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December 13, 2012

Terre Haute’s Judson Hill band to unveil new album

TERRE HAUTE — Whether in Music City or River City, Alexa McFadden loves singing with her Judson Hill bandmates.

The four-member group hopes its new album, “Beauty in Goodbye,” catches ears in the recording industry. They’ll unveil the 10-song CD in their hometown of Terre Haute this weekend, and play it live in March at Nashville’s iconic 12th & Porter club.

A year ago, McFadden had no inkling she’d be the lead vocalist for an up-and-coming contemporary country band. She’s simply enjoying the moment.

“Being involved in anything musical is just a great dream,” she said last week. The possibility of Judson Hill someday “living in Nashville and making a career of it would be great for me. But just being in the band, even if that doesn’t happen, I’m as happy as can be.”

Audiences seem to be enjoying it, too. Judson Hill has a string of successful gigs dating back to the group’s formation last summer.

McFadden started singing alongside guitarist Marc Rogers Jr. after he invited her to handle secondary vocals in another band last winter. By July, those two — along with Marc’s younger brother and drummer John Rogers, and bassist Steven Lee — formed Judson Hill. “Alexa is an exceptional singer,” Marc Jr. said, “and I feel kind of blessed that she was brought into my life, and we were brought into hers.”

They drew the band’s name from an area near Fontanet, where Barbie Cox Rogers (mother of John and Marc, and wife of the band’s manager/producer/engineer Marc Rogers Sr.) grew up. Soon Barbie, an experienced lyricist, began writing songs with Marc and Alexa. This fall, they ventured into the studio, resulting in the “Beauty in Goodbye” album.

“There’s a good core of a writing element between me and Alexa,” 22-year-old Marc Jr. said, “and, of course, Mom’s great at writing words.”

Songwriting provides an emotional outlet for McFadden.

“It helps me get through the tough times,” she said of the process. “It’s obviously my passion, and I think it’s what I’m meant to do.”

The collection features a blend of sentimental country ballads, such as the opening track “One Summer Night,” and upbeat rockers with a bit of attitude like “Bad Side” and “He Won’t Change.” The closer and title track, with heartache and reminiscences, holds a special place with McFadden. “It really portrays something I’d been struggling with,” she said.

While Judson Hill’s instrumentalists are seasoned from experience with other bands and learning under Marc Sr. — a veteran guitarist in sessions and on tours beside notable Nashville artists — live performances were new to McFadden, though she sang the national anthem at sports events in her high school years at Terre Haute North. She handled “The Star Spangled Banner” in Hulman Center before the North-vs.-South basketball games in her sophomore and senior years. Fronting an electric band was a different twist.

Even stints as a backup vocalist didn’t involve the same level of pressure for McFadden, who — like Marc Jr. and John — also balances studies as an Indiana State University student with her music. Singing lead is “a big transition,” said McFadden, a 20-year-old sophomore nursing major. “Now, I’m always the one they’re looking at, so I have to do something to keep them interested.”

Judson Hill’s first show, at Show-Me’s in Terre Haute, “was nerve-racking” for her. “As the night went on, I was a lot more comfortable,” she said.

In the studio, their work on the album drew in some well-regarded Nashville musicians, friends of Marc Sr. Adding fiddle parts to two songs was Rob Hacajos, who played on hits by Shania Twain (“Any Man of Mine”), Brooks & Dunn (“Boot Scootin’ Boogie”) and Taylor Swift (“Mean”). Five tracks get steel guitar work by Steve Hinson, who recorded with country stars Luke Bryan and Josh Turner, and has toured for 17 years with Randy Travis. Terre Haute keyboardist Logan Lundstrom and fiddler John Davis also perform.

Through those sessions, Hinson was “extremely encouraging” about Judson Hill’s potential, Marc Sr. said.

The album includes “Life Flows By (In the Wabash),” a song Marc Jr. and McFadden wrote and recorded for “The Wabash” CD — another newly released disc that celebrates the river and serves as a fundraiser for the Wabash Valley Art Spaces’ Paul Dresser sculpture project. In “Life Flows By,” Rogers and McFadden recall childhood days “when family was everything” and “time meant nothing at all.”

“It’s just kind of a special place,” Marc Jr. said, “that stays in your heart.”

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