Birmingham’s music scene is a rapidly-growing destination for new artists from around the country. For those looking for a refreshing taste of Birmingham-grown musical talent, Corey Nolen is a native of Magic City, thriving on intricate, original songwriting to tell stories with a country sound. His unique blend of old-country lyricism gives us a sound that we have not heard for decades, and that this writer is excited to have back. Nolen studied at our own Birmingham-Southern, used his talent as a youth director, then returned to writing after years off. His writing style matured like a fine wine during this time, as evidenced by his unique storytelling musical style today.
Nolen’s interest in music was piqued as a child going through his grandparents’ record collection. His love for country music comes from decades-old tastes, in which stories were an essential piece of musical composition. His first guitar was given to him on his sixteenth birthday. “My parents were really humoring me,” he says. “I wasn’t any good at the time.”
As his playing and writing abilities developed, Corey grew into a unique artist with something to give Birmingham. “I write all the time,” he says. “I’ve found that my greatest contribution is songwriting.” This is why he prefers to write all of his material, not to co-write, or perform covers. “I never feel like it’s what I wanted to say. If it’s something I have no personal insight into, I don’t write it.”
“In order to say it with integrity, I had to believe it,” says Nolen, “and believe in the way that I said it.” Worded precisely, Nolen’s long-time-coming, heartfelt story-tunes were well-worth the wait. Raised in Southwest Birmingham, Nolen was virtually right in his own backyard at Moonlight on the Mountain for his album release party for Drive Down South this past May.
Corey wants only to be genuine, and to present his own feelings and thoughts, regardless of what “the market” says that it needs. “It’s frustrating to think that the way you want to express yourself isn’t going to ‘make it,’” he says. “If you don’t fit in a place, there’s not a place for you.” Nolen makes sure only to say what was true for him, and as a result, his refusal to shed any artistic integrity gives us easily-identifiable, personal words, not vague, but honest and specific to his life and experiences. Reflection and an exposed soul are present in his lyrics, and his close selection of recording musicians results in a sound that displays his elaborate and selective collection of feeling and melody.