The project includes 16 tracks.
Kentucky Hall of Fame country rock group Exile released their first album of original music in over 30 years on August 25. A Million Miles Later is a celebration of the band’s adventures since its inception 60 years ago. 2023 also marks the 45th anniversary of their country-pop crossover hit “Kiss You All Over.” The four-week No. 1 hit also appeared in the 1996 Adam Sandler movie “Happy Gilmore” and in the 2006 film “Employee of the Month.” Throughout their career, the Richmond, Kentucky natives reached the top of the pop and country charts with ten No. 1 singles including “I Don’t Want To Be A Memory” and “Give Me One More Chance.”
During an invitation-only album listening party at the infamous Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville on August 21, the current members of the band, J.P. Pennington, Les Taylor, Sonny LeMaire, Marlon Hargis and Steve Goetzman, shared stories about each of the new songs. In addition to playing the new music and telling the stories behind the songs, the group shared their gratitude to their team of co-writers, producers, management and more in the audience who helped make the project happen.
The 16-track project is a mixture of tunes that were written recently and from the songwriters’ vast catalog compiled over the years. A Million Miles Later includes songs mostly written by Exile’s own J.P. Pennington and Sonny LeMaire, along with longtime collaborators, and showcases their vast musical influences from country and pop to R&B and reggae. The album also features a collaboration with bluegrass southern gospel group The Issacs, who were in attendance at the listening party.
The album’s title track “A Million Miles Later” was written by Pennington, LeMaire, and Sharon Vaughn to encompass all the years the band has been playing together. Before playing a sample of the track to the industry crowd, Pennington joked that it should’ve been “10 million” instead.
One of the biggest differences in how Exile creates music today is the songwriter process. LeMaire shared that they wrote nearly all of the new songs via Zoom, including “Too Far Gone,” which features Les Taylor on lead vocals.
“As we were writing it, we’re trying to determine oftentimes whether J.P. is going to sing it or Les [Taylor] or me on occasion,” recalls LeMaire. “This is kind of an R&B thing. We got horns on it and Les is singing this.”
One of the older tracks on the album is “After You,” which was written in 2010 by Pennington, LeMaire, and Paul Jefferson at LeMaire’s office on South Street in Nashville.
“We were writing and I put together from GarageBand on a CD, just a drum track,” recalled LeMaire. “It’s kind of a retro-sounding drum track and from that, we wrote this song.”
The track “Daydreamin” was a family affair, written by Pennington via FaceTime along with his wife Suzie, daughter Jessie, and son-in-law Chadley.
Inspired by the Greek mythology character Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, “Keep On Pushin’” was written by Pennington, LeMaire, and Vaughn.
Written in 2004 by LeMaire and Vaughn, “Valentine Sky” was inspired by LeMaire’s youngest child Chloe.
“Her birthday is February 15, Valentine’s Day, and the day before we were going to Kroger to get some groceries. That night as she was sitting in the car seat [while I was] driving into the market and she said, ‘Daddy, a Valentine sky.’ I was writing the next day with Sharon Vaughn, and we had already started a song. I said, ‘Wait, I gotta tell you what happened.’ And so we wrote this in about a half an hour, and we wanted it to be a lullaby. Something that fathers or parents would sing for the kids and I played for the guys we did a demo. They loved it.”
“Nothin But a Thang” is an R&B tune that the band knew Taylor “could tear it up” and was written with him in mind.
Pennington describes “Paint the Town” as a kind of protest song in response to the evolution of Nashville. “I read in The Tennesseean, the morning the story broke about Ernest Tubb Record Shop closing down,” recalled LeMaire. “They were getting rid of it and I thought, ‘They’re getting rid of everything in Nashville. Studios, all kinds of places [on Music Row].’ This is our little protest, but it doesn’t sound like it.”
“This Ain’t Nothin” has a reggae vibe to it, which the band admits they don’t know how to play it very well, but they like it when they hear it.
The album includes the band’s first radio single in nearly three decades, “Rough Around the Edges.” The track was written about 25 years ago by Pennington, Taylor and Les Cordle and recorded by several artists including Travis Tritt. Exile has started performing their latest single live and admits that even though it’s incredibly fun to play, it wears them out because the tempo is so fast.
LeMaire wrote “Nothing But Sunshine Now” with Clay Mills, who was in the audience at the listening event.
“Clay and I’ve written a lot of songs. He has written a lot of big hits, so if you want to know how to write songs, just hook up with somebody who knows how to write. Clay and I and our dear departed friend Mark Selby, a great guitar player and singer, just loved him dearly. We sat down and wrote this quite a few years ago. It’s about a guy that’s down on his luck, but there’s some sunshine now.”
Exile describes “Never Lets Go” as the most different-sounding song on the album, that it could possibly be used for a movie.
The gospel song “Down in Cold Water” features bluegrass Southern gospel group The Isaacs.
“We, J.P., Sharon and I, we wrote something pretty different,” says LeMaire. “We had an idea so we just went with it. It’s a gospel song and when we were writing it, we said, ‘It would be awesome to have them the Isaacs on this,’ and they graciously agreed. It has blown my mind. They’re spectacular.”
“Just To Get Home” ties in well to the album’s name, adding to the story of the band’s travels during the past 60 years.
To close out the album, Exile returned to their roots with a Tennessee Ernie Ford cover that they had originally recorded during a band rehearsal in the 1980s. They had a boom box sitting on the floor in front of them and they recorded it on a cassette tape. That version ended up on their 2019 project The Garage Tapes. When Exile began putting together A Million Miles Later, “Sixteen Tons” was one of the first songs they wanted to record for it, creating a full-circle moment.
A Million Miles Later Track List:
1. A Million Miles Later (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
2. Too Far Gone (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire)
3. After You (Sonny LeMaire, J.P. Pennington, Paul Jefferson)
4. Daydreamin’ (J.P. Pennington, Suzie Pennington, Jessie Pennington Brassfield, Chadley Brassfield)
5. Keep On Pushin’ (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
6. Valentine Sky (Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
7. Nothin’ But A Thang (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
8. Paint The Town (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
9. This Ain’t Nothin’ (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
10. Rough Around the Edges (J.P. Pennington, Les Taylor, Larry Cordle)
11. Nothin’ But Sunshine Now (Sonny LeMaire, Clay Mills, Mark Selby)
12. Never Lets Go (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
13. Down In Cold Water feat. The Isaacs (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
14. Just To Get Home (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire, Sharon Vaughn)
15. Sugar Free (J.P. Pennington, Sonny LeMaire)
16. Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis)