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

Little Bandit
Danielle Holbert1/10

Little Bandit

Sounds Like: A crew of East Nashville rule-breakers putting a gorgeous, gay-friendly spin on their city's Countrypolitan past via frontman Alex Caress, whose voice channels Roy Orbison's swagger and Rufus Wainwright's sass

For Fans of: Father John Misty, Roy Orbison, Harry Nilsson

Why You Should Pay Attention: Stacked with piano, strings, pedal steel and gobs of female harmonies, Breakfast Alone – Little Bandit's debut – nods to the late Fifties and Sixties, a time when country, pop and early rock & roll were just beginning to branch away from a common trunk. Don't expect the music to lose itself to traditionalism, though. From "Scattered and Smothered" — a murder ballad about a jilted lover who disposes of his ex the same way he orders his hash browns — to "Diana," whose titular character leaves behind her small-town boyfriend for the skeezy allure of the big city, bandleader Caress mixes heart-on-sleeve honesty with a subversive wink, both eulogizing and satirizing his genre. Deftly written and smartly played, Breakfast Alone is a balancing act: melodrama uplifted by pure melody, and humor met with honky-tonk chops.

He Says: Caress, an openly gay musician in a conservative state, doesn't make any excuses for kissing his own boyfriend in the video for Breakfast Alone's "Bed of Bad Luck." "My intention with that," he explains, "was never to have any sort of shock value or to be some sort of token. The video was made in the interest of presenting my authentic self, and using my position to provide visibility for my community."

Hear for Yourself: "Bed of Bad Luck" kicks off the album like a lounge singer's lament, all spoken-word swagger and give-and-take tempos, before transforming itself into a golden-era country knockout. R.C.