The pop-rock duo For King & Country, featuring brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone, topped the Christian music charts this year with "God Only Knows." The hopeful ballad from their latest album tenderly tells of the love of God as a resource for the soul troubled by life circumstances.
But then country music superstar Dolly Parton heard the song and it has found a whole new life: a new recording, music video and millions of new listeners.
"When I first heard 'God Only Knows' I thought it was one of the best songs I'd ever heard," Parton told the brothers. "I came from a very spiritual background, and I love anything to do with inspirational songs that lift people up."
Parton was so moved that, with the brothers' encouragement, she decided to get involved herself.
A new version of the song was cut to include Parton's vocals. And a new music video featuring Parton and the Smallbone brothers (all cleverly included in dual roles) debuted at the end of August. (See the behind-the-scenes story of how it all developed online)
In its first ten days online the video already had more than 2.3 million YouTube views and 4,300 comments on the channel's website.
"The word 'honored' doesn't quite say it when it comes to her collaborating with us," the brothers posted in their Instagram account.
ASSEMBLING THE TOUR
"God Only Knows" is one of the songs at the forefront of the For King & Country album "Burn the Ships." The entire project provides the basis of their current tour, which stops Oct. 3 at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon (details below).
Something else for this tour – there is no opening act. This frees the band to expand on what it can perform from its catalog.
"We're gonna play the songs we are known for," said Luke of past hits such as "Proof of Your Love." "But from the new album we will play every song, something we've never done before. It really allows us to take people on a journey."
Luke and Joel as a team have a 2019 Dove Award nomination for Songwriter of the Year. But their creative group actually includes numerous contributors. The song "Joy," for example, features seven co-writers.
"There are about four or five other guys in our writing sphere that we're really close to and we basically do everything together," Luke noted. "In some cases that presents some obstacles, as people have different opinions. But in those discussions there are always some new discoveries."
Despite the additional artistic dressing that a song can take on in a studio setting, Luke said the artists are careful to produce a closely live sound on stage.
"People come to a show to hear real vocals and real instrumentation," he reasons. "So every band member is playing every instrument they can. In some cases in the real it's not perfect. But that's the appeal. We want it to be real and as personal as possible."
What is the most challenging aspect for Luke Smallbone of being a Christian music artist? The rigors of touring? The time and energy needed for songwriting and recording?
"I don't crave more in life, but somehow more seems to be required," he said of their hectic schedule.
"There are hurdles and challenges about trying to manage the rights 'yesses' and 'nos.'
Fortunately, Luke is able to build in family time. He often takes his 6 year-old son (his oldest) on outings, and occasionally all three of the kids and wife Courtney are able to come on tour.
"If you're saying yes to something, you're saying no to another," he said of their priority-setting decisions.
And now another opportunity has presented itself. For King & Country has been invited to perform on the annual "CMA Country Christmas" TV special. Among the other artists scheduled are Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and host Trisha Yearwood. Taped in Nashville in late September, the special will air on ABC-TV during the holiday season.
"I'm very thankful to do what I get to do," Luke said. Often times, God only knows what doors may open.
For King & Country – "Burn the Ships" world tour
7pm Thurs. Oct. 3 at LC Walker Arena, 955 4th St. in downtown Muskegon
Tickets $20, $30 and $40, with floor tickets and special amenities also available Group discounts for 10 or more. Available online.
(Note: For King & Country also performs Fri. Sept. 27 at EMU Convocation Center in Ypsilanti )
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