Makin’ Tracks: ‘Whiskey’ Fuels Justin Moore’s New Duet With Priscilla Block 

Privacy may be one of the most valuable commodities of life in 2022. 


With internet tracking, the proliferation of public cameras and the frequent ping of text-message spam, keeping personal space personal is much more difficult than it was when the biggest issue was a neighborhood snoop.

Finding time alone — specifically adult time alone — is at the heart of “You, Me, and Whiskey,” a new Justin Moore duet with Priscilla Block. It’s also a real-world issue for Moore, who shares a house in Arkansas with his wife of 15 years and their four kids.

“One night, [it’s] softball practice for one of them, the other night is basketball lessons for this one and the next night is church,” he says. “It’s difficult to make time for Kate and I — for just us — so you have to make a concerted effort to do that. So I really related to the song.”

Landing a cut with Moore was the goal when Brock Berryhill (“Homesick,” “What Happens in a Small Town”) hosted a 9 a.m. writing session with Cole Taylor (“Home Alone Tonight,” “Nothing To Do Town”) and Jessi Alexander (“Never Say Never,” “I Drive Your Truck”) on Music Row on Jan. 10. Specifically, they intended to write a potential duet for Moore and an unidentified female.

“I love writing duets and almost can’t get tired of them,” enthuses Alexander. “In a duet, you kind of get more dimension. And I love layering. You can alternate melodies and shift around and [have the singers] accompany each other.”

Taylor brought the title “You, Me, and Whiskey” into the room, and all three thought it lent itself to a song about a casual hookup. But they wanted an angle that was authentic to Moore’s home life and focused on a long-term couple.

“He’s happily married,” Taylor says. “When you’re writing with certain artists in mind, you have to keep their story in your head.”

They wrote the anthemic chorus first, beginning the stanza with the hook and filling the next six lines with rising passion and alcohol, the “black-label buzz” aiding the couple’s private pursuit of “things that stay in the dark.” That led to the setup line, celebrating the romance as both sweet and strong, before they repeated the hook once more.

That setup line “was the hardest one for us to find,” recalls Taylor. “We knew we had something special with the melody and the title and the duet part. And the most important part of the song is how you set up the hook. None of it matters if you don’t have a good hook. We searched and searched and searched for that, and then I want to say Jessi maybe said, ‘Nothin’ as sweet, nothin’ as strong.’ We’re all, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’”

They made the chorus ultra-flexible. If Moore — or some other artist — wanted to cut it solo, they wouldn’t have to change a single word. But it was also perfect for two singers to trade lines or sing the entire chorus in harmony.

“I’m a big harmony guy, so I love everything harmonized,” Berryhill says. “I’d harmonize drums.”

They used the same four-chord progression for the verses as the chorus, applying a different melodic approach to provide variance. The progression is dark and mostly unresolved, creating a near-constant tension. The chorus’ big, bright melody hides it a bit, though the verses, using a lower melody and more cautious phrasing, make that subliminal need for resolution clearer. That’s quite appropriate for a song about interpersonal tension and release.

In the second verse, they addressed the release a little more with a cheeky line about “talkin’ dirty” at 10:30,” knowing that it might cause an issue for some programmers. “Obviously, it’s really risky,” allows Taylor. “If it needs changing, we can change it. If not, we just got ‘talkin’ dirty’ on country radio.”

Alexander believes allowing the characters to behave in a public song the way they would in private makes it more likely to connect. “There’s going to be people in the carpool lane, people that are also married, that hopefully will go, ‘I remember those kids,’ ” she says. “That’s exciting because I don’t know that they’re spoken to a lot.”

“You, Me, and Whiskey” didn’t get completed during that Monday’s two-hour appointment, but they reassembled on Friday to finish it. Taylor and Alexander laid down the vocal parts for the demo that day, and Berryhill produced it with scratchy programmed drums and acoustic guitar, offset by a shimmering banjo.

“Being a rock dude, I normally take things to 10,” says Berryhill. “But this one, we kind of kept it like 60%, 70%. The demo doesn’t have all the big drums.”

An hour after Taylor turned it in to his publisher at Creative Nation, owner/producer Jeremy Stover (Travis Denning, Jack Ingram) forwarded “Whiskey” to Moore, who identified Block as his first choice for a duet partner. They both appeared at a WUSY Chattanooga, Tenn., guitar pull on March 29, and Moore was impressed by her voice and her poise while performing alongside artists who were all more established.

“I thought Priscilla stole the show that night with her interaction with the crowd,” he says. “She sang her tail off. The songs were really, really good. I was just highly impressed.”

He told her that night he would be happy to help her any way he could. Getting her to sing on “Whiskey” would fulfill that offer. She was interested, but of course wanted to hear it before she agreed. It was an easy “yes.”

“It feels like me,” says Block. “I tend to drink quite a bit of whiskey, so that one was like, ‘All right, we’re on brand here.’ ”

Stover and his co-producer, Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta, kept some of Berryhill’s drum programming from the demo but otherwise rerecorded “Whiskey” with a full band, providing a tougher sound while cutting six tracks at The Castle in Franklin, Tenn.

“It’s out in the country, and there’s not a lot of distractions, so everybody’s hyper-focused just on the music,” Stover says. “They’re not running somewhere to make a bank deposit or run an errand. Everybody’s just there for the day.”

Stover visited Arkansas to capture Moore’s lead vocal at his home, and he worked with Block at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios to get her part, intentionally highlighting her unique tone and enunciations, even when the two singers are locked in harmony. “Sometimes you can line up the vocal so tight that it just sounds like a background singer,” says Stover. “We left those vocals where you really hear two distinctive voices, but at the same time, you don’t lose the melody.”

He encouraged Block to adjust the part to accentuate her persona, and she found that “Whiskey” went down rather easily. “Thank you, Jesus, they weren’t sending me any Christina Aguilera/Carrie Underwood [song],” Block deadpans. “There’s just no way that my voice would be able to do amazing things like that.”

Valory released “You, Me, and Whiskey” to country radio via PlayMPE on Oct. 10 with an official add date of Oct. 24. Their two voices fit together publicly the way the song’s characters mesh in private. In the process, the singers meet in the middle, using a production that walks the line between Moore’s usual classic country instrumentation and Block’s more progressive sound.

“It reminds me a little bit of ‘Somebody Else Will,’ ” he says. “So we’re being pushed a little bit out of my comfort zone. But sometimes that’s good. We didn’t get outside of the box, but we got a little closer to the edge of it.” 

Jessica Nicholson