10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: May 2016

From an unapologetic cowboy singer to a dazzling chanteuse-wordsmith

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Rick Brantley
Dean Berner3/10

Rick Brantley

Sounds Like: If Steve Earle swapped fiddle and steel for lush piano, but retained the ability to flash from introspective ballad one moment to "Copperhead Road"-aggression the next

For Fans of: Those poets of the American experience who deliver narratives with a whisper, a holler and a growl: John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen

Why You Should Pay Attention: Brantley was only a boy when he started perusing liner notes, becoming just as entranced by the words behind the music as the songs themselves. And what songs they were: growing up in Macon, Georgia — home of Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers — he not only soaked in those local legends but was well-schooled by his preacher father, who made sure to spend equal time exposing his son to the gospel of Kris Kristofferson as anything else. It paid off — shortly after landing in Nashville, he scored a publishing deal and did time touring with the Zac Brown Band and John Hiatt. Over a decade later, Brantley just released what could be his seminal track: "Hurt People," a "Streets of Philadelphia"-style heartbreaker that's inspired praise from artists like Brothers Osborne. It explores how our behavior, both good and bad, often has immovable roots: because "hurt people, hurt people."

He Says: After his co-writer Ashley Ray mentioned the phrase "hurt people hurt people" to Brantley, it haunted him. "Every night, I would walk around the block and couldn't get it out of my head," he says. "And I thought of this kid in the fifth grade who used to kick my ass everyday. Then I went to his house, and I met his father. And I went, 'Holy fuck, I get where this is coming from.'" It's a moment he evokes in the song, when he discovers the bully on his porch "with a welt on his face the shape of his daddy's high-school ring."

Hear for Yourself: With its Springsteen sing-speak delivery and spare piano, "Hurt People" is a ballad of both pain and healing. Marissa R. Moss

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