By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
In eight years, the Eli Young Band has graduated from neighbors in the University of North Texas dorms to a major-label country act whose star is on the rise.
Steady touring earned the Eli Young Band a sturdy regional following, and a friendship with Miranda Lambert eventually introduced them to producer Frank Liddell, who not only recorded their second album, Level, but released it on his label, Carnival Records.
Blending a resonant honky-tonk twang with rock strut and pop sensibility, this Denton quartet is capable of straddling a lot of expectations. Frontman Mike Eli's baritone croon exudes sentiment without getting sickly sweet or cliché-ridden, and the band's demonstrated as much ease with a folky acoustic ballad like "Everything Is You" as pedal-steel country-rockers like "When It Rains." The latter slowly bloomed from regional to national hit, making the Billboard charts two years after the album's release. Eventually, Universal began courting the band and, when the contracts were signed, paid for a video to accompany the single, which, as a result, set a record as the longest-running independent single in Billboard history.
More recently, the band followed Level with the September-released Jet Black & Jealous, a disc that boasts hooks, smarts and polish enough to position the band for an impending breakthrough, led by the tradition-minded Top 20 country single, "Always the Love Songs."