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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: March 2018

From the Hank Jr. honky-tonk of Dillon Carmichael to the ethereal Laurel Canyon folk-pop of Savannah Conley

10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: March 2018

Dillon Carmichael and Savannah Conley are among the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear this month.

Cameron Powell; Zachary Gray

Kentucky honky-tonker Dillon Carmichael, vibey folk-pop vocalist Savannah Conley and the rowdy duo Whiskey Wolves of the West make up this month’s list of the 10 country and Americana artists you need to hear right now. 

Josh Desure

Tuxedo Records

Desure

Sounds Like: The soundtrack to a long, epic nighttime drive through the desert

For Fans of: David Ramirez, Andrew Combs, Rayland Baxter

Why You Should Pay Attention: Josh Desure jumpstarted his career in the music business tour managing for Midland, hitting the road with the trio as they toured their debut album On the Rocks. After a last-minute opening stint for the band in Bakersfield, Desure hung up his tour-manager hat and decided to give music a real go. “Stranded Son” is his only official release, but the song is more than enough to prove Desure’s musical chops, a panoramic slice of folk rock with just enough twang.

He Says: “I’ve been playing music for years, but about this time last year after tour managing Midland, I started to take it a lot more seriously. Those guys really inspired me and made me believe I could do it on a higher level. So I started playing a lot around Southern California and getting my live sound down. Working for them taught me so much: what goes into each show, leading up to it, during, and the breakdown. Tour managing came to an end when they had a show at Buck Owens Crystal Palace and asked if I wanted to open with a few songs. Midland all told me afterward that I should be performing more and not just managing.”

Hear for Yourself: “Stranded Son” is the first piece of solo music Desure has released, and introduces him as a capable steward of both Bakersfield country and Laurel Canyon folk. B.M.

Savannah Conley

Zachary Gray

Savannah Conley

Sounds Like: A folky, more ethereal take on Cat Power’s The Greatest with a touch of Dolly Parton’s warble – and her storytelling, too

For Fans of: Cass McCombs, Brandi Carlile, anything from Laurel Canyon

Why You Should Pay Attention: Born and raised 20 minutes outside of Nashville to musical parents – her mother was a background singer and her father a guitarist – Savannah Conley has been performing since the age of seven and grew up on both the local indie-rock scene and Emmylou Harris. Now 21, Conley first eschewed the omnipresence of country in her hometown, but that all changed when she saw how artists like Jack White and the Black Keys were moving to Music City and using roots to inspire a new generation of progressive sounds. Now signed to Dave Cobb’s Low Country Sound, Conley’s taken her sharp lyricism and potent vocals on the road supporting Brent Cobb, and has opened for Willie Nelson and Brandi Carlile. Her new Dave Cobb-produced EP, Twenty-Twenty, is a brief but emotionally rich collection of tracks full of moody orchestration and whip-smart lines: “Doctor says I’ve got twenty-twenty,” she sings on “Same Old Eyes,” “but I think he’s the one who’s blind.”

She Says: Conley got a call out of the blue to come play some songs for Cobb and the Elektra crew, and what happened next was like something out of a TV show. “I sat down and played a third of a song, and Dave [Cobb] stopped me,” she says. “It felt like he was Simon Cowell saying, ‘That’s enough!’ I think I vomited in my mouth a little bit. But then he said, ‘I don’t need to hear any more. I’m in. Are you in?’ It was a very wild process.'”

Hear for Yourself: “Never Be Ourselves” is equal parts British folk-pop and dreamy Southern singer-songwriter that progresses from gentle acoustic guitar through a dramatic rock-forward conclusion. M.M. 

Dillon Carmichael

Cameron Powell

Dillon Carmichael

Sounds Like: Southern country-rock, sung with a honeyed croon rather than a piss-and-vinegar bark

For Fans of: Randy Travis’ baritone, Sturgill Simpson’s accent, Blackberry Smoke’s swampy stomp

Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in small-town Kentucky, Carmichael cut his teeth fronting the house band at Austin City Saloon, the Lexington-area honky-tonk where his two uncles – Montgomery Gentry’s Eddie Montgomery and solo artist John Michael Montgomery – kicked off their own careers. He kept himself busy offstage, too, landing a publishing deal while still in high school and moving to Nashville shortly after graduation. Produced by Dave Cobb, his solo debut, due this summer, is stocked with songs that nod to Outlaw country while still making room for Carmichael’s stunning, standout voice.

He Says: “This album lives somewhere between outlaw country and Southern rock. I’m looking to guys like Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd and David Allan Coe. That’s the kind of music I’ll sing for the rest of my life.”

Hear for Yourself: With help from pedal-steel legend Robby Turner, Carmichael sings about life’s uncomplicated pleasures in his first single, “It’s Simple.” R.C.

Western Centuries

Joseph Vidrine

Western Centuries

Sounds Like: The best damn honky-tonk bar band ever to claim Seattle as home

For Fans of: Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, Sturgill Simpson

Why You Should Pay Attention: Thanks to the work of artists like Chris Stapleton, Brothers Osborne and Sturgill Simpson, bar bands are back in style. Western Centuries, members of which split their time between Seattle and New York, have pieced together influences they’ve accumulated playing and listening in bars and clubs across the country – including creole, Delta blues and classic George Jones – to form a sound that dips in and out of genres with ease. It’s a sound whose defining sensibility is its reverence for American roots music in all its incarnations. With three principal songwriters, things could get a little disjointed, but it’s that shared passion that makes their forthcoming album Songs From the Deluge a captivating listen from start to finish.

They Say: “Having a project that is based around three frontmen that sing their own material is such a joy to be a part of,” the band’s Ethan Lawton says. “Practically speaking, it’s a breeze. Everyone writes their own songs and with the exception of some arrangement suggestions, the songs come to the table fully formed. Having three songwriters means we are never short on material. Though we rarely collaborate on songwriting, the atmosphere around Western Centuries is such a creative platform for us to share music and bounce ideas off of each other. Our shared interests often filter into each other’s music – influencing the overall sound of Western Centuries.”

Hear for Yourself: A honky-tonk foundation underlays “Far From Home,” atop which the band adds Cajun flourishes and some classic steel guitar. B.M.

Great Peacock

Kris Skoda

Great Peacock

Sounds Like: Festival-ready Southern rock of the Whiskeytown persuasion

For Fans of: Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, Americana with both gentle acoustic harmonies and fuzzy, plugged-in anthems

Why You Should Pay Attention: You can’t ever say that Nashville’s Great Peacock is lacking a sense of humor: they started their band as bit of a joke. “It was right when the Fleet Foxes were getting big,” says Alabama-born frontman Andrew Nelson. “We’d always played rock, so we said, ‘Let’s do some acoustic stuff, and we’ll name our band after an animal.” They wrote a tune called “Desert Lark,” went with “Great Peacock” and put the song online: to their surprise, their friends loved it, and they did, too. Five years and hundreds of shows later, Great Peacock have expanded from a twosome of Nelson and guitarist Blount Floyd to a full band, honing a textured, roots-influenced breed of rock & roll on their newest LP, Gran Pavo Real that’s seriously good – but never too serious. Case in point: “Let’s Get Drunk Tonight,” a little bit of healing, hedonistic honky-tonk.

They Say: Growing up in a religious household, Nelson’s life changed when he first heard “Free Bird” on the radio as a teen. “We weren’t even allowed to listen to country music, because my parents said, ‘They’re just singing about cheating and whiskey,'” Nelson says. “One rainy day I went to my room and turned on the radio and heard ‘Free Bird.’ I heard the guitar solo and said, ‘I’m going to play guitar.’ That was it.” So how does he react when people scream “Free Bird” from the audience now? “Fifty percent of me wants play it, and the other fifty percent wants to say ‘fuck off.'”

Hear for Yourself: There’s a touch of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in both the sonic template and thematic messaging of “Oh Deep Water,” the first single from Gran Pavo Real (out March 30th). M.M. 

Lynn Taylor

Stacie Huckeba

Lynn Taylor and the Barflies

Sounds Like: Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Wayne Hancock honky-tonk fused with electrified Neil Young-meets-Deer Tick alt-folk

For Fans of: Gnarled lyrics born in a greasy barroom, occasionally interrupted by a stray tear and lump-in-the-throat honesty

Why You Should Pay Attention: A favorite of Nashville lifer Chuck Mead, Taylor has been sweating it out onstage for some time now, but his third album with the Barflies explores new, tragic territory: Taylor lost his wife Kim to cancer last year, writing the lyrics of the LP’s title cut “Staggered” during her extended stay at an Orlando hospital. Set to an ungainly waltz tempo, crafted by collaborator Larry O’Brien, the song is the sonic and emotional centerpiece of an album that reflects life at its most brutally awkward and yet most restoratively elegant.

He Says: “Writing and recording Staggered was a necessity for me. Through the last couple of years of Kim’s life and the year following her death, I’d been writing songs with my good friend Larry O’Brien. These songs chronicled the pain, loss, love and beauty of life. My hope is that all that comes through in the songs we chose for the record.”

Hear for Yourself: A slinky bassline coupled with Taylor’s delectably reedy rasp add maturity and layers of intrigue to the moving “Rock Paper Scissors (With My Love).” S.B.

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