10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: January 2018 - Rolling Stone
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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: January 2018

From a charismatic pop-country singer to the youngest major-label country artist since Tanya Tucker

10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: January 2018

Jimmie Allen and Tegan Marie are among the new country and Americana artists you need to hear this month.

A former contestant on The Voice who’s poised for more than just reality-TV success; a socially conscious singer-songwriter with an unconventional style of playing guitar; and a corrections officer who brings his own experiences to outlaw country. Here are the 10 new country and Americana voices you need to hear right now.

tegan marie

Sweety High

Tegan Marie

Sounds Like: The 14-year-old girl next door with the vocal chops of a potential pop-country wunderkind

For Fans of: Kelsea Ballerini, RaeLynn, Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw” era

Why You Should Pay Attention: A native of Flint, Michigan, Tegan Marie earned her first major label deal before she was eligible for a driver’s permit. Gifted with a commanding voice, a natural stage presence and a sunny disposition, she learned to sing on her dad’s karaoke machine. At 7 years old her videos were garnering millions of views online, and by 12 she made her debut in front of Warner Music Nashville executives. They signed her at 13, making Marie the youngest major-label country artist since Tanya Tucker in 1972. Now she’s writing and recording with co-producers Scott Hendricks (Blake Shelton) and Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift), and seems poised to connect with a new generation of pop country fans. A full album is in the works and her debut single, “Keep It Lit,” is out now. Still, Marie is most at home onstage. She’s already breezed past milestone appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and on Good Morning America, shared the spotlight with Smokey Robinson and nailed the national anthem at a Detroit Lions game.

She Says: “I started singing when I was three years old – and I think even before that; that was just the first video my dad posted online – and I haven’t put down the microphone since. Pretty much it just comes natural, and it doesn’t make a difference how many people are in the crowd. It could be 10 people in a garage or 60,000 for the national anthem. I just give it my all and I love seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, and knowing that I’m making them happy.”

Hear for Yourself: “Keep It Lit” captures the golden innocence of youth with effortless vocals, acoustic guitars and fiddle. C.P.

Will Stewart

Wes Frazer

Will Stewart

Sounds Like: Literate, introspective folk-rock from the Deep South

For Fans of: Hiss Golden Messenger, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes

Why You Should Pay Attention: Stewart,
a native of Alabama, spent a couple years making music in Nashville
– playing with bands such as Timber and Willie and the Giant – before
returning to his home state in 2016. His forthcoming album County Seat, due out April 6th, finds him trading some of his indie
rock proclivities for more rootsy swells of pedal steel and fingerpicked
acoustic guitar. The move back home also found its way into Stewart’s lyrics, which
are peppered with references to unique places and phenomena to form a
“love letter to Alabama,” as he describes it. The LP arrives just as
he’s beginning to get some national attention for his work: In March, he’s set
to make his SXSW debut and in July, he’ll be playing to a hometown crowd at the
just-announced Sloss Music and Arts Festival in Birmingham.

He Says: “I just feel really strongly if someone wants to write a song – if they’re in a band or if they’re a songwriter – they should say whatever comes out. If it’s a good song, stick with it. But at the same time, the older I get, the more I appreciate finding a cohesive sound and honing in on it. That’s where I am right now. I feel like if I’m gonna put out an album it can’t just be this mish-mash of random songs and sounds.”

Hear for Yourself: The
jangling album opener “Sipsey” evokes the unspoiled Alabama
wilderness, contrasted against Stewart’s desire to maintain a sense of wonder
as he grows older. J.F.

Sam Morrow

Chris Phelps

Sam Morrow

Sounds like: California classic rock like Little Feat mixed with Texas honkytonk for a new breed of SoCal melting pot country

For fans of: Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson’s “Brace For Impact,” Band of Heathens

Why You Should Pay Attention: Though LA’s country scene isn’t packed to the gills, it does boast a small but talented group of new artists making good on the state’s Bakersfield history. Alongside Sam Outlaw, Jade Jackson and Jaime Wyatt, Houston-born Sam Morrow started putting out bluesy, boot-stompingly traditional records a few years back. His newest, Concrete and Mud, finds him merging classic rock, southern soul and funk in there, too (in fact, a friend of Morrow’s dubbed it “countrified funk”). Making use of a vintage Neve 8068 console, Morrow recorded the LP, out March 30th, largely live and ventured to replicate the intimate intensity of catching him in concert. Morrow, who is now sober, has overcome some major hardships and Concrete and Mud is less about the sunny side of his home state and more about those wandering the streets with a past that lingers like a faded tattoo. “I’ve been through concrete and I have been through mud,” he says, “but all these experiences make me what I am.”

He says: “LA has a small scene that is beginning to blossom to the national stage,” Morrow says. “It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of. It’s exciting to see so many bands popping up and they don’t have the feeling that they have to move to Nashville to do what they want to do. People forget about how rich the Southern California country scene has been in the past, and this is a revival of sorts.”

Hear for yourself: With an opening groove that conjures up The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Quick Fix” is Morrow growling through this swanky ode to instant gratification. M.M.

Caitlin Canty

David McClister

Caitlin Canty

Sounds Like: Thoughtfully constructed alt-folk with just the right amount of twang

For Fans of: Amanda Shires, Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins

Why You Should Pay Attention: Caitlin Canty’s 2015 album Reckless Skyline made the Nashville transplant something of a critical darling, landing on several “best of” lists and laying the groundwork for a couple of years that would see Canty spending a lot of time on the road. On March 30th, she’ll release a new album, Motel Bouquet, which draws from her experiences – both personal and musical – during that fruitful time. Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers fame) produced the album, which also features special contributions from Aoife O’Donovan and Stuart Duncan. Dreamy and daring, it’s the perfect LP for ushering in the first hazy days of spring.

She Says: Since releasing my last record, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the country playing live shows, and that experience has given me a surer footing as a singer and a songwriter. In 2015, I moved from a life spent in the Northeast to a fresh start in Nashville. I wrote the songs that became Motel Bouquet in the ashes of one life and in the soil and seeds of another. I’ve been trying to get out of the way of the songs while writing them and let them be what they want to be. And I’ve been writing on an old Kalamazoo that I play, tuned down a full step. Sorrow and songs just pour out of that guitar.”

Hear for Yourself: The hypnotic “Take Me for a Ride” is a spellbinding introduction to Canty’s new music, in which poetic lyrics and haunting melodies abound. B.M.

Parker McCollum

Parker McCollum

Sounds Like: A no-holds-barred, confessional singer-songwriter who excels at relatable tales of twentysomething angst

For Fans of: John Mayer, Jason Isbell, a super-talented version of that shaggy-haired guy who always busts out the acoustic guitar at a house party

Why You Should Pay Attention: He’s been a fixture on the Texas live-music circuit since releasing his cult-favorite debut, 2013’s The Limestone Kid, but with last November’s Probably Wrong, the Austin-based McCollum proved his staying power. “The word ‘honesty’ is what sticks out,” he says of the difference-maker with his new album. Crafted in the wake of a devastating breakup, the album features a steady stream of gut-wrenching songs including “Hell of a Year” and “I Can’t Breathe.” As McCollum hops between rowdy college-bar gigs and more formal theaters, he’s noticed fans embracing more of his deep cuts. “That’s when I’m like, ‘OK, this is connecting.'”

He Says: “I sound like a broken record, but I really am just trying to be as real as I possibly can be with my music … I recently started writing a new song and I felt myself go right back to that place I was in when I wrote [Probably Wrong]. I couldn’t take it. So I put it on hold. I was like, ‘No way can I go back into that hole right now.'”

Hear for Yourself: On “Hell of a Year,” written late one night in his truck in a Whataburger parking lot, McCollum recounts the painstaking process of breaking it off with his longtime girlfriend. D.H.

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