10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: June 2017

From a Berklee grad with a knack for ballads to a crooner inspired by Reba and R&B

Ruston Kelly
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Kelly Christine1/10

Ruston Kelly

Sounds Like: A scruffier-voiced Ryan Adams obsessed with both Merle and the Misfits

For Fans of: Josh Ritter, Elliott Smith, roots-rock that still actually bothers to rock, like Old 97's

Why You Should Pay Attention: Kelly is just as adept at making catchy country grooves – Tim McGraw and Josh Abbott Band have cut his tracks –as he is capturing life's darkest, most introspective moments. The songwriter's debut EP, the Mike Mogis-produced Halloween, is a solemn meditation on the inevitable end of things, and the spirits that tend to haunt us. Kelly came to Tennessee as a last-minute decision after attending high school in Belgium (he jokes that his father might have been a spy). Once he landed in town, he held tenure in the jam band Elmwood and battled addiction, writing songs on Music Row while exploring his demons on Halloween and his forthcoming full-length. Current single "Black Magic" shows a powerful grasp on storytelling gleaned from his love of the Carter Family and Townes Van Zandt, but also a more ragged rock & roll soul: it's Americana, if your Americana is Bruce Springsteen with an acoustic guitar, sung by someone who spins a little heavy metal too. "Sometimes I wear both a cowboy hat and a Slayer T-shirt, just to throw people off," Kelly says.

He Says: "Suffering is a road to better things," Kelly says about the sometimes-somber content of Halloween. "Suffering is a progressive element in human beings, to discover more about themselves so they can be taller and stronger. And somebody has to sing about that. I just feel especially drawn to that, and I don't think that will ever change."

Hear for Yourself: "Black Magic" is a crescendoing rocker that ponders the bewitching pull of romance –and how it can easily disappear in a cloud of smoke. M.M.