Teddy Gentry's got Alabama on his mind, and we're not just talking about the legendary band he co-founded with Randy Owen. The musician calls the state of Alabama home, and in the wake of the devastating storms that rolled through town, he admits "it's gonna be years" before his community fully recovers. To lend a hand, Alabama just announced a benefit concert, Bama Rising, to raise money for tornado victims. "All we can do is try to help people get through and adjust and get on with their lives in the best we can," he tells Taste of Country.

Meanwhile, Gentry's other hand is full with a great new project: 'Best New Nashville,' a CD featuring 12 new artists that hit shelves at Cracker Barrel stores this week. Gentry spoke with Taste of Country about launching the careers of promising new talent, aiding disaster relief efforts in the south, working with Brad Paisley, his own love of songwriting -- and whether we might be hearing some of those tunes on a new Alabama album.

What inspired you to start up your 'Best New Nashville' project?
Ever since Alabama came off the road from my farewell tour, I've continued to do what I do, and that's find great songs and work in production in the studio and produce music. I get to talk to and work with dozens of young artists every year that come to town, and hopefully we help them grow from point A to point B. Whether it's writing or performing or whatever it is, we try to help these young artists to find the right songs and cut the best possible record we can.

What do you personally look for in a new artist?
I guess the first thing is dedication. I tell these young artists it's a tough business ... Persevering through the tough years is something that we all do as artists, or most of us do. [I'm] just trying to give them good sound advice and help them select good solid songs, 'cause it all starts with a song. If you ain't got a good song, you ain't got anything.

I love all 12 songs [on this album]. They all found their spot on the CD, and I think it's a good bouquet of music. We've got country, we've got country gospel, we've got country rock -- we try to touch all the bases. These were all unsigned artists when we went in and did this. We have record companies actually talking to a couple of the artists now about doing a deal with 'em. It's great exposure, and thanks to the Cracker Barrel country store and the folks out there for taking a chance and putting out some brand-new music for these folks that otherwise might not get a record deal. With the shrinking industry today, it's getting harder and harder to find retail venues for new music, and Cracker Barrel has done these artists a great service to get their music out and get heard.

We spoke with Brad Paisley recently, and you know, he's still just so thrilled to have gotten you guys on 'Old Alabama.' But he also said that when he originally asked you to work with him, it never even crossed his mind that you might say no! Was there any hesitation at all on your part?
No, not really! We all know and love Brad. He called and said he wrote this song about "old Alabama" and asked us if we'd come in and sing on it. At the time, it was just a song on the album, so we said sure and went in and sang on it. A few weeks passed, and they called back and said, "Well, the record label's excited about it. It's gonna be the next single. Would y'all perform it with him on the Academy of Country Music Awards show?" So we did that, and then we went up to North Carolina and did a video with him. It's very funny -- they did a neat job on it. That was a lot of fun.

How does it feel to get on the stage to perform at a big show like the ACMs and hear yourself with a new single on the radio again?
It's great. You know, it came about for the right reasons, I think 'cause a friend asked us to do it in the industry. And the song was a great tribute to our career. Thanks to Brad for remembering the old guys [laughs].

You also performed at CMT's disaster relief concert. The tornadoes had to have hit close to home for you. Were your family or friends affected by the storms?
All my family's fine and everything. We came through with no damage. But in our home county, I think we lost 34. Thirty-four Alabamians got killed in a tornado from our home county, so it does strike very close to home. Friends and acquaintances that you knew... a lot of people lost everything that they had. In fact, we're announcing some shows that we'll be doing across the state, that Alabama will be doing to raise money for these victims. There will be a lot of artists that will be joining us and helping us out on this project. In fact, I don't think anyone that's been asked has refused. The community has really been incredible in stepping up to the plate to help raise money for these folks.

How are the people from your area recovering so far?
Well, it's gonna be years. It's a longtime project ... it will never be the same again. But all we can do is try to help people get through and adjust and get on with their lives in the best we can. What we need the most right now is money for the Red Cross to go in and take care of these folks.

Have you been writing new music lately?
I write because I love to write. If no one ever recorded a song of mine or if no one ever heard a song of mine ... the first love of writing is writing for yourself to get it out, just because you love doing it. Writing is something that's my first love in this industry, and it's just my favorite thing to do, to sit down and try to come up with something new.

Have you thought about going into the studio to record any of those new songs?
Well, we might. Me and Randy have talked about maybe going back in, doing some stuff down the road. But right now, my concentration is on trying to raise some money for these folks in Alabama and help these tornado victims. We haven't said no to anything. We're just trying to do everything that we possibly can to help out, and continue to move forward.

Watch Alabama and Brad Paisley Perform 'Old Alabama' at the 2011 ACMs

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