The idea started on a USO tour to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009. It started when Billy Ray Cyrus was performing to troops on a mission to give back to those who serve our country. It started as performances of songs like the patriotic title track from his debut album, “Some Gave All,” were being interrupted by the sound of bombs in the distance.
Since that time spent overseas, what started as a short tour bringing a semblance of home to the battlefield evolved into an 8-song concept album honoring our men in uniform. Billy Ray Cyrus’ latest project, I’m American, is an impressive collection of patriotic country/roots-rock songs dealing with the truths, hopes and issues soldiers and their families face both overseas and at home. To Billy Ray, this collection is his “way of giving back and saying thank you to them for the gift of freedom.” Tonight on GAC at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, you can see our special with BRC called Billy Ray Cyrus: I’m American. Check out photos from the special HERE.
“Runway Lights,” the album’s opening track and first single, erupts to life with bombastic acoustic and electric guitars supported with strong percussion. As Cyrus’ raspy vocal starts into the first chorus singing, “I wonder how the Yankees did tonight/ I sure hope Grandma’s doin’ alright/ I wish I knew what Mama’s cookin’ for supper/ I pray Jane has got my letter, knows how much I love her,” the timbre of his voice poignantly takes on the weighty subject of a pilot missing the simple richness of home. Cyrus’ voice sounds excellent and at ease throughout the album as he brings these stories to life. On the rowdy “Keep The Light On,” about a soldier’s jubilation to be returning home after a tour of duty, the joy is infectious as Billy Ray sings “We’ll shake the stands and wake the nation/ I’m roundin’ third and I’m comin’ home!”
Cyrus is joined by a well-picked selection of guests to accompany him on two of the album’s songs. Amy Grant’s voice offers delicate reflection on “Stripes and Stars,” a very contemporary sounding piece featuring crisply produced piano and a rolling guitar line. Here, a husband and wife find answers in the symbolism of the American flag when dealing with the struggle of his long tours of duty. “It ain’t easy to believe I’m being all that I can be,” Cyrus sings before his character finds meaning for his hard work in Old Glory. And on a new version of “Some Gave All,” the last song of the collection, Cyrus is joined by Jamey Johnson, Craig Morgan and Darryl Worley – all of whom are veterans. The feeling is genuine and pure when the four sing in harmony, “All gave some, some gave all/ Some stood through for the red, white and blue/ And some had to fall.”
The themes here are heavy. “We Fought Hard” tells the story of two brothers who serve, one of which has to tell their mother about his brave sibling who fell in battle. “Nineteen” pays tribute to a soldier killed at that very age and wonders what he could have done in life had he not enlisted. However, these stories speak the truth that is sometimes all too familiar to many of us and Cyrus does an admirable job paying tribute to them.