10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: July 2017

From a Kentucky singer-songwriter produced by Sturgill Simpson, to a London duo with a flair for mesmerizing harmonies

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James LeBlanc

James LeBlanc

Sounds Like: That middle-aged epiphany where one realizes that chasing dreams is still a noble pursuit

For Fans of: Travis Tritt, Gary Allan, latter-day Bruce Springsteen

Why You Should Pay Attention: James LeBlanc is hardly a "new" artist, but his latest turn as an on-his-own singer is very much a new chapter. The 46-year-old from Louisiana, who's been based in the Muscle Shoals area for a decade and a half, has sold more than 25 million records throughout his career as a songwriter. "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde," his most famous, was a hit for Travis Tritt, and Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride have all turned his other compositions into hits. But LeBlanc's itch to record hasn't go away, and last year he and producer Jimmy Nutt, hot off a Grammy win with the SteelDrivers, cut Nature of the Beast, an album of LeBlanc's favorite unreleased songs, with the help of partner Angela Hacker, son Dylan (himself a Rolling Stone Country New Artist You Need to Know) and legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood.

He Says: "I was thinking, 'What can a songwriter do when people stop recording their songs?' Why don't I just make a record that I can really be proud of and I consider authentic and genuine and just see if anything happens with it. I have to write a ton of crappy songs before I get to one I like, and what I consider something I like is something that feels pretty true to me, and then go and perform it live. I know lots of songwriters who can write their asses off, but one of the things I'm fortunate to be able to do is to write songs for folks and go out there and do them live."

Hear for Yourself: "I Ain't Easy to Love" is a gentle, familiar-feeling duet between LeBlanc and Hacker. J.G.

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