Country newcomer Laura Bell Bundy: From Broadway to Nashville
The world, at least the country music-loving part of it, is about to be hearing and seeing a lot more of Laura Bell Bundy, a Kentucky-bred singer and songwriter whose debut album arrives April 13. But unlike a lot of newcomers, Bundy has a wealth of spotlight time already to her credit.
I had lunch with Bundy today at her hotel in Beverly Hills while she was in town for some promotional activities leading up to the release of “Achin’ and Shakin’.” It’s an ambitious -- especially for a debut -- effort split into the titular two portions: The first's half made up of moody ballads laced with lots of Southern soul, while the other's a mini romance-novel-in-song loosely tracing the course of a woman who gives the boot to a cheating partner (in her current single and video “Giddy on Up”), goes through the heartbreak, rebound and discovery of a new object for her affections.
She’s slated to sing “Giddy on Up” during the Academy of Country Music Awards show in Las Vegas on April 18, a featured slot she finds doubly ironic. Not only is it rare for a debut artist -- one who isn’t even a nominee -- to be tapped as a performer at any of the major awards ceremonies, but it’s also the polar opposite of her experience at the Tony Awards.
Bundy was a Tony nominee a couple of years ago for her starring role in the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” in which she spent nearly two years doing eight performances a week in New York City. (She's also been in productions of "Wicked," "Hairspray" and "Ruthless!") At that time, the Tony committee still had a rule that performances only were granted to actors from shows that were in the running for awards, and that year, “Legally Blonde” itself wasn’t, even though its star was.
“I was the only one in my category who didn’t get to perform,” the 28-year-old singer said between bites of a Caesar salad. “That was the last year they had that rule. CBS does the ACM Awards and they also do the Tony Awards -- I wonder if they’ll remember that?”
It’s no doubt due to the extensive performing experience she brings with her, as both singer and hoofer, that she’ll be doing the ACM show. Her representatives expect the performance to generate considerable buzz after the ceremony.
But country music is more than just another role she’s stepping into. Bundy grew up in Lexington, Ky., an ardent fan of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton who also soaked up the R&B and soul music of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Those four key influences can be heard strongly in “Achin’ and Shakin’,” on which she lets loose some of the same sass and self-confidence as Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and country rabble rouser Miranda Lambert.
She gave up her place in New York and moved to Nashville about 18 months ago to pursue music full time. “I decided I’d been putting my music on the back burner long enough,” she said. “Before I ever did anything on Broadway, I was writing songs and trying to get a record deal.”
Now she has one, with Mercury Records. “I’m a believer in divine timing,” she said. “If this had happened to me when I was 18, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I didn’t know who I was then. I’m much better prepared for it now.”
Who she is may be a little tougher to pin down, since she has invented a full stable of comic alter-ego characters from Cooter County, a town she invented and loves to drop in and out of at the drop of a hat.
Might Bundy be the breakout star of this year’s ACM show, the way Lambert turned so many heads a few years back with her incendiary awards-night performance of “Kerosene”? Stay tuned…
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: UMG Nashville