The Black Lillies
Sounds Like: Genre-mashing roots music with an Appalachian anchor.
For Fans Of: the everybodyfields, Little Feat, a male-fronted Alison Krauss & Union Station
Why You Should Pay Attention: No independent band has played the Grand Ole Opry more often than the Black Lillies, a co-ed, ragtag group of Knoxville-based pickers whose songs bridge the gap between Appalachian folk, California folk-rock, bluegrass and jazz. "The blessing and the curse of this band," says leader Cruz Contreras, "is the fact that we don’t like to repeat ourselves. I'll write a soul tune, then a rock tune, then a country tune. Every day, people ask us what kind of music we play, and we still don't have a one-word answer for them." That hasn't stopped the group from sending its last album, Runaway Freeway Blues, into the upper half of the Billboard Country Albums chart — even without the assistance of a record label.
They Say: "One thing you can't evade is your voice," Cruz Contreras says. "I grew up singing country and bluegrass in Eastern Tennessee, and my voice is steeped in this region. Even if I envision a song as a rock song, I still sound like myself, which brings it back to the country world. I think that's a unifying thread."
Hear for Yourself: The song with the video they deem Raising Arizona-meets-Smokey and the Bandit, "Smokestack Lady." By Andrew Leahey