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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: March 2016

From a country Ed Sheeran to a protégée of Willie Nelson

Lily Meola; Levi Hummon; Country Artists

Levi Hummon and Lily Meola are among 10 new country artists you need to know.

Joseph Llanes, Tracy Leboe

The latest installment of Rolling Stone Country's Artists You Need to Know includes a Mellencamp-influenced heartland rocker; an Americana poet from a bygone era; a chanteuse discovered by a country legend; and Pennsylvania native with a Muscle Shoals vibe. Here's 10 acts for whom 2016 should be a banner year.

Brett Young

Chapman Baehler

Brett Young

Sounds Like: Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett's brand of approachable soul, destined for mass appeal

For Fans of: Old Dominion, Jake Owen, Tim McGraw

Why You Should Pay Attention: A former college baseball pitcher who started songwriting as a way to pass the time after an injury, Young is not lobbing softballs when it comes to his new craft. His self-titled six-song EP was released by Big Machine Label Group's Republic Nashville last month, with a radio push coming in April. Young's team calls his sound "Caliville" — an intersection of his Southern California upbringing and his passion for Nashville.

He Says: "I have always been a super-emotional dude," Young says of his affinity for authentic, poignant lyrics. "The first country song I ever heard was Tim McGraw's 'Don't Take the Girl.' I love to be able to tell a whole story in three-and-half minutes." Young may want honesty, but he also wants it to be clean. Having first performed music while leading worship services in his youth, he strives for songs to be the type that both moms and daughters can listen to and relate. "It can be mature without being offensive. There's no reason for the content to cross those lines."

Hear for Yourself: The dreamy punch of "Sleep Without You." M.L.

Brennin

Jason Myers

Brennin

Sounds Like: A country kid with an affinity for urban cool

For Fans of: Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt's blend of country, pop and rhythmic flavors

Why You Should Pay Attention: On his six-song debut EP, the Oklahoma native deploys an R&B-influenced sound that is fast becoming popular. The indie artist also has a fan in Vince Gill, with whom he co-wrote the gut-wrenching ballad "I Can't Do This" for Gill's latest album Down to My Last Bad Habit.

They Say: Brennin's influences range from Gill ("I own every record and know every nuance of his vocals and guitar playing") to Michael Jackson ("I used to sleep in the white glove") to the Eagles ("I named my son Henley") and tries to blend those styles. He's encouraged by Hunt's success at mashing up sounds, especially since they share something important: a name. "My legal first name is Samuel, so my full name is Samuel Brennin Hunt," he says with a laugh, noting they are not related. Brennin, who has also appeared on the ABC drama Nashville and on the 2011 season of X Factor, says "I'm a huge fan of his because he has opened the door for people like me —  I'm not your typical country male vocalist."

Hear for Yourself: Laid-back first single "Lose My Cool" in which the GQ-suave narrator is undone by a lovely lady. S.R.

Shanna Henderson

Kristin Barlowe

Shanna Henderson

For Fans of: Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga, Faith Hill

Why You Should Pay Attention: Big-voiced Alabama native Henderson was raised by her grandparents while her mother battled drug addiction, a rough blow that she's channeled into music and performing since childhood. During her final year of college, Henderson became a cast member on Oxygen's Glee Project 2 and though she didn't win her season, the experience on the show helped solidify the kind of singer she wanted to be. Henderson's single "Hell or Highwater" speaks to the scars that small towns can leave and (as the creepy video demonstrates) the ghosts that still haunt their quiet avenues.

She Says: "I wanted it to be something that was truly embracing of where I came from and as ugly or as beautiful as that might be — because there are pretty aspects to it too — but there is a lot of darkness in my past," she says of recording "Hell or Highwater. "So I wanted something that was completely unafraid to tell your story and where you come from, whatever it is."

Hear for Yourself: The ominous "Hell or Highwater," which wasn't written by Henderson, but perfectly encapsulates a side of small-town life that she may know all too well. "Tommy's makin' moonshine, Billy cooks meth/folks dying, getting high for the hell of it." J.F. 

James Dupré

Laura Partain

James Dupré

Sounds Like: With a touch of grainy gravitas to his voice, Dupré recalls everyone from George Strait to Gordon Lightfoot

For Fans of: The up-the-middle stylings of artists like Blake Shelton and Randy Travis

Why You Should Pay Attention: He drew high praise from all four judges during his stint on The Voice last season, with Shelton calling Dupré's performance of his song "Sure Be Cool If You Did" pitch perfect.

He Says: "Traditional country is something that I've always loved and had a passion for," says Dupré, who grew up listening to George Jones, Merle Haggard and Travis, who is a friend and adviser. "But I also I don't want to sound old." The Louisiana native is obsessed with top-shelf vocals. "I've never been interested in drums or guitars, just always voices. I grew up trying to mimic these great voices so I really have to give credit to those  singers for my style."

Hear for Yourself: The throwback "Stoned to Death," in which the narrator is imprisoned by the memory of a lost love, sentenced to a "neon holding cell." S.R.

Sister C

Sister C

Sounds Like: A clear-as-a-bell reimagining of the Dixie Chicks, with youthful optimism to burn

For Fans of: Maren Morris, the Eagles, Baptist choirs and modern storytelling 

Why You Should Pay Attention: The Mont Belvieu, Texas, trio already received Simon Cowell's blessing after a brief stint on The X Factor in 2012, as well as developed a fanbase among the satellite radio community with their Lee Brice-produced single "Faint of Heart" in 2015. Their five-song EP Demo Sessions Vol. 1 shows a keen sense of songwriting underneath their intuitively tight harmonies. And the sisters' rough-and-tumble upbringing around honky-tonks — and especially the Houston rodeo scene — provides a certain lived-in experience, infusing undeniable honesty in their brand of traditional-meets-modern country.

They Say: "Things can happen out of nowhere at any time and you might not be prepped for it, but you'd just better be prepared that that can happen. So I think [rodeos] really helped us along the way," says Cirby Manchaca, who with sisters Celbi and Carli make up the group. "Expecting the unexpected taught us all a lot. Big pressure moments, big excitement, just keeping your cool and keeping your feet on the ground along with a lot of responsibility." Celbi, a skilled barrel racer, cites a quote from her father. "My dad would always ask me before I would go on, 'Are you nervous?' I'd say, 'Yeah,' and he'd say, 'Good, that means you love it.' Going onstage, I always remember that. If you don't get butterflies, then you're not doing what you wanna do."

Hear for Yourself: "Faint of Heart," an introspective ballad to which anyone searching for their place in the world can relate. E.M.

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