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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Country s Jason Michael Carroll connects through his writing

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jason Michael Carroll Jason Michael Carroll
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Strangely enough, some people see country singer Jason Michael Carroll as a therapist, which is a testimony to the healing power of music.

But Carroll wasn t trying to heal when he wrote Alyssa Lies more than four years ago. He just looked at his four young children, at how vulnerable they were, and thought it was a song that should be written. He gets thousands of e-mails about his debut single, which tells the story of a little girl who is an abuse victim.

Dozens of people have visited him after concerts, telling him they were abused or they knew somebody who was abused. Usually the men stand by stoically, hands shoved in their pockets, as their wives or daughters tell Carroll their stories.

But a couple of weeks ago, Carroll finished an in-store performance and a teary-eyed man, his wife, and daughter approached. The man reached out and grabbed Carroll s hand.

He told me, Jason, I used to be an abuser. That song reminded me of who I was. Thank you for writing it. I d never heard that before. I was awestruck, Carroll says by phone from Nashville.

The song turned into a top-five smash for the 28-year-old North Carolina artist, becoming the fastest-rising debut single by a male country artist in 2006. His album, Waitin In the Country, was released about two months ago, and 57,608 copies were snatched up the first week, giving Carroll the best new male country artist debut in 15 years. It has sold more than 100,000 copies.

It s a phenomenal start for a guy who grew up as the son of a fundamentalist preacher in a house where he was forbidden to listen to any type of secular music.

My dad was very no-nonsense This is my household, my rules, if you don t like it, too bad, Carroll says. He was very stern, very strict, but honestly, I probably needed that because I was pretty headstrong.

His father could control his home environment, but he couldn t monitor the car stereo when Carroll began driving.

I would turn on the radio as soon as I got out of the driveway. I would listen to everything rock, rap, country. I m a huge Aerosmith fan, Carroll says. My ex-wife looked at me one time when we were at an Aerosmith concert and said, I m sorry baby, but I d leave you for Steven Tyler. I said, I d leave you for Steven Tyler.

Carroll is one of the most-talked about new country artists in years. He s been featured in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, People, Entertainment Weekly, CNN, Country Weekly. The biggest reason for the media s curiosity is Alyssa Lies and the album, which is an early candidate for the Country Music Association s Album of the Year. But it also helps that Carroll is personable and generous with his time.

And he has stories, lots of stories. Like the one where his mom entered him in a local American Idol-type competition without telling him until a day or two before the auditions.

I wound up going and winning the competition. The prize was going to New York City and auditioning for record labels. What they didn t tell you was that I was going to be this country boy from North Carolina singing country music going to New York to audition for rap labels. I think my favorite thing those [record executives] said was, We really like country, dog, Carroll says with a laugh.

Or there s the story about Garth Brooks, Carroll s strongest country music influence. In late 2002, Carroll moved to the Houston area. It took him three days to drive there from Raleigh because his truck kept breaking down. When he pulled into his new home, his father called and said his grandmother was in the hospital and he needed to come back home. He jumped back in the truck, but by the time he returned to North Carolina, his grandmother had already passed away. The next morning, Carroll s cell phone rang. His fan club president s number flashed on the caller ID.

I m thinking she s calling to offer condolences, but I answered and it s a guy s voice. He says, This is Garth Brooks. I know you re going through a lot with losing your grandma. Would you mind doing me a favor? Would you mind passing along condolences to your family for me? Carroll says.

The men talked about Carroll s musical career and how his band was breaking up and how he was moving to Texas to get a fresh start.

He said, I ll tell you what. This road you re on is a hard road and a long road, but if you make it, and when you make it, it s the sweetest road you ll ever know, so don t give up. That conversation kept me going through a divorce, bands breaking up. So I have to meet him one day to thank him for that conversation, which I think was very instrumental to getting me where I m at today.

But his deepest and most heart-felt stories deal with his music. There are lots of stories about Alyssa Lies, but the one song that Carroll chokes up over is his upcoming single, Livin Our Love Song. It s a song written about his girlfriend. But the more meaningful history behind the song is attached to his good friend s daughter, Brittany.

The 19-year-old was always somewhat of a little sister to Carroll, and the day he finished cutting Livin Our Love Song, she was on his bus listening to it and proclaimed it her favorite cut on the upcoming album. A week later, the teenager was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. Between show dates and during breaks in finishing the album, Carroll would fly back to visit Brittany in the hospital.

On Dec. 22, he made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, and he convinced Brittany s parents to put a laptop in the young woman s hospital room so she could watch.

I sang Alyssa Lies, but then I sang Love Song, and I said that I was sending it out to Brittany. They said she opened her eyes, which was hard for her to do at the time, Carroll says, his voice cracking.

Three days after Christmas, Brittany died, and Carroll sang Livin Our Love Song at the funeral.

Her friends made these bracelets so people would remember her. I rarely take mine off. Every time I play that song, I dedicate it to her, so she knows she ll always be remembered.

The single is due to radio within weeks. It s one in a line of potential hits off Carroll s debut. Possibly the strongest song is No Good in Goodbye, a song he wrote and recorded as a duet with pop star Jewel. After working with him, Jewel said, He s got one of the greatest voices of all time.

I try not to think about what she said. It s very flattering. There are better singers than me, but for her to say that really means a lot, he says.

One song doesn t make a career, a point that Carroll understands. He emphasizes that he s just getting started. I don t want to skyrocket, then drop off. As long as I can maintain this, that s great. But I d almost rather take the slow course. I want to do this for the next 20 years.

Contact Brian Dugger at:

bdugger@theblade.com.



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