I’m pretty proud of this one.”
Shelburne is hitting the road with a vengeance in 2021, having just finished several dates in Las Vegas, and preparing for a July 18 date in Louisville opening for ZZ Top. Shelburne is perhaps a little more country than the legendary Texas rock/blues performers, so it may come as a bit of a surprise that he and his band got an opening slot with them. “When we got on the ZZ Top bill,” Shelburne said, “they asked us not to play any slow music, so we’ll probably be doing a good 30 minutes of nothing but rockin’ uptempo stuff. We did a show for this same promoter with Tim McGraw back before the pandemic hit and we impressed him, so he put us on the ZZ Top show.”
The University of Kentucky graduate celebrated the release of the new album with a free concert last month in his hometown of Taylorsville, Kentucky that exceeded his wildest expectations. “The whole town turned out, and then some,” he said. “About 10,000 people showed up, it was like something I’d never seen before. I’m still overwhelmed that this many people showed up.”
The road to major success is a long and hard one, but it’s a road that Shelburne seems to enjoy traveling. “There’s a lot of competition out there, but I’ve been building a real fan base for a long time, and I’m looking to just keep building that,” he said. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on the road, a lot of shows, a lot of shakin’ hands. I love what I’m doing. But there’s no such thing as an overnight success.”