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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: June 2017

From a Berklee grad with a knack for ballads to a crooner inspired by Reba and R&B

This month’s list includes two harmony-heavy bands, one working in modern-country, the other inspired by the Grateful Dead. There’s also a pop-minded vocalist who was reared on R&B and rock, and a piano-ballad chanteuse. Here are the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now. 

Cordovas

Rebecca Ward

Cordovas

Sounds Like: The harmony-heavy, guitar-fueled house band at a Big Pink keg party in 1968

For Fans of: Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken, Dawes’ North Hills

Why You Should Pay Attention: Already cult favorites in Nashville, Cordovas have built honorary home bases across the globe, thanks to recurring shows in Todos Santos, Mexico – where ringleader Joe Firstman runs the yearly Tropic of Cancer Concert Series – and a touring schedule that recently including headlining gigs in Sweden and a stateside run alongside the Turnpike Troubadours. The band’s sound, though, is decidedly American. Caught halfway between Duane Allman’s Telecaster twang, the Dead’s hazy harmonies and the stoned swoon of California’s folk-rock heyday, Cordovas wring new life from older influences, hoisting their freak flag high on their upcoming album, That Santa Fe Channel.

They Say: “We did everything live,” Firstman says of That Santa Fe Channel, which was produced by the Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale. “Even the harmonies were recorded together, with all three of us singing. We probably did 15 takes of the first song, ‘This Town’s a Drag.’ Kenneth wanted it to sound as real and authentic as possible, and when I listen back, it gets better and better every time.”

Hear for Yourself: “I’m the One Who Needs You Tonight” is rich with harmonies and Grateful Dead inspiration. R.C. 

Ruby Force

Casey Curry

Ruby Force

Sounds Like: Progressive country with an indie flair, like Jenny Lewis’ twangier cousin

For Fans of: Nikki Lane, Kacey Musgraves, Aubrie Sellers

Why You Should Pay Attention: Ruby Force, otherwise known as singer-songwriter Erin McLaughlin, lives up to her vivid stage name. On her forthcoming debut album Evolutionary War, she paints colorful tales using a broad sonic palette, drawing from country, Americana, rock and indie pop for a sound that lands somewhere between Rilo Kiley and Nikki Lane. While some tracks – the single “Cowboy” – dabble in retro influences, Force’s music is, like Lane’s and Kacey Musgraves’, a glimpse at the promising direction in which left-of-center country music is headed.

She Says: Evolutionary War is sort of a collection, like a box of photos you find from a certain period of life. It strings together like a narrative essentially, about how I love,” McLaughlin says. “If these songs can find their way into people’s hearts, not to mention playlists, I would feel like I’ve accomplished something of eternal value. It would also be wicked sweet if this record could bring something tangible back home: an audience, some discourse, that daily bread. Then I’d just do it again and again.”

Hear for Yourself: “Ode to Vic Chesnutt,” premiering below in advance of Evolutionary War‘s June 22nd release date, pays homage to the beloved late Athens songwriter and to “life spinning like a wheel” with sweet harmonies and an optimistic, driving beat. B.M.

Levon

Levon

Sounds Like: The tight harmonies and sun-soaked melodies of the Beach Boys, but from the Gulf Coast not the West Coast

For Fans of: The Eagles; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Tumbleweed Connection-era Elton John

Why You Should Pay Attention: Levon’s origin story starts in early 2014 when Michael David Hall and Jake Singleton first met after playing in separate bands during the same night’s showcase. The following year, Ryan Holladay turned the duo into a trio and solidified Levon’a three-part harmony calling card. Between Hall’s operatic five-octave vocal range, Singleton’s multi-instrumental talents, and Holladay’s bluegrass background as a child prodigy on the mandolin, Levon is a triple-threat sonic assault that hearkens back to the halcyon Laurel Canyon days of flawless country-rock. Even their band name tips the hat to their musical lineage: it’s equally inspired by the Band’s Levon Helm and the Elton John staple. In their short time together as a band, Levon has already shared the bill with such heavyweights as Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw. They just released their Columbia Nashville/Epic Records self-titled debut EP in May.

They Say: “The first time we jammed, Ryan, Jake, and I realized that our three-part harmony was unique and it made our songs finally come alive in a way they hadn’t before. ‘Ms. Marianne’ was the first song we did together and we were all cracking up by how quickly it all came together,” Hall tells Rolling Stone Country. “When we met ‪Willie Nelson, he told us that we sounded good and he really liked our harmonies,” Singleton adds. “That was enough inspiration for me for many years to come.”

Hear for Yourself: “Wired” is an emotionally raw yet musically polished radio track that features thick-as-thieves harmonies and an infectious chorus hook. W.H.   

Adam Doleac

Ed Rode

Adam Doleac

Sounds Like: Epic, big-hearted country anthems better suited to the stadium than the saloon

For Fans of: Darius Rucker, John Mayer’s early albums, Brett Young

Why You Should Pay Attention: A former Southern Miss baseball star who competed in the 2009 College World Series, Adam Doleac began writing songs during his junior year, encouraged by a handful of teammates who also played guitar. Years later, he’s gearing up to join the country-music big leagues, armed with a Sony/ATV publishing deal and a self-titled debut EP. Doleac’s songs are anchored not only in the trends of Top 40 radio, but also the blue-collar grit of Bob Seger and the bluesy influence of his Mississippi hometown.

He Says: “All my influences came outside of country. I’ve got a lot of grit in my voice. When I moved up to Nashville and started working with some of these writers I loved, I combined the storytelling side of country music with the sounds I grew up hearing. That’s what landed me here.”

Hear for Yourself: Co-written with Monty Criswell, “Whiskey’s Fine” puts a dramatic, driving spin on the traditional drinking song template. R.C.

Ingrid Andress

Riley Taylor

Ingrid Andress

Sounds Like: Piano ballads and a bottle of wine; country soul with an L.A. sheen

For Fans of: Rihanna, Sam Hunt, Faith Hill

Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in Colorado, Ingrid Andress traveled the country with her father, who worked as a trainer for the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets. She seemed destined to pursue sports herself, but passed on playing volleyball in college for a vocal scholarship at Berklee College of Music. There, Andress’ songwriting caught the attention of one of her instructors, hit songwriter Kara DioGuardi, who signed her to her publishing house. The Lady Gaga fan won the Unsigned Only Music contest for her song “Footprints” and went on to score song placements with pop stars like Charli XCX and Akon. Andress’ own music, however, leans toward pop-friendly country ballads.

She Says: “Even though the stuff I do is country, because country to me is the place where I feel most fulfilled, I love stepping into L.A. and New York with all these extreme personalities and have to take them on and write for them. That’s also a part of me. I consider myself a pop songwriter, but as far as I am as a person or artist, I’m nothing like Lady Gaga. I love the stories and songs, and country really supports that, which is why I like it.”

Hear for Yourself: Debut single “Stranger” is a soulful, stripped-down ballad about remorse and yearning to make the same mistake twice. J.G. 

Ryan Griffin

Jim Cook

Ryan Griffin

Sounds Like: Able-voiced country-pop, performed by a mainstream-ready Millennial who grew up listening to Reba, R&B and rock & roll

For Fans of: Chris Young, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett

Why You Should Pay Attention: Before launching his solo career with this year’s Sake of the Summer, Griffin climbed the country charts as a songwriter, penning Kelsea Ballerini’s hit single “Dibs” with his future producer, Josh Kerr. Sake of the Summer refocuses the spotlight not only on Griffin’s writing chops, but on his elastic voice, which delivers familiar storylines from the country catalog – high-school summers, young love and the guilty thrill of downing your first beer – with equal parts poppy punch and R&B swagger. This fall, he’ll hit the road with fellow newcomer Michael Tyler on a coast-to-coast tour.

He Says: “I’m the youngest of three boys, so I didn’t get to select what was on the radio while we were young and riding in my mom’s car. It was always country music, and I loved it, but then I got my own boombox in middle school and discovered Brian McKnight, Usher and K-Ci & JoJo. I used to sit in my room and mimic Brian McKnight’s vocal runs. That was where everything intersected for me – this combination of R&B and soul and country. Later, when Keith Urban came out with ‘You’ll Think of Me,’ I listened to the song and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. I can actually do this.'”

Hear for Yourself: “Woulda Left Me Too” is a delayed confession, with Griffin crooning his apologies to a former flame long after the fire has burned out. R.C.

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