Five years ago, Rissi Palmer was living her dream. The singer-songwriter's first two country albums were major label releases and she was opening for the likes of Taylor Swift, Sawyer Brown and Sarah Evans.
She performed at the Grand Ole Opry, won notice from Oprah and was written about in major publications from People, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Billboard to Country Weekly, Rolling Stone, Parade and Ebony.
Today, those articles are stored away in a cabinet in her dining room and Palmer is living a very different life. She parted ways with her recording label over creative differences and, about three years ago, moved to Raleigh after marrying husband Bryan. She now is the mom of 18-month-old Grace and teaches mommy and me music classes and voice lessons at The Grace Note in north Raleigh.
"Instead of chasing hits, I'm chasing a baby," she said, laughing. But the past few years, Palmer hasn't stood still creatively. She kept writing songs, not knowing exactly what would ever happen to them.
Now, she is preparing to release her first children's album called "Best Day Ever." It's a sweet, sentimental acoustic pop album full of fun, tender songs created with the help of long-time friends from Nashville. Palmer calls it a love letter to her little girl.
The break with the recording company was a big blow for Palmer, whose sights had always been set on a career in the entertainment industry.
"I was very career oriented, very much focused," Palmer tells me. "This is a huge deviation from the plan."
But as most moms know, when Grace came into the world, Palmer's own plans made a dramatic shift.
"I knew that I wanted to do something that would keep me close to her and she could be involved with," Palmer said. "I started listening to a lot of children's music through mommy and me courses. I just realized that I could do this. I could do something that moms could enjoy and children could enjoy at the same time, that wasn't talking down to them. That was just as intelligent as grown-up music can be."
She contacted some old friends, who just happen to be long-time songwriters in Nashville who have worked with everybody from George Jones and the Everly Brothers to India.Arie and John Legend, about working on a children's album.
"They were so excited," she said.
Many of the songs were written in a weekend collaboration in Nashville with baby Grace, then eight months old, underfoot.
"She crawled on the floor," she said, "we wrote the album."
I've listened to a lot of kids music. "Best Day Ever" succeeds because it really, truly is written with kids and their parents in mind. Palmer's gorgeous voice weaves stories from the kids' and parents' perspectives. And it's all set to some great music, mostly pop with a little country twang or R&B thrown in.
"Best Day Ever" starts off with the upbeat title track written from the point of view of an exuberant little kid who is just thrilled about everything from breakfast to playing at the park to bath time. Then it launches into a tender song called "Dear To Me," a song a parent might sing to her child.
"Of all the things that you might be, most of all you're dear to me," Palmer sings in the song (that seriously gets me a little weepy each time I hear it).
And it just continues from "Take You With Me," a song to reassure a child's fears about preschool drop-off, to "Be Me," which encourages kids and parents to just be themselves.
"Whether you're dreaming on a cloud or dreaming from your backyard, you make the world so much better ...," Palmer sings. "All you have to be is you. All I have to be is me."
One of Palmer's favorites is "Not Afraid of the Dark." For the kids, the song might just be about not being afraid of monsters and shadows at bedtime. For adults, there's another meaning.
"There's nothing you should fear," she said. If you believe and think positively, she says, things can really work out.
It's definitely a lesson Palmer has learned in the ups and downs of the recording industry.
Best Day Ever's original release date was Dec. 18, but I'm seeing great things for this album, and, in the last week, it's been pushed to January. Pre-orders, however, are available. Go to Palmer's website and Facebook page for more information, updates and to listen to some of her music.
The listening party is 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Dec. 18, at Our Playhouse Preschool and Kindergarten, 2400 University Dr. in Durham. Click here for details.
I can't wait to see what's next for Rissi and this album and share it with you!
Palmer is the last local mom to be featured in our 2012 Made by Mom Gift Guide. Stay tuned this week for a big contest featuring prizes from each of these talented moms!