By Kurt Wolff
Justin Moore is reaching back, all the way to his first memory of making music, when he was just a little kid in Arkansas.
As he told Radio.com, that early moment for him involved “singing ‘Honky Tonk Man’ by Dwight Yoakam in the living room. Why I did that, I have no idea.” What he did know, though, was that he “always loved country music, even from the time I was 3 or 4 years old.”
Three albums and countless live shows later, it’s obvious he loves it now more than ever. Little wonder, then, that he’s among the New Artist of the Year nominees at this Sunday’s ACM Awards.
Related: See all 2014 ACM Award nominations
And in a genre where influences now creep in from hip-hop, pop and even EDM (electronic dance music), Moore is flying the flag for traditional country — the kind where the music isn’t afraid of a steel guitar and more than a hint of twang.
“Country music is more diverse now than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime,” Moore told Radio.com. “It’s always been cyclical. But it’s not gone to the extents that it has now. That said, it’s not my thing, but it’s all been good for our genre. It’s brought new fans into the format.”
And, he said, “it’s always important to me that there are at least a few of us out there waving the flag for traditional country music, because it’s what made it the best genre of music out there. The more we include the other stuff, the less we have of the traditional stuff, so it’s important for some of us out there to keep that voice heard, too.”
But just because Moore has a love of traditional country sounds of artists like George Jones, Vern Gosdin and Willie Nelson doesn’t mean that’s all he listens to — or plays.
“I grew up listening to traditional stuff, but I always loved Southern rock as well. So I think my first album represents those two [sides] pretty well,” he said. He references Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt and Montgomery Gentry as examples of artists he admires who have successfully walked that line between rock and country.
But, he continued, he’s also “a fan of people who change from album to album,” and so his second release was “more honky-tonk, twangy country.”
And as for his latest release Off the Beaten Path? “There’s kind of a little bit of everything on it,” Moore said. Released last fall, Off the Beaten Path does, after all, include the goofy and “ridiculous” fan favorite “I’d Want It To Be Yours,”the ballad “That’s How I Know You Love Me” (a song he described as “my favorite song I’ve ever recorded”), and the catchy “Point at You,” his most recent No. 1 hit.
“It’s definitely the most diverse album I’ve done,” Moore said.
Speaking of Daniels, Moore was bowled over that he was able to get the country icon to sing and play fiddle on the Off the Beaten Path track “For Some Old Redneck Reason.”
“While I was writing the song, I’m going, I have to somehow some way get Charlie Daniels on this,” Moore said. “I don’t even know if I want the verse to be on there if he can’t do it, because this is so him.” A month later, he played a show with Daniels and asked him to sing. Daniels was immediately open to it. “He told me, ‘you tell me when and where and I’ll be there.’ And to hear that from one of my heroes in this business, I was taken aback.”
The 49th ACM Awards air Sunday, April 6 at 8pm ET/PT on CBS.