Sounds Like: Pop-country that emphasizes a heavy drawl: those vowels may be broken, but the big, sticky hooks sure ain't
For Fans of: Tucker Beathard; Jon Pardi; Florida Georgia Line focusing on the backroads, not the Backstreet Boys
Why You Should Pay Attention: Tennessee-born Wallen started singing the way many Southern kids do – in church. But he got his first national platform in a slightly more left-of-center fashion: as a contestant on NBC's The Voice, chosen not by Blake Shelton, but Usher. The coach picked up on Wallen's more gravelly qualities, which he honed upon moving to Nashville to be a songwriter, ultimately scoring a deal with Big Loud records. His debut single "The Way I Talk" opens with a simple but infectious vamp and lets Wallen put his drawl on full blast. And though he might name Keith Whitley as his favorite country artist, Wallen has no interest in sounding vintage. He does, however, want to claim his roots, one "y'all" and "ma'am" at a time.
He Says: "I love country, and I want to keep that traditional sound and alive, but I also want to keep the modern lyrics. There is a lot of traditional country out there with traditional lyrics, but mostly it's like, 'What are you talking about? Waylon would have said that back in the Eighties.' I want to put out lyrics that relate to today's audience. If you want to act like the world is still the same as the Seventies, go ahead, but I'm going to stay true to myself."
Hear for Yourself: A chart-topper on Sirius XM's the Highway, "The Way I Talk," from his Joey Moi-produced EP, carries an unapologetic Southern spirit that would make Alabama proud. M.M.