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That kind of musical upbringing can be heard all over Allen's newest single "Better," which she tells Billboard she is excited for people to hear. "I really believe in the message of the new song. It's about anybody who makes you better in your life -- whether it's a spouse or a friend or somebody you met in passing. I co-wrote it with Dan Tholen, and we sat down and the words of the chorus just came to us right away."
She says she turned to her day job for inspiration. "The rest of it was about a patient of mine. I've got 10 years of experience in long-term care. One of my patients came into my office one day and told me how much better I made her life, and I thought, 'You're doing the same for us.' So we ended up writing the rest of the song in about 10 minutes."
"Better" is the lead track from the singer's sophomore album, which is slated for release later in the year. She had some legendary help on the disc. "We've been working on it for a while. It's produced by Doyle Grisham, the steel guitarist for Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. He and his wife Debbie ran Porter and Dolly [Parton]'s old studio for a while. They taught me so much, and I'm so grateful for everything I have learned."
Another highlight from the album is "Out of My Mind," which was written by Bobby Fricks. "I fell in love with the song the first time I heard it," Allen said. "It's true, traditional country."
Working with Grisham is something Allen takes a lot of pride in, admitting she's been an admirer of his work for years -- without realizing it. "I've been listening to his music my entire life, but you don't always think about looking about who played on a song. I was listening to [Nashville AM station] WSM one day and heard Dan Seals' "Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)." I thought, 'That is beautiful steel guitar work. When I get to the studio, I'm going to ask Doyle who played on it.' He said, 'Brenda, that was me.' I really didn't know that it was, but it makes it so much more cool that I am getting to work with someone whose work I have so long admired. He's played on so many albums, like Randy Travis, that I grew up with."
Her love of the traditional sound -- and the steel guitar -- have helped her establish many relationships with some of the more legendary players in the business. "I sing at a place called Binkley's Junkyard on Friday nights, and Weldon Myrick -- who played with Connie Smith for so many years -- played there. I met him and he believed in me and invited me to come sing at some steel guitar shows. That's where I met Russ Hicks, who is a Steel Guitar Hall of Fame member. He produced my first album and invited me to sing with him at some steel guitar shows in Dallas and St. Louis, as well as Nashville. Jan Jones, who played drums there, was also the president of the Nashville Steel Guitar Association, and he invited me to sing at a few shows, as well."
Look for the album -- which includes guest appearances from longtime Loretta Lynn band members Dave Thornhill and Bob Hempker -- in a few months. As that day approaches, Allen is simply counting her blessings. "I've always loved to sing. I've been doing it since I could talk. I was making up songs when I was a kid. When you grow up, they call that being a songwriter," she says with a smile. "I've been able to get out and take the music to the people. I'm very blessed. I just love what I get to do."