with Dylan Ortega, Lauren Victoria
HIS VOICE IS DEEP, RESONANT AND SEEMS TO CARRY THE ACHE OF A THOUSAND HEARTBREAKS. THE FACT THAT HES A YEAR AWAY FROM HIS 18TH BIRTHDAY MAY SURPRISE SOME, HOWEVER SPEND 10 MINUTES WITH CHARLIE AND IT ALL MAKES SENSE. THE PHRASE OLD SOUL IS A QUALITY OFTEN ASCRIBED TO YOUNG ENTERTAINERS, BUT MCNEAL WEARS IT WITH EASE. HE HAS AN UNCANNY KNACK FOR BRINGING A SONG TO LIFE WITH A DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING AND AUTHORITY THAT BELIES HIS YOUNG YEARS, AND THAT GIFT SHINES ON HIS NEW ALBUM RUNAWAY TRAIN.Country music can make you feel a lot of different things, McNeal says. It can make you dance. It can make you cry. Its really versatile and I love that. I want to make music that moves people. It was actually a time of sorrow that taught McNeal the impact music could have and spurred the young artists desire to launch a career. No one knew that I had a secret desire to be a singer. But we had a death in our family and folks were at the house, crying and hurting. I pulled out my guitar and started singing. Immediately I saw the affect it had on people-- -that I could help alleviate some of their sorrow just by singing songs-- -thats when I knew what I wanted to do. A California native, who grew up a couple hours from the seminal Bakersfield music scene, Charlie was heavily influenced by the music of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. I listened to them a lot, says McNeal. I got a lot of my musical inspiration from them and guys like Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Johnny Cash, along newer artists like Cody Jinks, Ward Davis, Sturgil Simpson and Colter Wall. They are proof that traditional country music is alive and well.Hes seen that impact first hand as hes performed in venues around his home state, building up an enthusiastic fan base. People are not only drawn to the rich, impressive timbre of his voice, but also the insightful, emotional songs he writes. He writes a lot by himself and with his sister, Corrin. She is fun to write. She loves stories. They recently wrote, Good Outweighs the Bad with Charlies producer, Kim Copeland. McNeal says, Writing with Kim was different and fun. That song is probably going to be the first single.On his sophomore album, Runaway Train, McNeal is really growing into his gifts as a singer and songwriter with a collection of well-crafted songs about lifes trials and triumphs. The title track is about a man who just cant seem to stay away from temptation. It boasts a potent lyric and musically McNeal describes it as Waylon meets Metallica. That song was inspired by a lot of just things that happen to people every day. We all know people who struggle and we all have our vices.The album combines such up tempo romps as Im Out of Luck, Not Out of Love with touching moments like Youll Turn Out Fine, a mothers reassurance to her child as he grapples with his fathers alcoholism and absentee parenting. I wanted to write an album about real life because a lot of radio is about good times, drinking beer with buddies, taking a girl down a dirt road and dropping the tailgate. Theres nothing wrong with it, he says. A lot of people want to listen to stuff that doesnt make them think, but the type of music that I want to make is about real life. Its about what really happens. I really want to send a message that through all the hard times, youre not forgotten. Life is full of difficult moments and choices and thats what this album is about.McNeal is balancing his senior year with a busy touring schedule. He recently opened for Willie Nelson. Standing in front of thousands of people, warming up the stage for Willie, was too cool to put into words. Those times of validation are coming more and more often. Playing festivals and honky-tonks you get to meet some pretty amazing people. Recently I met, The Band of Brothers, a veterans group that uses softball as a way to get their fellow brothers integrated back into society after they come home, McNeal recalls. I played the song
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