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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: April 2017

From a Texas songbird with a sly sense of humor to a Tennessee singer proud of his drawl

A Texas chanteuse inspired by Selena and mariachi music, a Tennessee songwriter damn proud of the way he talks and a Brooklyn artist influenced by Cypress Hill and Gram Parsons who expertly marries hip-hop and string music make up this month’s installment of new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.

Shawn Lacy

Sounds Like: Summertime soul and Southern pop/rock from a country bar singer who kicked off his career in Nashville’s honky-tonks

For Fans of: Zac Brown Band, Amos Lee, Darius Rucker

Why You Should Pay Attention: A Nashville transplant, Lacy moved to town as the frontman of a Pittsburgh-based rock band, spending his first three years playing cover songs and originals at Music City outposts like the Second Fiddle. For Lacy, those shows were crash courses in country culture. The rest of the band eventually called it quits, but Lacy was permanently hooked, unable to shake the country-rock hybrid he’d stumbled into. Now operating as a solo artist, he mixes the raw-throated rasp of Bob Seger with the crossover country appeal of Zac Brown Band, whose namesake tapped Lacy to perform during two dates of the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival.

He Says: “Festivals like Southern Ground really fit my musical style,” says Lacy, who promises more wide-ranging, genre-jumping music on future releases. “Anytime John Fogerty, Amos Lee and Willie Nelson are all playing, I’m happy.”

Hear for Yourself: Lacy heads for sunnier environs on “Flipside,” a bluesy tribute to ignoring haters and welcoming a change of pace. R.C.

Rorshak/Courtesy of Kenny Foster

Kenny Foster

Sounds Like: Meat-and-potatoes songs about small-town roots and making sacrifices, sung by a guy who’s taken a few licks and kept on ticking

For Fans of: Rodney Crowell, John Mayer, Charlie Worsham

Why You Should Pay Attention: Joplin, Missouri, native Foster has been kicking around Nashville’s music scene for some time, having co-founded the rock band Philos before venturing out on his own. After a tornado destroyed many parts of Joplin in 2011, Foster wrote and independently released the song “Hometown,” gaining some viral fame and raising money for the devastated community in the process. Foster’s new full-length Deep Cuts (out April 17th) was produced by Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay) and collects 12 songs he wrote over a very prolific couple of years – he amassed around 450 songs in that stretch – that local publishers, for whatever reason, couldn’t imagine another artist singing. He decided to sing them himself, which was a smart move: these are his stories, told without conceding to commercial demands but not scared to employ a polished hook. “All of my favorite records, the song that made me fall in love with the artist were track 12, 13, 14,” he says of his open-to-interpretation album title. “I felt like that’s when you really got to know who the artist was.”

He Says: “I wanted to make great art. I wanted to make something that could move somebody – not because it would work for an industry. I tell people I’m a long-form man in a soundbite world. Everybody needs the elevator pitch or the single, and I feel like I’ve figured out this way to put real life into three-and-a-half minutes. I think that’s what I do.”

Hear for Yourself: Album opener “Stand,” which transforms from a deliberate, acoustic meditation to a soaring anthem, is about fighting the good fight and getting back up when you get knocked down. J.F.

Michael Tyler

Sounds Like: Mainstream country hits-to-be, written and sung by the same Millennial who penned Dierks Bentley’s “Somewhere on a Beach”

For Fans of: Chris Young, Thomas Rhett, the poppy side of the country-pop divide

Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in the slow-moving railroad town of Thayer, Missouri, Tyler was discovered at 13 years old by Michael Knox, Jason Aldean’s producer. What began as a long-distance mentorship turned into a proper partnership five years later, when Knox signed his protégé to a publishing deal with Peermusic. Tyler’s been a busy man since then, co-writing tunes for Bentley, Aldean, LoCash and Kelsea Ballerini. With this spring’s 317, he steps out of the writing room and into the spotlight, making his solo debut with 11 songs rooted in the modern trends of country radio. Knox produced the project, beefing up Tyler’s sound with hard-rock guitars, vocoders and other mainstream moves.

He Says: “My first concert was Poison and Cinderella. I’ve always loved Eighties rock, and it’s had a big influence on what I do, because Knox likes those big drums and big guitars. I grew up listening to John Mayer too, and you can hear that influence on ‘They Can’t See.’ I didn’t want all the songs to sound like they came from the same record. I wanted them to be different, because that’s what I’m going after in the writers’ room. I write a different song every time.”

Hear for Yourself: A close cousin of Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man,” “They Can’t See” is a laid-back, lovesick salute to a woman whose real beauty lies far beneath the skin. R.C.

Paul Moore

Szlachetka

Sounds Like: A continental spin on 1970s California folk-rock, fronted by a songwriter whose guitar chops match his storytelling skills

For Fans of: Jackson Browne, Dawes, Gold-era Ryan Adams

Why You Should Pay Attention: Although technically a Nashville resident, Matthew Szlachetka doesn’t spend much time at home, logging upwards of 200 shows a year. Those travels play a central role on this summer’s Heart of My Hometown, a collection of road-dog roots-rockers and Americana ballads inspired by the people (and places) he’s left behind in the rearview mirror. A soundtrack for both the highway and the heartland, the album features tasteful production from David Bianco – the Grammy-winning studio hand behind records by Bob Dylan and Lucinda Williams – and plenty of six-string swagger from Szlachetka, who handles all of the project’s guitar leads.

He Says: “If this album came out in the Seventies, you’d say it was a rock & roll record. These days, you’d probably call it Americana. We didn’t want to use a lot of guitar pedals on Heart of My Hometown. We didn’t clutter up the sound. The idea was to keep ourselves in check, so these songs could really speak for themselves.”

Hear for Yourself: Co-written with Jamie Kent, Heart of my Hometown‘s title track finds the singer bidding farewell to his birthplace and striking out for someplace new. R.C.

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