A buzzed-about singer-songwriter produced by Dan Auerbach, a honky-tonking carpenter in the vein of Ol’ Waylon, and a perseverant
Sounds Like: If the Wreckers were Michelle Branch and Shania Twain, combined into one person
For Fans of: Lindsay Ell, Bailey Bryan, Martina McBride’s “This One’s for the Girls”
Why You Should Pay Attention: “I heard music in the womb,” Emily Hackett tells Rolling Stone Country, though it wasn’t country on her radio, in utero or not. Hackett’s father was a rock critic, so growing up in Georgia it was less twang and more Beatles, Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell, whose songs Hackett would deconstruct not for their melodies, but their lyrics. It was in high school when Hackett heard a Tim McGraw song for the first time thanks to a then-boyfriend, and everything changed. (“The lights were turned on,” she says.) Hackett moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University and has since opened for Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts. Her forthcoming EP, By the Sun, is a smart meeting-point between early-Aughts pop, country’s current genre playfulness and the one-name women of the Nineties (Faith, Trisha, Shania), with plenty of room for both tender and tongue-in-cheek confessionals.
She Says: “I don’t have the classic story of going to Nashville, because I didn’t grow up listening to country,” Hackett says. “So it took me a while to feel like I could call country my own. But once artists like Sam Hunt started pushing the edge, and the walls started breaking down more, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
Hear for Yourself: “Gonna get skinny this year, and I swear that I’ll stop cursing,” sings Hackett on “Good Intentions,” a track inspired by a line she heard at church – Hackett keeps the gospel choir, but instead of whispering her transgressions behind closed doors, she belts them out to an infectious pop-country melody. M.M.
Sounds Like: Springsteen-sized heartland rock, inspired by everything from frontman Kasey Anderson’s time behind bars to the gender transition of Against Me!’s leader, Laura Jane Grace
For Fans of: American Aquarium, Gaslight Anthem, Jason Isbell’s hardest-hitting rockers
Why You Should Pay Attention: A half-dozen years ago, Kasey Anderson was touring the country as the Counting Crows’ opening act, building a national following with a sound that nodded to Americana’s rootsy rumble and rock & roll’s epic stomp. Then came a bipolar diagnosis … and an increasing reliance on illegal habits … and, ultimately, a four-year jail sentence for wire fraud. Anderson wrote half of his new album, From a White Hotel, while still in prison, making peace with his past along the way. Released this summer, the record tackles social oppression, personal demons and the darkness that haunts all of us, offering apologies one minute and anthemic rock the next. Although recorded with his new band Hawks & Doves, From a White Hotel shines its spotlight on a new, improved Anderson: sober, sharp and ready to make up for lost time.
They Say: “These songs are a reaction to me spending a number of years confronting the ways in which I let the dangerous things in my life ruin my life, and ruin the lives of people who were closer to me. Everyone has dangerous things within them, but it’s a matter of what you do with that. I’ve learned how to use the dangerous parts within me to teach other people. Our personal lives and our collective lives are not past the point of no return.”
Hear for Yourself: A Tom Petty devotee, Anderson pays tribute to another Gainesville hero — and advocates for a more inclusive America — with “Bulletproof Hearts (For Laura Jane),” an epic, guitar-heavy song dedicated to Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace. R.C.
Sounds Like: Twangy, truck-driving music that runs on classical gas
For Fans of: Stray Birds, the Civil Wars, Delta Rae, Shovels & Rope
Why You Should Pay Attention: Daniel Cook grew up as a rock & roll kid before falling under the spell of a couple of folk old-timers in his native North Carolina: Doc Watson and Wade Mainer. The latter got him playing banjo, which led to Americana and singer Amy Kamm — who was introduced to him through a Craigslist ad. They started recording before they even had a band, recruiting a couple of classically inclined string players and eventually connecting with Nashville producer Ben Fowler (whose studio credits include Rascal Flatts, Eric Clapton and even Rush). Fowler oversaw the group’s new album The Keep, a slick set of jacked-up folk-rock they’ll be showing off at fall festivals including AmericanaFest in Nashville and World of Bluegrass in their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
They Say: “The band was kind of reverse-engineered,” says principle songwriter Cook. “As opposed to musicians getting together and playing out, we started with music we recorded and went from there. We even made a video before we ever played live, which is backwards from how it usually goes. But it worked.”
Hear for Yourself: “Hounds,” the opening track and first single from The Keep, is a loping song about karma as boomerang. D.M.
Sounds Like: The newest member of country music’s radio-minded incoming class, with a homecoming king’s swagger and a valedictorian’s songwriting smarts
For Fans of: Brett Young, Thomas Rhett, the pop wing of the country-pop divide
Why You Should Pay Attention: Weeks after moving to Nashville, Rich found himself in the same room with Garth Brooks, who shared a few tricks of the trade with the California-raised songwriter. Years later, after joining the same record label as Thomas Rhett and recording his current single, “The Difference” — now a Top 40 entry on the country charts, as well as a Number One hit on SiriusXM’s the Highway — Rich sent a press release to Brooks, happy to show off his progress. He has reason to be proud. With a self-titled EP due out September 21st and a CMT-sponsored tour with Brett Young hitting venues this November, Rich is rising quickly through country’s mainstream ranks, unafraid to fill his music with R&B vocal runs and modern-rock aggression.
He Says: “These new [country] artists coming out right now — we’ve all been writing in the same rooms and playing the same circuits in Nashville, and now we’re competing for radio airtime, too,” notes Rich, whose social circle includes fellow up-and-comers Jimmie Allen, Mitchell Tenpenny and Travis Denning. “It’s a friendly competition, though. It feels like we’re all part of the same family, and I’m cheering them along.”
Hear for Yourself: Rich makes a case for pushing past the friends-with-benefits stage of a relationship with his career-launching hit “The Difference.” R.C.
Sounds Like: 21st century farm life where post-grunge and hip-hop peacefully coexist
For Fans of: Devin Dawson, Kane Brown, New Medicine
Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised on a pumpkin farm in Hamel, Minnesota, Jake Rose (né Scherer) grew up watching his father and uncle play gigs with their Southern-rock cover band, Stampede. He wrote his first song at 12, and formed the alt-rock band New Medicine while he was in high school. That group scored a handful of hits on mainstream radio, including the Top 20 single “Race You to the Bottom,” but by the time they went on hiatus in 2015 Rose had relocated to Nashville and scored a deal as a songwriter, penning tracks for Colt Ford and Keith Urban. Embracing his country music upbringing, Rose — adopting a new stage name inspired by a baby sister who died before she was 2 — has independently released a handful of songs that blend pop-punk vocals and occasional rapping with rootsy power balladry.
He Says: “I was 12 and listening to Eminem and Nirvana, but I also listened to Brad Paisley on the tractor. I was just all over. I was a farm kid, but I went to school with people who were not farm kids, so I didn’t want to own that back then, I wanted to be like everybody else. I fought it for so long, [but now] I learned what songs I want to write and how to be authentic to what my real self is,” says Rose, who feels he was playing a part during his tenure with New Medicine. “I cannot tell you how much I learned in those years and how different I would’ve done it if I could go back in my shoes when I was 18 and had a record deal. I was a kid, I had no idea what I was doing. I believed everything everybody told me.”
Hear for Yourself: “Family” is a half-sung, half-rapped ode to friends and the ties that bind. J.G.
Sounds Like: Gritty, gutsy and politically potent country-rock with strong storytelling chops – think Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road”
For Fans of: Lilly Hiatt, American Aquarium, Mary Gauthier
Why You Should Pay Attention: For her first LP, Nashville-based Becky Warren inhabited the stories of an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD. Called War Surplus, it was a sharp, deeply empathetic look into the lives of others, but the Atlanta-born songwriter never intended to make writing a concept record a tradition – until it happened a second time. Inspired by the people she observed and eventually struck up conversations with selling The Contributor, a local paper created by the town’s homeless community, Warren wrote her forthcoming LP Undesirable from their perspective, and the end result makes it clear we’re all more similar than we think.
She Says: Warren moved to Nashville five years ago at the urging of the late country artist Lari White, whom she met at a conference. “Lari was a huge supporter of mine, and a great mentor,” says Warren, who also has a close relationship with the Indigo Girls. “The program only lasted a week, but we hit it off, and she encouraged me to move to Nashville. I thought I had to learn to write commercial country music to be there, and she told me that wasn’t so. Afterwards, I went home and a tree fell on my house, and then there was a job I didn’t get. So I thought, ‘Lari is right.’ And I made the move.”
Hear for Yourself: There’s a bit of Neil Young to Undesirable‘s first track, “We’re All We Got,” a song about rising up from the ashes when the odds are stacked against you — and one that highlights how effective Americana can be when it plugs in the guitars. M.M.
Sounds Like: Rebellious honky-tonk, stitched with blue-collar country music
For Fans of: Johnny Cash and June Carter, Chris LeDoux, Waylon Jennings
Why You Should Pay Attention: Nashville singer-songwriter JP Harris considers himself a carpenter who writes country songs — not a country singer. He doesn’t like to be defined by just one thing, something that stems from a lifetime’s worth of experiences: riding freight trains, living as a shepherd with the Navajo and existing without running water in an Appalachian cabin. But the Alabama-born musician has also been performing for nine years, singing his rugged, pedal steel-laced ballads and sharing the stage with Bakersfield country legend Red Simpson, Hal Ketchum and Terry Allen. Collaborations with Nikki Lane and Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash have helped him garner a fan base beyond the Nashville community. Following a four-year hiatus during which he got sober, Harris has plans to release his new album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, produced by Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show, on October 5th.
He Says: “One of the things I told myself was that if you feel that you cannot continue to improve as a human or a person on Earth, that you’ve lost your entire purpose on Earth. That’s kind of how I feel. I think if you can keep that in your mind’s eye, you can stand to always improve your emotional state and that of those around you. It’s a tough thing to live with when you’re primarily sober and you spend a lot of time thinking back on your past. It doesn’t always result in good memories. But I think that’s a part of the process of staying alive, especially in this business. I think I was at a juncture where I had to make some big changes in my life one way or the other: to quit music or get my shit together. I chose to get my shit together, and I think that’s reflected in this record I made.”
Hear for Yourself: Highlighting Harris’ tender, quivering vocals paired with a wailing pedal steel, “When I Quit Drinking” is an introspective take on the reality of what happens when you sober up and have to face yourself. I.K.
Sounds Like: Folk songs forged by unbreakable family bonds
For Fans of: Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, She & Him, Harry Chapin
Why You Should Pay Attention: Music is part of the family for Abigail and Lily Chapin, whose father, Tom, is a Grammy-winning children’s songwriter and their late uncle, Harry, wrote the Number One hit “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Singing together from a young age, the sisters — less than two years apart — pursued other creative fields like film and fashion design before starting the Chapin Sisters in 2005 with their half sister, Jessica Craven. They became a duo five years later. With more than a half-dozen releases and tours with acts like She & Him to their credit, the sisters both became first-time mothers after finishing their 2015 LP Today’s Not Yesterday. The Ferry Boat EP, released last April, is their first new music in three years, as they split time between a home recording studio, seeing family in New York and Los Angeles, and helping run their mother’s business in the Hudson Valley.
They Say: “The family thing is very strong. We have cousins and second cousins all around New York that we see all the time — we’re like the mafia. That, as much as anything else, influenced why we started playing music together,” says Abigail, who admits that having children is a whole new wrinkle. “It was easier when they were tiny and they could literally be on our backs. They spent many concerts in baby backpacks while we played shows and they’d sleep through them. It was kind of amazing.” Adds Lily, “Moms in music is a very specific thing. Different bands and artists work it out in different ways. The really, really successful one get the deluxe tour bus with the nanny onboard. They bring everybody with them. We do not have the means for anything like that, so instead we’re focusing on bringing the music wherever we are.”
Hear for Yourself: “Bottle of Wine” is a waltzing, elliptical tale of imbibing love’s buzz and coping with the excess. J.G.
Sounds Like: A fresh perspective on fast-fingered traditional bluegrass, with forays into rockabilly and old-school country
For Fans of: The Steeldrivers, Del McCoury Band, Steep Canyon Rangers
Why You Should Pay Attention: After more than a decade of hard gigging on the national string band circuit, Asheville, North Carolina-based Town Mountain have notched International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. With upcoming album New Freedom Blues (out October 26th), the quick-picking quintet is aiming for broader roots appeal. Tracks like “North of Cheyenne” and “Lazy River” still showcase the seasoned crew’s slick solos and high-lonesome singing, but assistance throughout the record from Sturgill Simpson drummer Miles Miller roughens the edges and tips certain songs toward gritty country-rock. The standout is “Down Low,” a vintage outlaw throwback with distorted pedal steel about the pitfalls of excessive partying that features another guest, Kentucky tunesmith Tyler Childers, who co-wrote the song and trades verses with Town Mountain banjo player Jesse Langlais.
They Say: “It’s fun to explore country and rock elements —boogie-woogie and Jerry Lee Lewis-style grooves — in a bluegrass band,” says Langlais. “We write all different kinds of songs, so on this entire album we got over our inhibitions and played them as they were written; instead of trying to squeeze them into the bluegrass mold.”
Hear for Yourself: While looking back at a well-worn theme of blue-collar struggle, “Life and Debt” charges forward at a steady, dance-ready clip with nimble fretwork and a snappy drum beat. J.F.
Sounds Like: The best of Sixties and Seventies country, with thoughtful, lush arrangements and smooth, agile vocals
For Fans of: Roy Orbison, Joshua Hedley, Don Williams
Why You Should Pay Attention: Folks close to the music scene in Nashville have been awaiting Dee White’s debut album with bated breath. That anticipation stems from both the Alabama native’s excellent live performances and the endorsement of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced White’s debut Southern Gentleman alongside David “Fergie” Ferguson (Johnny Cash, John Prine). Both Auerbach and Ferguson helped White craft an impeccable take on classic Countrypolitan, updating the sound slightly for today’s modern tastes but taking care to preserve White’s singular voice. The singer came to the pair via revered Alabama producer Harold Shedd, who, a few years back, discovered White’s musical talents and connected him to Ferguson, who then brought Auerbach onboard. The A-side of Southern Gentleman is streaming now, with the latter half of the album expected in 2019.
He Says: “Dan and I connected immediately on so many things. We had similar childhoods and similar tastes. The process of writing and recording with him and working with all the Easy Eye Sound musicians was one I won’t easily forget. Everyone involved had a common goal and we were all working towards the same thing, which was to make some real country music. I came to this city to make a record and I ended up with music that is a true representation of me. I am extremely proud of it, and realize that mine may not be every new artist’s experience. For that I am eternally grateful and hope that in some small way I can inspire other young artists to stick to their guns and not settle.”
Hear for Yourself: “Crazy Man” finds White looking inward and reflecting on past indiscretions, his pristine vocals framed by crying fiddle and punchy electric guitar. B.M.