Long before she won the hearts of millions on American Idol in her early 20s, Kree Harrison was immersed in the musical aesthetic of Nashville, an R&B-infused country singer/songwriter living in, being nurtured by and developing her craft with the multi-talented creatives there. Six years after her triumphant run on the show, the Season 12 runner-up is launching an exciting new phase of her career, signing an exclusive recording and publishing agreement as the flagship artist for the newly launched Music City based indie label One Vision Records.
Kree connected with the principals of One Vision through her longtime booking agent Mike Meade, Vice President of Buddy Lee Attractions, which is celebrating 50 years as Nashville’s premier booking agency. While working with One Vision’s principals to put a powerhouse support team together, Kree has been hard at work writing new songs, listening to outside submissions from some of Nashville’s top songwriters and meeting with potential producers for her upcoming full-length album, expected later this year.
Kree recently released the collection’s lead single, “I Love The Lie,” an infectious mid-tempo country rocker co-written by Chris Stapleton, Morgane Stapleton and Liz Rose (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood) and produced by Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson.
Says Kree of the song, “I've been thankful to have been immersed in Nashville's songwriting community from the start of my career, and have learned it's not always about writing every song, but finding the ones that immediately speak your truth, which is exactly what happened when I heard ‘I Love The Lie.’ Working on this project has made me find a piece of resilience within myself I didn't know existed, and I feel like this special song gives a taste of that.”
Kree laid the foundation for her upcoming releases with her successful debut single and Idol Finale song “All Cried Out,” which reached #34 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and her highly acclaimed 2016 collection This Old Thing, which hit #28 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and #20 on the Heatseekers Album chart. She has also collaborated with many of music’s biggest artists, including Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Delbert McClinton, Kacey Musgraves and another of her idols, Wynonna Judd.
“The new album is going to be country for sure,” says the multi-talented Texas born and raised performer, “but because I have such broad influences, from Otis Redding, who I practically worship, to Patsy Cline and Lee Ann Womack, there’s going to be a lot of soul in there. With me, there’s always an undeniable melting pot. When people ask me about that hybrid, I remind them that Ray Charles did a country record. If you can marry those two styles together – for me that’s my medicine. It’s what my parents were listening to when I was growing up. There’s something about the dreamy steel guitar in country music and the horns on a great soul song that gets to me.”
Unlike many Idol contestants who enter the competition as amateurs, Kree had amassed an impressive musical resume by the time she auditioned successfully in Oklahoma City. Raised in Woodville, Texas, she spent her childhood singing at churches (where she happily shocked her pastor at age three by singing Amy Grant’s “El Shaddai”), rodeos, weddings and competitions. “A lot of this passion was fueled by listening to what my parents played every day, which was Otis and Al Green in the house and then Bad Company and Stevie Ray Vaughan outside when my dad was working on his Harley,” Kree says. By ten, she had opened for Percy Sledge (another soul hero of hers), won “Artist of the Year” from Kirbyville Playhouse; sung three times on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”; and scored a development deal and scored a development deal with Lyric Street Records, which resulted in her family moving to Nashville.
“I was serious about wanting to be a singer,” Kree says, “but while the folks that signed me felt I was talented and hungry, it was like ‘Who are you as an artist?’ While it was a long process figuring out the right direction to pursue, I knew even then that I didn’t want to be a pop country bubblegum singer. I was and still am stubborn about that. A lot happened during those formative years. We experienced a tragedy when my dad passed away, and for a long time I just wanted to be a normal kid again. We moved back to Texas, and then when other opportunities came up back in Nashville, I moved back there with my older sister and we sort of raised each other.
“When I was signed with Chrysalis,” she adds, “I wrote a lot of material that was never released, and learned a lot about the ups and downs of the industry. There was a time when I suppressed the fact that I could belt out a song because I thought I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a songwriter. John and TJ Osborne were among my great songwriter friends at the time, and I am grateful for their support. I envisioned myself as a Patti Griffin type of singer-songwriter, playing either coffee shops or at the Ryman Auditorium.”
Kree spent her late teens performing at local Nashville hotspots, including the legendary Bluebird Café and the Grand Ole Opry, in addition to BMI Showcases in Florida such as the Key West Songwriters Festival and the Sandestin Music Festival. She also sang backup on Kacey Musgraves’ album Same Trailer Different Park and the Eli Young Band’s Life at Best. Tragedy struck again when her mom passed away, and after Kree lost her publishing deal at Chrysalis, she moved back home to Texas for a year before giving it a go one more time in Nashville. Down on her luck, she moved back in with her sister, who convinced her to try out for American Idol. Kree was resistant at first, but then figured she had nothing to lose.
“At first I didn’t think being on a talent show was ‘me’ at all because I didn’t think I had a TV ready personality,” she says. “But the show turned out to be an amazing experience. I was grateful that I had spent so many years working in the trenches in the music business, going through the ups and downs because all that prepared me for the crazy, fast paced insulated lifestyle of being on the show. Even though I had performed on the Opry stage, I was still green in a lot of ways, and I never worked that hard in my life. It was a crucial learning experience, and played a major part in me becoming the artist I am today.”
One of Kree’s most memorable American Idol performances was her blistering take on “Piece of My Heart,” a classic funk/soul song primarily associated with Janis Joplin’s 1968 version with Big Brother & The Holding Company. In a delightful irony, Kree was born at the same hospital as the legendary blues/rock singer – St. Mary’s Hospital in Port Arthur, Texas.
“It’s been mentioned in every bio ever written about me, and it’s definitely cool as s***,” Kree says. “It’s an honor to be put in the same sentence as Janis, much less to share a geographic location with her. She’s another of my biggest influences and I grew up on her music. People sometimes celebrate her legacy without thinking about the sadness, hurt, rejection and abandonment issues that plagued her life and made her sing with a broken heart. In my own life journey, I can identify with many of these same struggles. I’m very proud to be from the same region where greats like her, the Prince of Zydeco Wayne Toups, Mark Chesnutt, Lee Hazlewood, George Jones, Mark Chesnutt and Percy Sledge are from. Rumor has it there’s something in the water! I’m grateful now to have the opportunity to carry on in that storied tradition and, with Visionary Records, create my best music ever that reflects where I am now in my life.”