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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: February 2018

From the blue-collar twang of Pat Reedy to the easygoing country-pop of Brown & Gray

rs country february new artists

Pat Reedy and the duo Brown & Gray are among the 10 new country artists you need to hear right now.

This month’s must-hear artists list is populated by a number of distinct duos: the power balladry of Haley & Michaels; the somber folk of Dead Horses; the easygoing country-pop of Brown & Gray; and the Red Dirt vibe of Shotgun Rider. But there’s also some solo artists staking their claim with both traditional and avant-garde sounds. 

rs country february new artists

Jody Domingue

Ross Cooper

Sounds Like: If Ryan Adams recorded songs like “Why Do They Leave?” with Whiskeytown, a lot less anxiety and some cowboy cred

For Fans of: Sam Outlaw, Andrew Combs, Chris LeDoux’s rodeo dreams

Why You Should Pay Attention: Ross Cooper has the kind of background that would make country’s authenticity police drool: the native Texan was once a professional bareback bronc rider, breaking bones and accumulating stitches, so he’s earned the right to sport a cowboy hat. But the best surprise about the now Nashville-based Cooper is how he seems more interested in using his life to shape his lyrical narrative but not impose sets of strict rules. In other words, his forthcoming LP, the Eric Masse-produced I Rode the Wild Horses (out March 9th), is no collection of spur-stomping rodeo songs. Instead, it’s full of gentle, story-driven alt-country accented by pedal steel, standing on the quality of the tales he conjures. Because as much as he’s a Lone Star kid, growing up on the Mavericks, he also dug into Adams, Tom Waits and even Dashboard Confessional. “I am a rodeo kid who grew up on indie music,” Cooper says.

He Says: “They are equally as challenging, but when everything goes right, they’re literally both the best feelings in the world,” he says, comparing bronc riding to songwriting. “When you go from rodeos to playing music, you can be a glutton for physical punishment and mental punishment. They are equally hard in their own ways, but the reason you do either is for that feeling where everything goes right. You know when you make a great ride, and a great song.”

Hear for Yourself: There’s a subtle melodic nod to Modest Mouse in the twangy traveling anthem “Lady of the Highway” that mediates on any touring artists’ first love: the road. M.M.

rs country february new artists

Charlie Stout

Shotgun Rider

Sounds Like: Red Dirt country with a new haircut and leather jacket

For Fans of: Eli Young Band, Josh Abbott Band, Imagine Dragons

Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up on a steady diet of emo, alt-rock, pop-punk and Texas country, Shotgun Rider claim George Strait and Kings of Leon as their biggest influences. But that unconventional combination doesn’t sound so strange to the duo’s Anthony Enriquez and Logan Samford. “A lot of it is just the generation we come from,” Enriquez says. “We had access to everything. Logan would tell me when they were getting ready for football games they’d be jamming Breaking Benjamin, and then after the game they’d be drinking beers on tailgates on the backroads, listening to country music.” Working with a combustible mix of high-flying vocals and textured electric guitars, the West Texas natives have graduated from three-hour cover sets to the celebrated Red Dirt club circuit. Following a handful of self-produced EPs, they’re set for the March 30th release of their full-length album debut, Palo Duro, which trends toward the windblown and wide-open sound their home in the Texas panhandle inspires.

They Say: “When we were in high school all we wanted to do was get the hell out of here,” says Enriquez. “But now we’re living in the city, traveling all the time, and we miss it. You can see for like 30 miles and there’s nothing but a windmill here and some cows over there. It’s kind of lonely, but it’s also peaceful and it keeps you creative, because your head isn’t so cluttered. As a writer, I don’t feel any boundaries out here because we’re so far removed from everything.”

Hear for Yourself: “Me and a Memory” sets the tone for Palo Duro, a nostalgic country-rock anthem built on electronic foundations and take-me-home vocals. C.P.

rs country february new artists

Nikki Mata

Brown & Gray

Sounds Like: Propulsive, pop-leaning country from both sides of the Atlantic

For Fans of: Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris’ “Craving You”; Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild’s “Home Alone Tonight”; culture clash

Why You Should Pay Attention: A chart-topping songwriter from the U.K., Sam Gray kicked off his career penning hits for European DJs and pop singers. After emerging from a co-writing session in England with a country song called “Top Down,” he reached out to Kaci Brown — a native Texan who started her own songwriting career at 11 years old, when she signed with a publishing company run by Roy Orbison’s wife — to add her vocals to the track. “Top Down” turned into a duet between the two singers, paving the way for a sound rooted in country storytelling, pop hooks and progressive production. With more than 1.2 million Spotify streams in the U.S. and a Top 10 position on the U.K. iTunes Country Single chart, the song is already a cross-Atlantic hit, paving the way for the band’s full length album ­– produced by their mentor and frequent co-writer, Brad Crisler – later this year.

They Say: “We both come from strong songwriting backgrounds,” says Gray, who’ll join Brown this spring for the duo’s Stagecoach Festival debut. “Kaci grew up in Texas and Nashville, with pop and country in her heart. I grew up with those sounds, too, as well as a lot of soul. We’re mixing different genres, but at the center of it, we just love to write great songs. We want to push the boundaries with our production. It just sounds like us. It’s country, it’s pop and it’s all everything you’ll find in the middle.”

Hear for Yourself: Driven forward by a percussive pulse, “Top Down” is a tribute to raising the roof ­– literally – and hitting the highway. R.C.

rs country february new artists

Wilde Company

Pat Reedy

Sounds Like: Gritty AM-country gold spinning on a truck-stop jukebox

For Fans of: Dale Watson, Cody Jinks, Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues”

Why You Should Pay Attention: Pat Reedy knows a few things about an honest day’s work. At 36, the self-professed jack-of-all-trades doesn’t balance his music dreams with a flexible service-industry gig like many other artists. Instead he prefers construction, sweating and swearing on the high-rises going up all around Nashville. Before that he was an oil-drilling roughneck and a surface miner, among other adventures, and that blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth approach shows up big time in his music. Drawling, a little rough around the edges, and delivered with a booming baritone that could be heard over a bulldozer, Reedy’s tunes are simple and sincere throwbacks to the straight-talking country of the 1970s and before. “I like the shit Waylon Jennings rebelled against, and I like the shit he did,” Reedy says. On the 12 tracks that make up That’s All There Is (out April 6th), Reedy calls it like he sees it, celebrating calloused hands and quitting time in a way that’s rare in today’s mainstream.

He Says: “The stuff that’s out there now is just so plastic. If you listen to the lyrics it’s like they’re all written by 13-year-old girls, and it seems like there’s zero creativity allowed. It’s all about buzz words. I mean, I drive an old F-150. I enjoy hunting and fishing and giggin’ frogs. I like sweet tea and I love turnip greens, but I don’t write about that. And it used to be that country music had a sense of humor about itself. Like David Allan Coe writing about prison, trains and mama – that was funny. But now it’s like that’s the extent of the intellect that is acceptable.”

Hear for Yourself: Dripping with steel guitar, a road-weary rhythm and Reedy’s lonesome, low-down vocals, “Bloodshot Heart” is a tribute to doing things the hard way – and paying the price. C.P.

rs country february new artists

Abraham Rowe

Belle Adair

Sounds Like: Dreamy, guitar-driven melancholia with a Southern twist

For Fans of: Big Star, the Byrds, Wilco, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Why You Should Pay Attention: Hailing from Alabama’s Muscle Shoals area, Belle Adair – Matthew Green, Adam Morrow, Reed Watson and Hayden Crawford – recently released their second album Tuscumbia on Single Lock Records, the indie label founded by singer-songwriter John Paul White, Alabama Shakes member Ben Tanner and Will Trapp. Nodding to the area’s extraordinary musical history, Belle Adair recorded Tuscumbia at Fame Studios under the guidance of Wilco producer/engineer Tom Schick. And while the band’s members have played behind performers like White and singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc, their own recordings don’t fit so neatly within the confines of Americana or country, nodding toward the jangling, idiosyncratic pop tendencies of fellow Southerners Alex Chilton and Tom Petty.

They Say: “There’s some certain things we do like vocal harmonies and the use of a 12-string [guitar] and things like that, that distinguish the band melodically,” says leader Matthew Green. “I don’t want to say ‘power pop,’ but [it is] maybe somewhere getting into that realm, rather than straight up Americana or folk or country. But three of the guys in the band, we’re John Paul’s backing band, so we definitely know that world and we definitely spend time in it and play music that falls under that umbrella. Somehow, someway it’s gotta sneak its head in there.”

Hear for Yourself: The blissful “Get Away,” with its brightly ringing guitars and unhurried groove, mixes Britpop and California country-rock cool. J.F.

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