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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: May 2016

From an unapologetic cowboy singer to a dazzling chanteuse-wordsmith

Luke Bell and Caitlyn Smith; 10; New; Country; Artists; May; 2016

Former ranch hand Luke Bell and sublime vocalist Caitlyn Smith are among 10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.

Frazer Harrison/Getty, Kevin Winter/Getty

Once again, we find country and Americana artists both on the verge and under-the-radar who deserve a listen. This installment of Rolling Stone Country's Artists You Need to Know includes a ferocious Tex-Mex-tinged band, a Southern-rock badass and a trio of women who deliver sharp lyrics with angelic harmonies.

Kaia Kater

Polina Mourzova

Kaia Kater

Sounds Like: Old-time Appalachian banjo tunes — both traditional and newly crafted — with sobering, honest lyrics exploring all-too-current themes including poverty and racism

For Fans of: Gillian Welch, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens 

Why You Should Pay Attention: A 22-year-old Québec, Ontario, native of Afro-Caribbean descent, Kater graduates from the first Appalachian Program at West Virginia's Davis & Elkins College this month. However, she already writes and performs with the skill of a folk-circuit veteran, penning such startling lines as this one that opens the title track of her debut LP, Nine Pin (named for a square-dance formation): "These clothes you gave me don't fit right, the belt is loose and the noose is tight/ Got drunk out looking for a fight, I'm soft and heavy as the night."

She Says: "I think songwriting prowess really comes through when one lyric can mean so much. I'm reminded of an incredible Canadian musician, and one of my favorite poets, Amelia Curran, who has a song called 'Time, Time.' One of the lines she sings is: 'Now that we're adding up all of the time that it took / you only promised me pages / I promised you books.' To me, it's a song about the futility of time and how it's the only thing you can't get back — which means that time itself, something we take for granted so often, is more powerful than anything. There's something magical about that type of writing."

Hear for Yourself: The plaintive, mesmerizing "Rising Down," which, with its delicate touch of her clawhammer banjo, muted trumpet, upright bass and subtle electric guitar, conjures a quiet, yet powerful storm. Stephen L. Betts

Marty Heddin

Marty Heddin

Sounds Like: An unabashed fan, and true aficionado, of all things Nineties country, who doesn't want to rock the jukebox

For Fans of: Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney

Why You Should Pay Attention: Because legendary producer Keith Stegall — who has worked with Travis and Jackson — encouraged Heddin to become a recording artist. He believes in the Texas native so strongly that the pair started a label partnership with Mike Murphy, the nightclub impresario who has employed Heddin for nearly 25 years as the house-band leader in his Cowboys Dancehall and other clubs throughout Texas and Georgia.

He Says: "The coolest thing about this whole 25 year journey is I've gotten to open for everyone. I guarantee my list is probably longer than anybody in the history of music," says Heddin with a laugh, looking back on time spent at Cowboys warming up for everyone from George Jones to Faith Hill to Kenny Chesney. After some near misses with indie deals, Heddin was satisfied with the life of a working musician in cover bands pleasing big crowds but still wondered about giving a recording career another shot. "I've always thought about doing it, but I've done cover songs so long that I thought I was stuck in a rut and nobody would take me seriously." Stegall and Murphy did take Heddin and his music seriously, however, and at 45, the artist released a self-titled, six-song EP earlier this month.

Hear for Yourself: The ruminative and lovely "Game Changer" details that sweet moment when the right one comes along. Sarah Rodman

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