10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: February 2017
A duo with a pop-punk emo heart, a young California singer discovered by a punk-rock godfather and the gone-country singer for a popular U.K. metal band make up this month's installment of new country and Americana artists you need to hear.
Sounds Like: Nashville's newest radio-ready harmony duo, rooted in Millennial country-pop and Matchbox Twenty's clean-scrubbed rock
For Fans of: Eli Young Band, Love and Theft, Rascal Flatts
Why You Should Pay Attention: It'll be another two months before Walker McGuire's "Til Tomorrow" officially hits the FM airwaves, but the single has already racked up nearly 15 million plays on Spotify. Bandmates Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire credit those numbers to a touring schedule that kept the pair on the road for 200 days last year. After paying their dues as country-crooning independents, the two are poised for a mainstream breakthrough in 2017, with a still-under-development album produced by hitmaker Mickey Jack Cones and a newly announced deal with Wheelhouse Records. That puts them on the same roster as Trace Adkins and Sugarland's Kristian Bush – two other musicians who, like Walker McGuire, straddle the three-way border between pop, rock and 21st-century country.
They Say: "Johnny is a huge Tom Petty fan," Walker says of his bandmate and harmony partner, "while I grew up on Eighties and Nineties country. We say that if you put Tom Petty on one road and Keith Whitley on another, and they intersected with Matchbox Twenty, that's where we'd be."
Hear for Yourself: "Til Tomorrow" is a polished tribute to heartaches and hangovers, which producer Cones says "should've been on the radio yesterday." R.C.
Sounds Like: Moody, introspective power country delivered by a metal singer with a hangover
For Fans of: Cody Jinks, Aaron Lewis, hard-rockers gone country
Why You Should Pay Attention: As the singer for metal-electronica band Asking Alexandria, the England-born Worsnop has become expert at screaming his tortured lyrics at fans around the globe (he's toured with fellow Nashville transplants Halestorm). On his first-ever solo album, however, the singer-songwriter emphasizes nuance over volume. The Long Road Home is a collection of rootsy alt-country ("I'll Hold On") and brooding Americana ("Prozac") with a dash of bro ("Mexico"), all delivered in Worsnop's raspy, lived-in voice. He's had Number One success on the U.S. hard-rock charts with Asking Alexandria, and the brash, tattooed fast-talker is determined to do likewise in country.
He Says: "When it came to writing this album, I'm not relying on a bunch of guitar solos or overlays of an orchestra, horn section and choir. It's just me and my acoustic guitar right now and I have to tell a story that people really want to listen to. Otherwise, it's dogshit and no one is going to give a fuck."
Hear for Yourself: The album's one outside track "Prozac," written by the Civil Wars' John Paul White, is a dirge-like ballad, lamenting the chemicals one needs to keep going after too much hard living. J.H.
Sounds Like: Deceptively unassuming songs crafted from a blend of acoustic instruments, rugged vocals, vintage AM country radio and lyrics culled from a story-filled life
For Fans of: Merle Haggard, Joe Ely, late-night song swaps
Why You Should Pay Attention: Jason Eady's forthcoming self-titled album (out April 21st via Thirty Tigers) is the sixth full-length entry in the Texas-by-way-of-Mississippi singer-songwriter's catalog, so he's not "new" by any means. But Eady deserves a larger audience, especially for such a well-thought album. Heavily steeped in his storyteller lyrical style and cleverly framed by uncluttered, acoustic-rich arrangements, the record breathes with nuance and space. Striving to highlight his own personal creative journey with his new songs, Eady found inspiration in the individuality of legendary artists like Haggard. "I love the way that Merle Haggard wrote, sang, and made records," Eady says. "He covered a lot of musical territory in his albums over the years – from country to swing to jazz and blues – but in the end, they always sounded like Merle Haggard records." The new LP features some killer cameos: the SteelDrivers' Tammy Rogers adds fiddle to "Rain," and Vince Gill contributes harmony vocals to "No Genie in This Bottle."
He Says: "I realized that I spend so much of my time playing acoustically in hotel rooms and back porches but I've never tried to capture that on an album. I wanted the focus of this record to be on the lyrics. I wanted the arrangements to be enough to support the songs and give energy to the music without overpowering the lyrics."
Hear for Yourself: Starting out as an exercise for his (sometimes theme-based) weekly songwriting group, Eady's "Why I Left Atlanta" is a classic "troubles in the rearview mirror" road song. W.H.
Sounds Like: A raspy-throated, confident-beyond-her-years songwriter channeling Hank Williams via a somber goth-folk aesthetic
For Fans of: Lucinda Williams, Lydia Loveless, Mazzy Star with an acoustic guitar
Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up in the small town of Santa Margarita, California, in a house that was free of television and computers, Jade Jackson found entertainment in her father's record collection. She began writing songs at 13 and started playing live shows the following year. During an intimate coffee-house performance, Jackson's melancholic country-folk caught the attention of Social Distortion front man Mike Ness's wife and son, eventually leading the punk-rock legend to reach out to the young songwriter. Ness ended up producing Jackson's debut record (Gilded, coming this May on Anti- Records) and also invited her to open for Social D on their upcoming spring tour throughout March and early April. Jackson has also shared the stage with Merle Haggard, Rosie Flores and Dwight Yoakam.
She Says: "I've always been drawn to artists who write sad songs. Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, George Jones and Mike Ness are a few who have done this well. I remember when I was a kid, my dad would spin Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album over and over for days at a time. Songs like 'Mansion on the Hill' and 'Highway Patrolman' still inspire me."
Hear for Yourself: "Motorcycle" is Jackson's Western-noir take on the cocksure kiss-off song à la Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" or Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." W.H.
Sounds Like: A grittier, more vulnerable Love and Theft with solid harmonies that never feel superfluous, and spirals of guitar evoking New Found Glory
For Fans of: Luke Combs, Brothers Osborne, emo-country
Why You Should Pay Attention: Gary Stanton and Charlie Muncaster both hail from Mobile, Alabama, but they didn't start playing music together – or even know each other – until Muncaster was in need of an opening act for a hometown show. A jam session ensued, and Muscadine Bloodline were born, built not only on a love of country but every corner of the rock & roll spectrum, from U2 to pop-punk and even screamcore. The result is a sound that wavers between exact harmonies and unfettered anthems, all with a bit of an emo heart. "WD-40," from their self-titled debut EP, is gaining fast traction on Sirius XM's The Highway for its clever chorus that appeals to anyone who feels equally as amorous about a rich drawl as they do a power chord. But the duo's not afraid to be sentimental. Says Stanton, "We've had a motto that we make music that moves people's hearts and not their hips."
They Say: "There is a void in rock, and rock is a dying genre in terms of what is on the radio," says Stanton. "And we wanted to fill that void. We talk about real topics: you're not going to catch us writing a party anthem song. The lyrical content is important."
Hear for Yourself: Muscadine Bloodline make duct tape and lubricant – the aerosol kind that de-squeaks doors, that is – seem romantic on "WD-40," a clever mid-tempo jam with skronky guitars and yearning vocals. M.M.
Sounds Like: Polished pop country with a feminist streak, with youthful energy and wit to spare
For Fans of: Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Rae Jepsen, women's empowerment
Why You Should Pay Attention: Portland, Maine, native Kalie Shorr grew up the youngest of six and made the bold decision to try to make it in Nashville – a move supported by her single mother – at 18. After working whatever jobs she could find to keep the lights on, she fell in with the creative Song Suffragettes community and started cranking out tunes. Now 22, Shorr's independently-released anthem "Fight Like a Girl," which she wrote with friends Hailey Steele and Lena Stone, became one of the best-selling debut tracks from a female country singer in 2016. A pop-country stunner that turned the titular insult into a rallying cry of strength, "Fight" grew out of Shorr's firsthand experiences in Nashville. She'll release a new EP, Slingshot, on March 3rd.
She Says: "We wrote ['Fight Like a Girl'] immediately after Tomatogate, actually, just kind of directed toward Keith Hill and anyone who'd ever said, 'No you can't, you're a woman.' At that point all of us had separately gone into some stuffy Music Row office and had some person in a suit be like, 'You're so great, but we've already got a girl.' Being a female is not a sub-genre, it's a gender – holy shit! We wrote it about that and it turned into something so much bigger. The way people have taken it and interpreted it and attached it to their own stories has been so much bigger than my problems with the music industry."
Hear for Yourself: In the spunky "He's Just Not That into You," off Slingshot, Shorr humorously chides herself and other women for putting up with their shitty boyfriends. J.F.
Sounds Like: Genre-blurring songs with soulful vocals, quirky lyrics and unorthodox arrangements that should delight pop-leaning fans and have purists up in arms
For Fans of: Sam Hunt, Brett Eldredge, pop-culture references
Why You Should Pay Attention: Walker Hayes may be the first country artist ever to take a page out of Kim Kardashian's book, titling his most recent mixtape 8Tracks, Vol. 2: Break the Internet – he even calls out Kim K. by name in the set's title track. Truly an artist of the Internet age, Hayes writes songs that are damn near impossible to classify, and that's what makes them so interesting. Unpredictable and versatile, on single "You Broke Up with Me" he's casually beat-boxing to get over a failed relationship, while on ballad "Beer in the Fridge" he's singing plaintively about trying to get sober. One of the first signees to the recently resurrected Monument Records, Hayes can also count high-powered industry stalwarts Shane McAnally and Jason Owen as fans.
He Says: "A year ago I was working at Costco, wondering how I was going to pay our mortgage. Now, I've signed to Monument Records … so things are looking up. 'You Broke Up With Me' is the first of many songs that I'm excited to share with the world. The reaction so far is better than I could've ever imagined. For me, it was the obvious first choice as it's really what started this whole project and turned everything around for me."
Hear for Yourself: Hayes' single "You Broke Up with Me" is a laid-back, breezy kiss-off to an ex, with a heavy dose of Southern swagger and some beat-boxing to boot. B.M.
Sounds Like: A devastatingly direct singer with a gospel foundation, a Janis Joplin obsession and an axe to grind
For Fans of: Julie Roberts, Lee Ann Womack, Tanya Tucker
Why You Should Pay Attention: Carpenter received her education in bars and honky-tonks, carving out a path to a country music career that seems destined for a future Hollywood screenplay. After a stint in the family gospel band, she gigged around Nashville as a teen and, while hanging backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, landed a job on veteran Jack Greene's touring show, playing with her heroes like Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner. She also spent some time working as Little Jimmy Dickens' housekeeper and picked up lessons on harmony and guitar playing from Phil Everly. Carpenter's Shane McAnally-produced debut single, "Burn the Bed," recently made its first appearance on the Country Airplay chart.
She Says: "I had no idea how the entertainment business worked, but I always heard stories about people getting discovered. I would lurk around in places I thought record producers might be hanging out, and if they were well-dressed I'd go up and ask if they were a record producer. I was so serious about it that when I was back home in Michigan, I crashed a Vince Gill concert, and I wrote, 'Can I yodel for you?' on the back of a ticket stub. I kept going up to the stage and waving this ticket at him over and over again. Vince Gill is such an amazing entertainer that he took the ticket stub and read it. He said, 'Get up here,' and I yodeled for a crowd of 10,000 people wearing an orange Old Navy fleece jacket and a pair of high-water bell-bottoms. That's when the bug bit me. There are embarrassing pictures to prove it."
Hear for Yourself: "Burn the Bed" is an old school tear-jerker in which the singer relives her ex's painful indiscretions blow-by-blow, fulfilling the words posted on her website: "I write my best songs when men piss me off." E.L.
Sounds Like: SoCal country-pop, delivered by a trio of L.A.-based females who write their own songs, play their own instruments and stack their harmonies three layers deep
For Fans of: Little Big Town's vocal arrangements, Keith Urban's guitar tones and Wilson Phillips' pop hooks
Why You Should Pay Attention: Lead guitarist Devon Jane backed up Keith Urban at the 2012 American Country Awards, trading bluesy bends and riffy runs during a cover of "Crossroads." Years later, her fretwork finds a new home in Honey County, a harmony-heavy vocal group backed by some serious chops. Big-voiced belter Dani Rose is the longest-running member and de facto leader, but this is an all-hands-on-deck operation, with songs like "High on the Radio" – a power ballad about the nostalgic pull of the FM dial – relying just as heavily on contributions from Jane and newcomer Katie Stump. This April, Honey County will play the 2017 Stagecoach Festival, one of the only independent bands to make the cut.
They Say: "I think it's important for country music to have powerful female instrumentalists," Stump declares. "Apart from Striking Matches and Clare Dunn, you don't see many female guitarists taking such an active role in their bands. The whole world needs to see that girls can play, too."
Hear for Yourself: New single "High on the Radio" is a bright blast of California culture, inspired by a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. R.C.
Sounds Like: Easygoing, optimistic pop-country that won't upset any delicate constitutions
For Fans of: Chris Young, Chris Lane, Rascal Flatts
Why You Should Pay Attention: Hoge has been slogging it out on the fringes of country – and, for a time, Christian music – for 15 years, playing shows and checking off the boxes of a Nashville career. Raised on the catalog of songwriters like Paul Overstreet and Skip Ewing, he was inspired to write his own songs and, after seeing Garth Brooks perform, take them to the stage. Eventually, Hoge found himself on country's most famous boards: opening for the late George Jones at the Ryman Auditorium. His new album, due later this year, features his own material, along with tracks written by heavy hitters Shane McAnally and Sam Hunt.
He Says: "I've learned to be prepared for anything. I've had the honor of traveling overseas each year to perform for our troops with the Wrangler National Patriot Tour. We've been to Iraq, Kuwait, Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Alaska, London and undisclosed places that have definitely kept us on our toes. Touring is an adventure at times, but it's also the most rewarding part of making music. Playing a show and interacting with fans face-to-face is still the best form of social media."
Hear for Yourself: Hoge's effervescent single "Boom Boom" is made not for the club, but for a first date in the park, all wide-eyed innocence and heart. J.H.
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