Breaking & Entering: A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Keni Thomas.

Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

It's not often that finding yourself knee-deep in a swamp in the middle of the night inspires a song, but it's a memory that creates inspiration for country singer/songwriter Keni Thomas.

"It gives me a place to go because it's emotional for me," says the former Army Ranger. "Some people draw from divorce, or death, but I can go to my military experience and generally get something different every time."

Thomas, who appears as a military analyst on channels like CNN, NBC Dateline and PBS between touring stints with his band Keni Thomas & Cornbread, will on Jan. 25 release his label debut "Flags of Our Fathers: A Soldiers Story" via Moraine Records.

Produced by Grammy Award-winner Brent Maher and Mark Selby, the project is a concept collection written by Thomas of his life in the military. The album's guest list reads like a "Who's Who" of country music, including Kenny Rogers, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill and Blackhawk, as well as Michael McDonald and Shawn Mullins.

Harris and Gill are featured on the album's first single, "Not Me." The cut earned Thomas his first appearance on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, where it made a 59-56 climb last week.

"Emmylou was awesome," says Thomas of the recoding experience. "Certain people have an aura and she's sort of angelic really."

Though this is Thomas' first label release, the artist self-released three albums with the Cornbread, including "No Place Like Home," which scored the group a guest spot in the movie "Sweet Home Alabama" performing the song "Alabama Home."

Thomas, who has also appeared alongside Mel Gibson as a squad leader on "We Were Soldiers," says he prefers music to acting because of the immediate feedback from fans. "For me it's in the performance and the connection and country is the best fit for me because the audiences care about the music. They don't care about what you're wearing or who you're sleeping with."

Nashville session players accompanied Thomas on "Flags of Our Fathers...," but he still hits the road with Cornbread. "Getting to play with the Nashville guys is a lesson because they're so great, but then you go back to your guys and realize there's that chemistry of a band that's been together for awhile that's irreplaceable," he says.

Thomas, who is a national spokesperson for the Hero Fund and Special Operations Warrior Foundation, says that a portion of "just about anything with my name attached" -- including album sales, publishing and door money -- will be funneled to both organizations.

Links:
Artist: www.kenithomas.com
Label: www.morainemusic.com

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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