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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The Kernal
10
4/10

The Kernal

Sounds Like: What could have happened in Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's Nashville sessions, if they laced "Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35" with speedy honky-tonk guitar and gospel

For Fans of: Jonny Fritz, John Hartford, Gram Parsons' "Ooh Las Vegas"

Why You Should Pay Attention: For the Jackson, Tennessee-based the Kernal – né Joe Garner – it all began with a red Opry suit. Unearthed while scrounging through his childhood closet, the crimson get-up carried almost mythical powers for the onetime English major. And, soon, a personality to match was born. Known to some as a bass player for Jonny Fritz and Andrew Combs (in his pedestrian clothes), the cheekily anonymous Kernal has been cranking out country that's sweetly subversive on the sly for years, until John Paul White signed him to his Single Lock Records to release the sophomore effort Light Country. The Kernal can write songs about Taco Bell with melodies as addictive as a cheesy gordita but built from a studied, intellectual point of view, with hints of gospel and lush Seventies rock à la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

He Says: "Whenever you are doing anything new, you try to attach yourself to something to be seen as an individual," he says about Light Country, the album's title that's also a de facto genre. "I've always been a fan of Jonny Fritz, who did 'dad country,' and William Tyler, with 'modern country.' You see people doing that, and it interested me. I thought I would attach my [songs] to something like that. 'Light Country' is more a term of weight, but I thought 'diet country' might be a little misleading."

Hear for Yourself: "Knock-Kneed Ballerina" rocks and rollicks hard with imagery that would give John Prine an illegal smile. M.M. 

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