10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: March 2017

From a soulful vocalist who evokes John Mayer to the fiddle-playing protégée of Jack White

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Cris Jacobs

Sounds Like: Outlaw swagger meets blue-eyed soul, with evocative, heartfelt songwriting thrown in for good measure

For Fans of: Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Ray LaMontagne

Why You Should Pay Attention: Cris Jacobs' 2016 album Dust to Gold snuck up on everyone, quietly announcing itself as one of the best roots-soul records in a year that also produced a new album from Sturgill Simpson. It's the second solo LP from the Baltimore-based singer and guitarist, who cut his teeth as the frontman for jam band the Bridge before striking out on his own. He earned an opening slot with Simpson himself on the strength of his 2012 debut Songs for Cats and Dogs, and, though similarities between the two artists are hard to ignore, he has a singular voice all his own, one that should have him headlining his own gigs soon enough.

He Says: "I've never been hung up on defining myself in terms of genre. The hardest question I'm ever asked is, 'What kind of music do you play?' I could answer by saying, 'A little bit of blues, country, rock & roll, bluegrass, soul, R&B,' but those are just the ingredients that I've absorbed. I'm a songwriter, a guitar player and a singer, and I try to just create music that feels good to me. If my country has a bit of funk to it, or my rock a little bluegrass, what do you call it? Who cares? When someone asks, 'What's for dessert?' you don't say, 'A little bit of eggs, sugar, flour, cocoa, butter.' You say, 'Chocolate cake.' So I guess I'm constantly serving up chocolate cake and trying to perfect my recipe."

Hear for Yourself: "Jack the Whistle and the Hammer" has echoes of Simpon's A Sailor's Guide to Earth, but the song – a grooving slice of soul-country that should have show-goers dancing in the aisles – is anything but derivative. B.M.

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