Charlie Worsham has been dubbed as “Nashville’s best-kept secret” for years. A celebrated multi-instrumentalist, he has played on records for Eric Church, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Hailey Whitters, actor/comedian Leslie Jordan and more. As an artist himself, Worsham is known for writing songs from the recesses of his heart and emoting them flawlessly in deliveries. However, this artist side of him had taken the backseat over the last few years, at least since his sophomore album Beginning of Things came out in 2017.
Signed to Warner Music Nashville since 2013, Worsham has released two full-length records with them to date: his debut effort Rubberband in 2014, and the aforementioned follow-up. Unfortunately, though both LPs garnered positive reviews from fans and critics, commercial success did not follow.
“It’s hard to be patient in the music business,” Worsham tells Sounds Like Nashville. “There are only two people on the label that were there when I signed: Brett Eldredge and Blake Shelton.”
“I’ve not been dropped because I do know Warner believes in me and I think they can tell the potential is there. I’m not someone who sounds like what just works [commercially] so they’re signing me in hopes of getting on that train,” he notes, before adding with a smile, “For better or worse, I’m one of a kind.”
It is this long-standing, steadfast belief Worsham’s label has in him that’s paved the way for Sugarcane, the singer’s four-years-in-the-making follow-up set of new music to his aforementioned sophomore album.
Produced by Grammy-winning producer Jay Joyce (Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Little Big Town), the six-song EP chronicles the Mississippi native’s roller-coaster life journey over the last few years, with each track co-written by him. Life, love, family, passion and hardship are key tenets explored, all of which weave Worsham’s story together as an artful, eclectic and deeply personal masterpiece. Bolstered by a renewed self-confidence, the tight sampler showcases his unparalleled musicianship- which proves to be one of Music City’s finest.
“Fist Through This Town” fleshes out Worsham’s anger-fueled resistance as a struggling artist over an electrifying guitarwork, whilst the breezy title track belies that fiery hot-headed moment and symbolizes “the end of that chapter.”
“Sugarcane” was penned by Worsham during his honeymoon with his wife Kristen in Costa Rica. “I don’t know who else brings a guitar on their honeymoon, but I did,” he quips.
“I hardly touched it. I played it like twice for five minutes. But it was the first time I had relaxed for more than a day since I can remember—certainly since I moved to Nashville nearly 15 years ago.”
The couple had journeyed on a scenic mountainside tour that took them on horses to explore nature’s sights, before wrapping up with an opportunity to “grind a strip of sugarcane and taste its juice.” Inspired by that sweet moment, like a true creative, Worsham took to his songwriting prowess to pen a delightful musical remembrance of it.
“On the plane back, I started putting notes together. The one time I picked up the guitar, this little music piece fell out of my hands,” the singer with a chuckle. “I want people to listen to that song and know that that’s where this particular chapter ends, and know that it’s because I was looking at my little world, focused on it, and content with my hunger.”
This personal moment of triumph is also illuminated on “For The Love,” a sentimental, anthemic track that highlights resilience.
While fans would recognize its acoustic rendition from either live shows or on live-streams over the years, the studio version features a rollicking production that carries Worsham’s heart-rending story with an effervescent, almost celebratory melody. “If you can’t put your heart into it, for the love of God don’t do it / I’ve only ever been in it For The Love,” he declares in the reflective chorus.
As Worsham reveals, its conception came from a bad emotional and mental place he was in while out on tour in 2017.
“I was needing to write songs to fill a quota to get out of a publishing deal that I had been fired from already, just so that I could start working on the next pub deal,” he recalls, adding that it was eventually written “in a stale beer-smelling fluorescent dressing room.”
Elsewhere on the EP, the closing number “Hang On To That” is a tender yet powerful reminder to listeners to never forget the things that fuel their passion or motivation, especially in seemingly insurmountable dark moments.
As Worsham encourages listeners in the song, “Hang on to that right there, that’s one of a kind / Hang on to that, that’ll last your whole lifetime / It’ll stick with you through the highs and lows / Whatever you do, son, don’t let go / Just hold on to it, tight as you can.”
The pensive standout was inspired by the singer’s father and their first rock n roll concert: The Rolling Stones’ No Security Tour at The Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1999.
“My dad drove an hour and a half to get there. I mean, I was too young to be around the funny-smelling smoke and naked women dancing and all the things,” Worsham admits with a laugh. “But I wasn’t there for that. I was there because my dad and I shared this love of something that was timeless, which was the music of The Rolling Stones.”
Years later, just as grown-up Worsham began dating his now-wife Kristen, he had asked his father for his thoughts on her, to which the older Worsham replied, “Man, whatever you do, hang on to that girl.”
“After we wrote the first draft of the song, it started to dawn on me that one of the best things a dad can give his son as advice is: ‘hang on to things that matter.’”
Although Sugarcane marks the ceremonious return of Worsham releasing music, he is not that same young man from the Rubberband and Beginning Of Things era. On top of being a proud husband and father now, the “one of a kind” artist also doesn’t write to appease everyone anymore—a laudable mark of personal growth.
“I stopped writing with a goal of making every human being on planet earth happy, pleased and impressed by me. I was only writing for one human being on this planet, and it was my soon-to-be wife,” he says.
Worsham’s eyes are no longer fixated on commercial accolades and other industry quantifiables. Seeing his peers with numerous Number One’s still chasing the next one made him realize one thing—the importance of being “content with [his] hunger.”
“I’m seeing people who have more hit songs than they can sing in one concert, and I’m realizing, ‘Wow, that never goes away.’ They’re still trying to figure out the next thing,” he reflects. “It’s not to say they’re not content or having a ball, but it’s refreshing [for me] to go, ‘OK, if I know this struggle is never going to go away, then that gives me permission to just have fun.’”
However, that doesn’t mean Worsham’s not going to continue being tenacious to achieve chart-toppers and hits. The singer’s grateful for the time Warner took to follow up with new music, and he’s going to put his best foot forward to cement that shot at stardom.
“I want a Number One song, I want to sell out Bridgestone Arena, and I believe I’m going to do it,” he says. “But, I will no longer allow myself to miss the technicolor kaleidoscope of blessings that surround me every single day and the beauty of this moment because I’m sitting around for some far-off check on a list to give me permission to be happy or think of myself as successful.”
“I wake up every day and try to be a good dad and husband, and I roll up my sleeves to do what I always have loved doing in this world for a living—which is being creative and creating music with people I love and respect. That, to me, is success.”