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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: August 2017

From a singer-songwriter who mixes girl-group harmonies with Countrypolitan strings to a disciple of Keith Urban who loves the loop pedal

Guitar heroes, astute songwriters and bluegrass experimentalists all appear on this month’s list. The sideman for John Prine ventures out on his own; an observant nomad mines her travel experiences in her songs; and a one-time headbanger turns his attention to string instruments. Here are the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now. 

Billy Strings

Sounds Like: The head-banging speed of a thrash metal band channeled through flat-picked guitar and mandolin, with a touch of end-of-the-world psychedelia

For Fans of: Greensky Bluegrass, Ralph Stanley, String Cheese Incident

Why You Should Pay Attention: Born William Apostol in small town Michigan, Billy Strings idolized his father, Terry Barber, an amateur bluegrass picker who bought him his first guitar when he was 4 years old. Raised on his father’s music, Strings played in a metal band in middle school called To Once Darkened Skies, but by the time he was in high school he found himself in a “dark” place, surrounded by drug abuse. While taking his mom’s car for a joyride one day, he rediscovered his love for bluegrass, and once he’d finally graduated high school (after dropping out twice) he headed to Traverse City and found a mentor in veteran player Don Julin. The pair performed as a team until Strings struck out on his own in early 2016 and headed to Nashville. His debut LP, Turmoil & Tinfoil, produced by Greensky Bluegrass’ Glenn Brown, is due September 22nd, and even features a cameo from his father.

He Says: “There’s a similarity [between metal and bluegrass], not so much as far as the actual licks you’re playing but just the sound of it. Fast banjo music, you could compare that to Slayer. It’s just fast and hard and driving like that; it makes your heart race. I took some stuff with me from the metal band I was in and I couldn’t let go of a few things. We jumped all over the stage and kicked each other and spit on people in the audience. I don’t do that at my shows now, but I almost can’t help but move around like that. There’s so much energy there. When you go to a metal show and everyone’s jumping around and jumping off stage – man, there’s something really special going on there.”

Hear for Yourself: “Turmoil & Tinfoil,” the title track from Strings’ upcoming debut, is a dark, spiraling jam that showcases the interplay between Strings’ guitar work and his mandolin player, Drew Matulich. J.G.

Cavendish

Makayla Lynn

Sounds Like: Relaxed pop-country that’s heavier on the twang than the synths; think Colbie Caillat singing Sara Evans

For Fans of: Maddie & Tae, RaeLynn, the more innocent side of Kacey Musgraves

Why You Should Pay Attention: Still juggling high-school classes and frequent commutes to Nashville from her home in Nova Scotia, 16-year-old Makayla Lynn has been writing and performing since the ripe old age of eight, opening for artists like Carrie Underwood and Alabama and playing over 100 shows a year. As much informed by Alison Krauss as Maren Morris, Lynn – who co-wrote all but one of the songs on her sophomore LP, On a Dare and Prayer – straddles a refreshing line between modern pop-country and a style that evokes the nineties one-name queens (Faith, Shania, Trisha). Balancing the innocence of youth with snappy bursts of lyrical wit (“a good man is so hard to train” she quips on “That’s Why I Love You”), Lynn isn’t old school, but she’s not new wave either – leave it to a teenager to find a sweet spot in the middle.

She Says: “I always say that my age is my best friend and my worst enemy. Sometimes it’s a great thing, and I’m really lucky that I am 16 and I’m able to go around town and do this, and other times it can be difficult for people to take you seriously at a young age. People always ask, ‘Do you have to make time to be a kid?’ And I say, ‘This is me being a kid. I get to stay in resorts with huge pools and do something I love, while growing up.'”

Hear for Yourself: On “Joyride,” Lynn uses some infectious syncopation and versatile vocal inflections to surrender to the freedom of youth, while always remembering that every joyride has to end somewhere. M.M.

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