10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: July 2017 - Rolling Stone
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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: July 2017

From a Kentucky singer-songwriter produced by Sturgill Simpson, to a London duo with a flair for mesmerizing harmonies

It’s easy to hear the influence of firebrands like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson in this month’s list. There are bluesy belters, reverberating country baritones and rock-weaned troubadours. But there’s also some awfully delicate textures as well, thanks to a pair of artists from the U.K. Here are the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.

James LeBlanc

Sounds Like: That middle-aged epiphany where one realizes that chasing dreams is still a noble pursuit

For Fans of: Travis Tritt, Gary Allan, latter-day Bruce Springsteen

Why You Should Pay Attention: James LeBlanc is hardly a “new” artist, but his latest turn as an on-his-own singer is very much a new chapter. The 46-year-old from Louisiana, who’s been based in the Muscle Shoals area for a decade and a half, has sold more than 25 million records throughout his career as a songwriter. “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” his most famous, was a hit for Travis Tritt, and Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride have all turned his other compositions into hits. But LeBlanc’s itch to record hasn’t go away, and last year he and producer Jimmy Nutt, hot off a Grammy win with the SteelDrivers, cut Nature of the Beast, an album of LeBlanc’s favorite unreleased songs, with the help of partner Angela Hacker, son Dylan (himself a Rolling Stone Country New Artist You Need to Know) and legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood.

He Says: “I was thinking, ‘What can a songwriter do when people stop recording their songs?’ Why don’t I just make a record that I can really be proud of and I consider authentic and genuine and just see if anything happens with it. I have to write a ton of crappy songs before I get to one I like, and what I consider something I like is something that feels pretty true to me, and then go and perform it live. I know lots of songwriters who can write their asses off, but one of the things I’m fortunate to be able to do is to write songs for folks and go out there and do them live.”

Hear for Yourself: “I Ain’t Easy to Love” is a gentle, familiar-feeling duet between LeBlanc and Hacker. J.G.

Shelly Fairchild

Sounds Like: The Mississippi Delta communion of Flaming Red-era Patty Griffin, Joss Stone and Susan Tedeschi

For Fans of: Ballsy, bluesy rockers with a dash of Southern sweetness

Why You Should Pay Attention: After Sony’s release of her outstanding LP, Ride, in 2005, this native of Clinton, Mississippi (whose high-school show choir also featured future ‘N Sync member Lance Bass), hit the road with Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw. More recently, she has sung backup on tour with Martina McBride and plumbed the murky depths of the indie-artist journey, emerging with the exuberant, Mississippi-mud-encrusted Buffalo, featuring trenchant co-writes with, among others, Travis Meadows, Lisa Carver and co-producers Jeremy Lister and Carey Ott. Highlights include the heart-piercing ballad “House on Fire,” the yearning “Mississippi Turnpike” and “Damn Good Lover,” on which the out-and-proud lesbian pours gasoline on an already raging musical inferno.

She Says: “When I moved out of Mississippi I was college age and just sort of discovering how important it was to reach across the lines of race relations, sexuality, all these different things. I was from a town and a place where there’s so much hurt and there’s still so much that’s backwards and stuck in the past. I was denying a lot. Once you break things down, it’s just fear that people experience and they put that on other people. But I love where I’m from because they are some of the richest people in their souls, of every kind of background. Even though there’s a lot of sorrow and pain that’s happened there, that’s been caused by generation after generation, out of that has come so much beauty and art.”

Hear for Yourself: “Mississippi Turnpike” is a wistful yet rollicking road trip on which Fairchild channels equal parts Delbert McClinton and Miranda Lambert. S.L.B.

Ron Pope

Sounds Like: Earnest, melodic story songs written and sung by a guy who knows his way around an electric guitar

For Fans of: Tom Petty’s hooks, Little Feat’s grooves, the rock and soul wing of Americana

Why You Should Pay Attention: Marietta, Georgia, native Ron Pope has spent at least a decade cultivating a highly successful DIY operation, racking up literally hundreds of millions of streams on Pandora and Spotify, landing high-profile TV placements for his music and selling out concert venues around the world without a traditional record deal. His forthcoming album Work, out August 18th, expertly balances raucous, horn-accented tales of misbehaving like “Bad for Your Health” and “Let’s Get Stoned” with quiet, contemplative numbers. On the hushed title track, Pope sings of defeating the odds and proving everyone wrong, including a teacher who warned his mother that he’d probably end up “a long-term guest of the state.” “Anytime I’ve ever done anything good in my life, my mother has wanted to send this woman notes on it,” says Pope. “I’m like, ‘Ma, you gotta let this go.'”

He Says: “We’re kind of representative of this emerging middle class in the music business,” says the Nashville-based performer, who operates his own Brooklyn Basement Records with his wife. “We aren’t making Mick Jagger money, but I don’t have to make people lattes.”

Hear for Yourself: The tart kiss-off track “Can’t Stay Here,” premiering below, gets an assist from singer-songwriter Katie Schecter and evokes the sweet-and-sour power pop of Fleetwood Mac. J.F.

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