When Amber Digby sings, people listen. “Amber is a great traditional singer,” says Vince Gill, who knows whereof he speaks, and like his following observation, ”which is so hard to find these days” it’s just the simple truth.
Yet it also doesn’t do his subject real justice, because Amber Digby’s singing touches the heart, not just of anyone who appreciates a traditional country song, but of anyone who’s ever known heartbreak, happiness, regret, loneliness-or just the compelling desire to get out on the dance floor for a night of fun. And the fact is, with each passing month and year, as she enjoys growing airplay and tours farther and farther from her home in Texas, Amber Digby and her music are reaching out to more and more and more of those hearts.
To an outside observer, Digby’s career ‘has an appearance of inevitability-after all, her father, mother, stepfather and uncles have all been in the ranks of professional musicians, notable for their own careers or for their contributions to the music of Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith, Faron Young, Ronnie Milsap, Hank Williams, Jr., the Osborne Brothers and many more. But though she frequented the wings of the Grand Ole Opry House and the sets of Hee Haw and Nashville Now as a child watching her parents at work, singing “was just something I did,” she says with a laugh. “My mom and my dad and my stepdad encouraged me to find my path and to be creative-not necessarily to sing.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until she was in her mid-teens and living in Oklahoma that Amber even began to sit in with her stepfather’s band, much less think about music as a career- and even then, it wasn’t an easy road. “I actually graduated from high school in Missouri, and then I got sidetracked, detoured,” she says with the frankness of someone who’s been through what she calls rough times. “I made some bad choices, and really, the only good thing that came out of that five year block was my son.”
That, though, turns out not to be quite true, because in the midst of that turmoil, Digby began visiting her mother and stepfather in their new home in the Texas hill country-and before long, she’d made her first album. “I started sitting in with artists like Jake Hooker and Justin Trevino,” she recalls, and once I heard what all these guys were doing down there, I thought yeah, this is really different- and it’s really good!”
With Trevino producing and playing on the album, her stepfather on pedal steel and Bobby Flores on fiddle, Music From The Honky Tonks served notice of a major new talent-and though it took a while to reach more than a few ears, it began to make the young singer a reputation. As country music historian John Morthland wrote in No Depression in early 2005, not long after she finally made the move to Texas, “if there’s a more promising hard-country singer on the horizon than Amber Digby, I’ve been kept in the dark.” By that summer, the album had garnered enough attention in Europe that she got called to go with Trevino and Flores to Sweden-the first of many overseas visits she’d make. Reuniting in the studio with Trevino, Amber released Here Come The Teardrops for Heart Of Texas Records in 2006, and traveled to Europe again-this time headlining her own tour-and by early 2007, she’d quit her day job, moved to the Houston area and, with the help of future husband Randy Lindley, had put together her own band to play the dance hall and club circuits that have nurtured so many Texas country artists.
“That was really big,” she recalls. “Because from the get-go, I wasn’t doing standards; even when I was doing covers, I wanted to do covers that no one else was doing. And when you play with a thrown-together band, you can’t do that. I learned that the hard way. But when Randy started the band for me, we started getting better right away-and the more we played, the better we got. Everything—gigs, album sales, songwriting, my ability to talk to the people at a show, everything-started picking up then.”
The hard work paid off with the next album, Passion, Pride, & What Might Have Been, which found Amber taking a producing credit for the first time, next to Lindley and Trevino. “My stepdad had always encouraged me and listened to my input,” she recalls, “but it was definitely learn as you go-listening to the drum sounds, the bass, how loud the left hand on the piano was. And with every record, I got my hand in it more, because I was figuring out what I liked, and getting better at coming up with ideas about how to get it.”
My Kind Of Country called the album “a sublime collection,” and its successor, Another Way To Live (produced by the same triumvirate) was equally well received-and this time, as reviewers noted, Amber was beginning to feature her own songs, three of which made the cut on the project, including her first Nashville co-write, “After It Breaks,” written with Dani Flowers. “I just blurted out the hook while we were driving down the road one day,” she says with a laugh, “and Randy said, ‘write that down!”‘ Before long, and with the encouragement of some highly-placed Nashville fans, Digby began making regular writing trips to Music City-one of which produced an unexpected result.
“I was at the Opry,” Amber recalls, “just hanging out and watching backstage, and Vince Gill was there. And so at one point, when he was greeting people, I went over and said, ‘hey, I’m Amber Digby, I just wanted to meet you.’ And before I could finish, he said, ‘oh my gosh, I love your stuff, I hear you all the time on satellite radio.’ I couldn’t believe it, it was almost surreal. But he invited me to write with him, and I did-and he wound up recording the song we wrote. And now he’s singing a duet with me for my next album.”
As special as the connection with Gill is, though, it’s just one piece of an accelerating career that’s seen Amber recording with multi-platinum-selling Texas favorite Mark Chesnutt, releasing an album of duets with Trevino-“we’d always talked about it,” she notes, “and it’s done so well that we’re already talking about doing another”-and a live CD and DVD recorded at the historic Swiss Alp Hall, and making her first prolonged American tour outside of Texas in late 2011.
“That was great,” Digby notes. “We were out for close to a month, we did the Grand Ole Opry, the Station Inn, we played in Virginia, North Carolina, D.C., New York City, even Wisconsin-just a good, long tour, and it was wonderful. The people who came knew who we were, and they came to listen-and even though I love playing for dances, to play to an audience at a listening room, or at a music festival, or anyplace where they’ve really come to hear you, well, that’s just the best.”
“We’d love to do more of that: more festivals, more fairs, and I would love someday to be able to play the Grand Ole Opry on a more regular basis,” Amber adds-and with that new studio album nearly wrapped up and a long-planned tribute to the Osborne Brothers already in the works, there’s every reason to think it’ll happen. “As long as I’m making a living, and as long as I have a way for more people to know who I am and what’s in my heart, well, then, I’m happy.”
-Jon Weisberger, September 2012