Keith Urban announced his new album, as well as an upcoming world tour, during a pop-up concert at Exit/In, a Nashville club he first played as an undiscovered artist

By Nancy Kruh
January 18, 2018 06:15 PM
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Credit: Nancy Kruh

Keith Urban is known for defying convention and not naming his albums after a particular song title. His latest — announced Wednesday — is no exception, but this one is positively cryptic: Graffiti U.

He announced its imminent arrival, as well as an upcoming world tour, during a pop-up concert at Exit/In, a Nashville club the superstar first played as an undiscovered artist in the early 1990s. About 350 lucky fans packed the storied music venue for an almost two-hour concert; the first 36 minutes — including the announcement, of course — was live-streamed on Urban’s Facebook page.

The tour, which will cover 55 cities and 59 dates, kicks off on June 15 in St. Louis and finishes in Dallas on Nov. 3. Among the dates are nine shows in Canada, as well as cities in Nevada, Oregon, Alabama and Arkansas that Urban has never played. Kelsea Ballerini will be Urban’s opener for all but eight of the dates.

During the Wednesday concert, the 50-year-old artist was far less specific about the new album. “It’s going to be coming out this year, very soon, I hope,” he told the crowd. “I’m getting very close to finishing.”

Keith Urban
| Credit: Nancy Kruh

He also offered his audience no explanation for the album’s intriguing title, though several news outlets report the “U” is intended to evoke both Urban’s last name and his music’s listener. As for “graffiti,” he told Billboard, the word has “more of an artistic expression connotation, a purer artistic expression, which is really what record-making is for me. It’s going in and starting with a blank canvas in the studio.”

Well-known for his perfectionism in the studio, Urban told the Exit/In crowd that he’s “still figuring out which songs are on the record, so it’s not completely finished. I recorded too many songs, so I’ll cull it down and figure out what to do with the other songs that don’t make the record because I’d like you guys to hear those, too.”

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With the Facebook live stream at an end, Urban chose to give his live audience first-listening rights to four of the songs — that is, after he briefly crossed himself and clasped his hands in prayer.

“We’re going to attempt to play some new songs for you right now, which we’ve never done, ever,” he told the crowd. “Bear with us!”

The first, “Steal My Thunder,” which Urban co-wrote, features a funky syncopation, and it’s “about telling my girl (that would be wife, Nicole Kidman) that you can steal my thunder any time,” he explained.

Urban performed the next, a haunting ballad with a driving beat, by introducing only its title, “Same Heart.”

Before launching into the third, he asked if any in the crowd were from Texas. The reason for the question became obvious when he announced the song’s title, “Texas Time.” A tribute to the Lone Star State, the infectious tune is vaguely reminiscent of Don Williams’ classic “Tulsa Time” — surely no coincidence since Williams is among Urban’s country idols.

The Aussie channeled his inner Texan at the song’s end with a spirited, “Yee-haw!”

The final selection from the new album — the breezy, romantic “Parallel Line” – is set for release on Friday, and Urban described it as a love song about two people “becoming ‘one.’”

Urban filled out the evening with performances of some of his most recent hits, including “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” “Somewhere in My Car” and “Little Bit of Everything.” He also performed new single, “Female,” which may or may not appear on the upcoming album, according to reports in other outlets.

Keith Urban and Kelsea Ballerini
| Credit: Nancy Kruh

Kelsea Ballerini made a surprise appearance after Urban announced her name for the tour bill. Urban promised an on-stage collaboration between the two during the tour, and they chose to try out their duet potential with what Ballerini called “a curve ball” — a cover of Camila Cabello’s new single, “Never Be the Same.”

“I said to Kelsea, we should try this song, what the heck,” Urban said.

Afterward, he introduced Ballerini’s new husband, fellow Aussie and country artist Morgan Evans, who was in the audience, then Urban yielded the stage to Ballerini to perform her first and latest hits, “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Legends.”

Kelsea Ballerini
| Credit: Nancy Kruh

In between the two, Ballerini described the impact that Urban has had on her career — starting from the time she was 13 years old and wrote her first songs.

“I didn’t really know where they fit yet because I kind of listened to everything,” she said. But then she heard Urban’s song “Stupid Boy,” and “it changed my life.”

“I really credit so much of my path from hearing that song,” she said, “so to be able to tour with Keith Urban is like one of the craziest full circle moments of my life.”