10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: June 2018
The indie-country of Liz Cooper and the Stampede, the New Wave country of Tyler Dial and a fake ID cherished by Travis Denning all figure into this month’s list of the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.
Sounds Like: The soundtrack to a Hatch chile and tequila-fueled therapy session in the snow-capped wilderness
For Fans of: Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, campfire demos
Why You Should Pay Attention: Born from a series of overlapping friendships, Glorietta is a songwriting project spearheaded by Delta Spirit’s Matthew Logan Vasquez. Looking to recreate the one-off energy of Middle Brother, his 2013 collaboration with John McCauley and Taylor Goldsmith, Vasquez invited six friends — David Ramirez, Jason Robert Blum, Noah Gundersen, Kelsey Wilson, Adrian Quesada, and Nathaniel Rateliff — to a week of on-the-fly recordings in the mountain town of Glorietta, New Mexico, outside Santa Fe. Nourished by good food, good booze and a Jacuzzi, the round-the-clock sessions capture a meeting of the minds focused on first impressions. Loose, lo-fi and off-the-cuff, the self-titled record – due August 24th on Nine Mile Records – jumps from ragged rockers to ballads so whisper-quiet you can hear doors opening in the background. Glorietta play Newport Folk Fest next month, with their one-and-only tour slated for the fall.
They Say: “There’s something really, really neat, or special, or holy even, about the sound of somebody discovering the sound of a melody right there on the spot,” says Vasquez. “And if you have good enough players, somebody in tune enough to listen with each other, that really makes you have to listen to everybody. You’re playing in the unit and trying to not suck, because if you [do] suck you have seven people looking at you. Everybody wants to come with it in the best way. It’s a beautiful thing that we could have this amount of people in a room work this collaboratively. It’s trying to capture that lightning in a bottle. That’s probably why there will never be another Middle Brother record: It was so special for us, and people related to it in a special way. But how are you going to copy or even get close to that?”
Hear for Yourself: “Heatstroke,” a slice-of-the-party mountain jam, is a crunchy, 8-bit vamp that doesn’t even pretend to take itself seriously. J.G.
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Sounds Like: Melodic English folk-rock that splits the difference between the Kinks and Joan Shelley
For Fans of: the Pogues, Billy Bragg, Glen Hansard
Why You Should Pay Attention: This husband-and-wife duo have unimpeachable British folk credentials: Kami Thompson is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson, while James Walbourne has cut his teeth playing guitar for both Ray Davies and the Pogues. Their second record, Other People, which follows their promising 2014 debut Fair Warning, is a tenderhearted exploration of their hometown of London set to a blend of roots rock and folk balladry. Trading off on vocals, the duo offers a socially-conscious portrait of their rapidly changing (and vanishing) city while still retaining a deep emotional intimacy on songs like “Dark Times” and “Brick and Mortar.”
They Say: “There is a real closeness between American and English music and there has been for a long time,” says Thompson, who prefers the phrase “Anglicana” to “Americana” as a way to describe the Rails’ English-rooted sound. “That’’ kind of what we’re about: We’re from London, and we can’t change that. It’s a big part of who we are, is being from London and writing about where you’re from,” adds Walbourne.
Hear for Yourself: Other People opens with “The Cally,” a gorgeous Celtic-tinged ballad that traces the evolution of a London thoroughfare inspired by Walbourne’s late grandfather. Jonathan Bernstein
Sounds Like: Rough-around-the-edges vocals blanketed with swoon-worthy arrangements, like a stiff cocktail made with top-shelf ingredients
For Fans of: Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, Joshua Hedley
Why You Should Pay Attention: Americana songwriters are a dime a dozen these days, but few are writing songs like Jackson Emmer. The Colorado-based artist expanded his following with his 2015 album Last Known Photograph of Jackson Emmer, which showed him to be a talented wordsmith with a way around a traditional country arrangement. Those talents are only amplified on his recent release Jukebox, which marries the conversational delivery of Hayes Carll and John Prine with the arrangements of Eddy Arnold and Joshua Hedley.
He Says: “I’m just trying to tell stories, and tell the truth. I make music because it helps me process feelings, and I share my music because I like connecting with people – hopefully it gives them something their hearts can use. While I love new music, the albums I listen to most often are ‘old favorites,’ records that have comforted me and connected with me for years. They’re dripping with humanity, compassion, honesty, and mistakes, and they get straight to my heart. I wanted to make an album that could serve that purpose for others, a record that’s both fun and vulnerable, and fits like your favorite pair of jeans. It’s comfort food.”
Hear for Yourself: “Don’t Leave Me Blue,” with its fiddle, mandolin and laid-back shuffle, should appeal to the staunchest of country purists, while leaving plenty of room for fans of modern Americana and alt-country to join the party, too. B.M.
Sounds Like: Smartly written contemporary pop-country with a little sugar and plenty of spice
For Fans of: Kelsea Ballerini, Kalie Shorr, Danielle Bradbery
Why You Should Pay Attention: Like many of today’s brightest up-and-comers, Lena Stone started her career in Nashville writing songs for other artists, Kalie Shorr and Kasey Tyndall among them. She’s officially struck out on her own, though, with the release of her self-titled EP, a five-song collection with shades of Speak Now-era Taylor Swift that shows Stone to be a sharp songwriter, vulnerable storyteller and melodic, intuitive singer. She’s also a member of the Song Suffragettes, a Nashville musical collective that seeks to highlight female artists and songwriters in the country music industry.
She Says: “I really wanted this EP to be about confidence: in yourself, in the feelings you have, in the love you give, and the choices you make. I’ve lived all the experiences that these songs are about and I wouldn’t change them for the world, because they made me who am I as a person and as an artist. ‘Can’t Think Straight’ is probably the most vulnerable song on the project. I wrote this song about my high school ex-boyfriend and the first year I spent in Nashville, when I was growing up and moving on but still wondering if he was somewhere out there thinking about me. I hope there is some lyric in there for everyone that reminds them of their first love and how beautiful that is, even if it doesn’t last forever.”
Hear for Yourself: The nostalgic “Can’t Think Straight” is an infectious bit of pop-country that will transport you back to summer nights gone by. B.M.
Liz Cooper & the Stampede
Sounds Like: Atmospheric folk-rock with psychedelic flourishes
For Fans of: Becca Mancari, Caroline Rose, Lucy Dacus
Why You Should Pay Attention: Nashville psych-folk band Liz Cooper and the Stampede have a devoted following in their hometown, where they’re known for playing engaging live sets that showcase both their musicianship and their playful sense of humor. As such, they’ve landed on bills with artists like Deer Tick and Tyler Childers, drawing a growing, dedicated base of fans eager for new music. They’ve released a handful of EPs and singles over the years, but will finally get the studio album treatment when they release a new LP, Window Flowers, on their own label Sleepyhead Records August 10th.
She Says: “When we recorded this album we focused on the flow of songs as a whole work of art from start to finish. We live in such a fast-paced world I hope people can be in the moment and listen to the entirety of this album to hear little pieces of magic we hid in the mess of it all. Overall, I want everyone to be able to connect to the songs and make them their own. Window Flowers reflects my first five years of my twenties and living in Nashville, and so much has happened in that time. I’ve had these tunes to myself for long enough and am ready to share them with the world.”
Hear for Yourself: “Mountain Man,” with its Fleet Foxes-esque vocal harmonies and delicate acoustic guitar, is captivating enough on its own, but its VR-themed music video is not to be missed. B.M.
Sounds Like: Heart-tuggin’ nostalgia for rowdy bars, random hookups and cruising small towns with a beer bong.
For Fans of: Justin Moore, Florida Georgia Line, Chase Rice, McLovin
Why You Should Pay Attention: Denning caught the music bug early, but it hit him hard. Hearing AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasting in the truck with his father as a kid set him on a straight path to the gigging life. The Warner Robins, Georgia, native picked up guitar at age 11, wrote his first song at 16 and bailed on college after one semester to play any corner bar and festival that would take him. Denning’s everyman worldview evokes his small-town, big-hearted upbringing, but his sound is a wide tent – fun, modern country with rock-guitar licks and atmospherics from the U2 and Jimmy Eat World playbook. He just came off the road opening for Chase Rice and Justin Moore, two likeminded artists who have recorded his songs, and stepped onto the Ryman stage for the first time. His clever debut solo single, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” [UMG], is getting big spins at radio now.
He Says: In “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs,” Denning assumes the persona of a fake ID he and a friend used to get into bars in Athens, Georgia. “We’d go to some bars and do the pass back – he’d walk in, come around and throw it out, and I would grab it and come right in. Any of those times when it worked, you just felt like a total king. You felt a responsibility of, ‘All right, I have to take advantage of this because I don’t know if I’ll get back in next time.’ So most nights we were out with ol’ David Ashley Parker, we took it to the limit for sure. What’s so special about it is that was everybody’s story. Everybody had that fake ID, or they knew somebody who did.” And yes, the guy is real.
Hear for Yourself: “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” is a summertime chill-out/grill-out anthem, with acoustic guitar anchoring Denning’s story before taking off on a soaring chorus with a massive hook. Jim Beaugez
Sounds Like: New Wave country; the elusive sweet spot between slinky, slick production and traditional country songwriting
For Fans of: Lanco, Maren Morris, the disco grooves of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour
Why You Should Pay Attention: When producer Jay Joyce’s Neon Cross develops an artist, it’s invariably worth a listen – see their success with Lanco. Tyler Dial is their latest signing, and he’s been hard at work with producer Jeremy Spillman on a batch of songs that combine the Texas singer’s urgent vocal delivery with modern flourishes. But Dial is no studio rat: he paid his dues on Austin’s Sixth Street, playing four-hour covers sets for tourists and barflies while a student at the University of Texas. Eventually, he scored opening slots for Jake Owen, Kelsea Ballerini and Wade Bowen – and even Migos at a college party. Last week, he made his CMA Fest debut. “I’ve been coming as a fan for years now and it felt so good to finally take the Spotify stage at Ole Red,” he says. “It was one of our first shows playing the new songs, so it was incredible witnessing positive reactions to the music.”
He Says: “I’m striving for vocals as compelling as Garth Brooks and Eric Church, accompanied by new production textures that could be at home on a Justin Timberlake or James Bay record,” Dial says of his artistic vision.
Hear for Yourself: “Truth in the Way” evokes Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” in its haunting picked opening, but quickly explodes with a dancefloor beat – the perfect summation of Dial’s forward-looking style. J.H.
Sounds Like: Sonny & Cher meets Whiskeytown
For Fans of: Whiskeytown, Shovels & Rope, Emmylou Harris and pretty much any talented dude she’s ever sung with
Why You Should Pay Attention: Have we mentioned that this married duo sounds like Whiskeytown? It’s a comparison they’re flattered by, having recently taken part in a Stranger’s Almanac tribute show at Nashville’s Basement East. Ben and Emily Roberts nearly called it quits at one point, but thought better of it, playing gigs at a handful of nursing homes to keep their calendar full. “You could tell they were dancing on the inside” when Carolina Story covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” Ben says of his elderly audience. The band’s full-length debut, Lay Your Head Down (out July 13th), is a collection of mature, introspective love songs.
They Say: The couple has two young children and enjoy a shared sense of humor born of parenthood – Emily thinks pedal steel would be the hardest instrument to play while toting a kid around simultaneously, while Ben argues the fiddle would pose the most difficulty. “You’d have to sort of set your elbow on the baby’s head,” he says, “[but] maybe it’s easier at that point.” A burly individual who used to play and coach football, Ben also thinks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would be the NFL player who’d most easily transition to a career in country music due to his “schoolboy look.” If he could prepare a meal for any country musician, dead or alive, he’d serve over-easy eggs with ketchup for Hank Williams. Emily? “Pancakes with maple syrup and sugar for Gram Parsons.”
Hear for Yourself: Tender, wistful and set to a languid rhythm, “We Were Young Once Too” is a candid take on ripened love where sweet barely overcomes sour. M.S.
Sounds Like: New Orleans second-line meets Appalachian moonshine and winds up in church, with ample love and happiness all around.
For Fans of: the Band, Ry Cooder, Allen Toussaint, Randy Newman, pure joy
Why You Should Pay Attention: Based on his warm and funky blue-eyed soul, you’d never guess that Cook originally hails from the frigid reaches of Wisconsin. But the South becomes him. Since decamping to North Carolina more than a decade ago, Cook has worked with everyone from Blind Boys of Alabama to Bon Iver while also becoming a key cog in Hiss Golden Messenger’s sprawling Americana collective. He puts the connections to good use on his second full-length solo album, People Are My Drug, which finds the sideman front and center on a super-session featuring numerous guests – like Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin and Amelia Meath, chanteuse of Grammy-nominated electronic-folk duo Sylvan Esso. Still, the star of the show is Cook’s backup band the Guitarheels. He’ll be showing off the album on select headline dates across America this summer, in between tours with Hiss Golden Messenger.
He Says: Cook describes his native state as “a place where if you don’t get a hobby, you get a habit.” Music became both for him, especially after the move south. “I’ve gone through enough things over and over to figure out [that] if I keep following the music, heart and gut above all else, everything will work out. I’m not playing the kind of music where I’m ever gonna get ‘big.’ I don’t want a ‘hit,’ which would throw a lot of weirdness into my life. I’d rather build it up through word of mouth, fan by fan, room by room, day by day. All my favorite bands that are actually happy have created a universe where people can feel comfortable being a part of it.”
Hear for Yourself: “Miles Away,” a soulful duet with Meath, works a subdued vibe similar to Bill Withers’ 1971 classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.” D.M.
Sounds Like: Forward-thinking country-pop delivered by a songwriter unafraid to draw from today’s musical trends
For Fans of: Jillian Jacqueline, Maren Morris, spontaneous declarations of love
Why You Should Pay Attention: The best country songs parlay our deepest thoughts and emotions into a relatable three minutes and change. Which is why the tracks on Hannah Ellis’ self-titled debut EP, released last fall, succeed. With just over 1.8 million Spotify streams collectively, the songs on the project look at the evolution of both a person and a relationship in reverse. “My EP is laid out in a bit of a retrospective order. It starts with ‘Temporary Feeling’ and ‘ILYSoWhat,’ both written about my current relationship,” says Ellis, “and works its way backwards to where I was before.”
She Says: “[“ILYSoWhat”] was written after my now boyfriend and I had gone to a wedding together, when we were still in the ‘friend zone.’ Afterwards, we went to Robert’s [honky-tonk] on Broadway and I nonchalantly turned to him and told him I was in love with him, and he smiled and said, ‘I know’ and we just went on with the night.”
Hear for Yourself: With Ellis’s vocals soaring over a heavy pop groove supported by hip-hop hi-hats, “ILYSoWhat” is a contemporary ode to the slow burn of a relationship. L.L.