Charlie Worsham has the entire Music City creative community in his corner, and that’s never been more apparent than with Compadres. The five-cut project finds a handful of his friends and admirers working with one of Middle Tennessee’s most accomplished collaborators and, in turn, putting their stamp of approval on an artist who makes high-value music with even higher-value intent.
Produced by The Cadillac Three’s frontman, Jaren Johnston, Compadres features the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Luke Combs, Female Vocalist of the Year Lainey Wilson, CMA Fest co-hosts Dierks Bentley and Elle King, plus raspy hit-making adventurer Kip Moore. That’s an all-star lineup, and those artists’ willingness to play supporting roles on Compadres is a sign of just how deeply Worsham is respected.
Bentley has called him “the next Stapleton” – that’s Chris Stapleton, just to dot the i’s and cross the t’s – and it’s a good comparison. Stapleton spent several years joining and leaving bands, writing hits for other artists and singing background vocals before he broke through as a perennial hitmaker and award-winner. Worsham’s story isn’t all that different.
“Around 2019, my phone started ringing, with my heroes calling from the other end of the line,” he remembers. “I began to understand that I was headed for something much more gratifying than I could’ve anticipated. Those hit songs and sold-out shows were already a part of my life. I’m an award-winning and in-demand musician who has appeared on nearly a dozen No. 1 songs. I’m a respected artist who has the entire country music industry pulling for me. The only thing that hasn’t been revealed yet is just how high and far this thing is gonna go.”
The communal support was apparent almost from the day Worsham moved to Nashville in 2007. He joined a band – Kingbilly, where one of his bandmates was Brothers Osborne guitarist John Osborne – and became enmeshed in Nashville’s underground. When that group bit the dust, Worsham secured a solo recording deal with Warner Music Nashville that led to a series of some of the deepest and best acclaimed 21st century albums in country music. He landed songs on albums by Bentley, King and Vince Gill. And, much like Gill, Worsham extended his artistry by playing on albums by a bundle of acts, including Combs, Wilson, Eric Church, Brandy Clark, Vince Gill, Kacey Musgraves, Hailey Whitters, Marty Stuart, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. He spent a year or two as an informal extra member of rough-cut bluegrass ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show, and he hit the road as a much-publicized member of Bentley’s band. The Academy of Country Music named him its Guitarist of the Year.
Those developments underscored for Worsham that the fandom isn’t a one-way street; he’s in a mutual admiration society with all of those acts and more.
Compadres broadcasts to the rest of the world what Music City already knows. It’s an eclectic project, touching on his influences from bluegrass to mainstream country to classic rock, and the songs are multi-layered – winners on first exposure, but best understood through repeated listens.
“Handful Of Dust” explores the tenuousness of life with Wilson’s burning harmonies supporting Worsham’s vocal conviction and a fiery solo. “How I Learned To Pray” casts Worsham as a Glen Campbell type, between his easy-going voice and baritone guitar, with Combs adding to the sense of wisdom in the text’s spiritual embrace of a soulmate. King brings a craggy realism to “Creekwater Clear,” a thoughtful, tactile appreciation for the Mississippi land that birthed him. Compadres closes with “Things I Can’t Control,” a five-minute jam band journey with Bentley that manifests a zen-like acceptance of the road not guaranteed.
Worsham’s delta upbringing introduced plenty of musical flavors to the start of his path. Hailing from a region that spawned everyone from B.B. King to Marty Stuart to HARDY, he was exposed to nearly everything – blues, soul, gospel, country, rock. All of those influences come to play in his Apple Music show, Pickers Radio, where his guests have included obvious headliners such as Bentley and Gill, acoustic artists like Alison Brown and Molly Tuttle and insider musicians such as Richard Bennett (Neil Diamond, Waylon Jennings) and Bryan Sutton (Taylor Swift, George Strait).
Compadres, a versatile celebration of musicianship and camaraderie, is an introduction into the next chapter of Worsham’s story. It’s a confirmation of the mutual admiration society he’s created, and a musical statement from his supporters that Charlie Worsham will have his moment. But it’s also a reminder that he’s been having moments for years, simply by exercising his talent in numerous ways at each step in a relentless journey.
“I’ve reached this beautiful place in my life where I’m loosening up my grip, worrying less, and laughing more,” he says. “I’ll be a part of country music ‘til I die. Deep down, that's what I wanted all along.”