Country artist Trent Willmon, who recorded his first two albums for Columbia Nashville, has signed with Houston-based Compadre Records.

Willmon is the first artist signed to the label since it was acquired by Mathew Knowles' Music World Entertainment in March. "We've been looking for the right mainstream project to transition into that market," Compadre president/MWE executive VP Brad Turcotte told Billboard.biz.

Signed to Columbia by former Sony Nashville president John Grady, Willmon found himself on the outside looking in not long after Grady exited the label group in the spring of 2006.

Willmon's 2004 self-titled debut has scanned 60,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and his 2006 follow-up, "Little More Lovin'," tallied 81,000.

Of Willmon's six singles on Columbia Nashville, only two reached the top 30 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart: His debut single "Beer Man" reached No. 30 in 2004, and slightly more than two years later "On Again Tonight" peaked at No. 27.

Willmon's signing marks a shift toward the mainstream for 6-year-old Compadre, which thus far has focused on roots country and Americana artists. The label is home to Billy Joe Shaver, James McMurtry and Suzy Bogguss, among others.

Willmon will co-produce his album, due in January, with hit songwriter Rodney Clausen, even though neither has produced a record before. "This is a first for him and a first for me," Willmon says. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

His first single, still to be determined, will be out in August.