An Arkansas singer-songwriter with Eric Church’s seal of approval; a Southern-rock band led by a ferocious guitarist; and a country-soul vocalist with charm to burn and the steady hand of Shane McAnally guiding her latest EP. These are the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.
Sounds Like: Frankie Ballard doing what he really wants to do – front a rock band.
For Fans of: The Cadillac Three, Old Dominion, “Chicken Fried” era Zac Brown Band
Why You Should Pay Attention: Solo artists and duos may seem to rule the Nashville roost, but artists like OSMR – short for Old Southern Moonshine Revival – prove that country’s bands are having their biggest moment since Alabama in the Eighties. A trio of North Carolinians now living in Nashville, OSMR hail from a town not too far from the birthplace of Eric Church, and their twang-rock hybrid is born from the same local blood. Fast finger-picking, crunchy guitar and plenty of anthemic refrains are packed into songs like “Sweet Life,” from their new EP of the same name. Led by singer Marcus Kiser’s casual, slightly scruffy delivery, their penchant for playful, poppy hooks is what makes their music stick. On Sweet Life, which boasts three songs co-written with TC3’s Neil Mason, they show a side of country that emphasizes both fury and fun.
They Say: “If you could create a spectrum of Old Dominion on one side and the Cadillac Three on the other, we are going to cut the middle of those two,” says Kiser, who makes up OSMR with Brent Lain (lead guitar/vocals) and Brian Smith (drums). “We can go a little gritty like the Cadillac guys, and go a little slick like the guys in Old D., but end up somewhere in between. We’re more or less a rock band with a country lyric, and a country vocal.”
Hear for Yourself: “Sweet Life,” currently rising on SiriusXM’s Highway Finds, is a decadent confection that shows how country can both catchy and swampy at the same time, with a handclap, sing-along chorus to prove it. M.M.
Sounds Like: An Arkansas red-clay badass, with the swagger of Hank Jr. and the songwriting of Miranda Lambert
For Fans of: Miranda, Eric Church, no-bullshit country
Why You Should Pay Attention: McBryde has been opening for Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and recently joined Eric Church onstage. But her time as a support act might be coming to an end: Super producer Jay Joyce (Church, Brothers Osborne), the go-to Nashville guy when artists want a more guitar-driven edge, is helming her upcoming album, moving her from the folksier side toward rock. “Working with him is like working with a mad scientist – in the best way,” she says of Joyce. “He takes songs that we’ve been playing for a long time and they take on a new life and a new shape with him. It’s insane.”
She Says: “Singing ‘Family Tradition’ with Hank Jr. was a pee-your-pants moment. Hank comes over while I’m singing and puts his arm around me, and my knees nearly buckled. You can put off the fact that this is reality, but when he came over, there was just no denying. I just lost cabin pressure.”
Hear for Yourself: Eric Church brought McBryde onstage during his show, introducing her as “a whiskey-drinkin’ badass” before alternating verses on her song “Bible and a .44,” a tender tribute to her father. J. Gugala
Sounds Like: A more sensitive Steve Earle, unafraid to sub orchestral strings for fiddles
For Fans of: Will Hoge, Ryan Beaver, Texas rule-breakin’ troubadours like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Robert Earl Keen
Why You Should Pay Attention: It’s tempting to lean on whiskey and wine as a source of creative inspiration, but the savviest artists know that the most intoxicating music is made with no chemicals at all. Just look at Jason Isbell’s first sober solo LP, Southeastern. The same is true for Lubbock, Texas, singer Dalton Domino, who wrote his newest record, Corners, after quitting alcohol and drugs cold turkey. Turns out, clarity works. A staple on the Texas scene, Domino ditched the booze, locked himself up at a friend’s house and, at the urging of Eric Church collaborator Travis Meadows, delved into his darker side, bringing solemn strings and thunderstorms of percussion into the mix. “I didn’t really leave except to go on runs or smoke cigarettes,” says Domino. “I just sat in a room and wrote these songs.” It’s a good thing he did: tracks like “Rain” fold somber Springsteen into a thoroughly Lone Star portrait of sadness, longing and redemption.
He Says: Growing up a skate-punk in Lubbock, Domino found his way into folk and country through a slightly unconventional source: Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes. “He’s the Bob Dylan of our generation,” says Domino. “I can’t put into words how much I love Bright Eyes. That was the first real band I got into, and it led into Monsters of Folk, Cursive. But I’m a Bright Eyes geek. I heard the song ‘Road to Joy’ when I was 15. And I thought, ‘Fuck Fall Out Boy, I’m going to listen to this.'”
Hear for Yourself: With an opening lick that conjures up Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song” as much as a Texas honky-tonk, “Decent Man” is a barn-burning ode to weighing intention above all else. M.M.
Sounds Like: The country-rock soundtrack to your next keg party, filled with slide-guitar strut, boogie-woogie bluster and thick Texas accents
For Fans of: Blackberry Smoke, A Thousand Horses, the rowdy side of Red Dirt
Why You Should Pay Attention: Already familiar faces on the Texas circuit, the Drugstore Gypsies raise honky-tonk hell on their self-titled debut, whose boozy highlights fit somewhere between Exile-era Rolling Stones and Eric Church’s “Drink in My Hand.” The guys also make room for power ballads and sexed-up salutes to life on the road, filling the cracks with Telecaster twang and Hammond organ. “This is our life,” insists frontman Duke Ryan, who speaks with the rapid-fire confidence of a carnival barker. “There are no sundresses or tailgates or cornfields here. We’ve played every bathroom stall from here to high hell, and we’re writing about the things we’ve seen on the road.”
They Say: “The biggest root of our sound is rock & roll,” adds Ryan. “Some people call it ‘Texas country.’ We’ve played shows with guys like Stoney LaRue, and that’s great, but we’re pulling from the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Aerosmith. To us, that falls into the vein of rock & roll.”
Hear for Yourself: “Breaking the Law” sings the praises of a jailbird-in-training, saluting Southern rock icons like Lynyrd Skynyrd along the way. R.C.
Sounds Like: A global spin on American folk music, performed by a Texas-born Brooklynite who recorded her newest album, Shanti’s Shadow, on the heels of a meditation-filled music retreat to India
For Fans of: Abigail Washburn, the Punch Brothers, American folk singers with foreign influences
Why You Should Pay Attention: A top-shelf fiddler who recently logged a year in Ben Sollee’s touring band, Hunt reignites her solo career with Shanti’s Shadow. The album title hints at the otherworldly music within, with Hunt merging her Appalachian-style fiddle chops with Texas twang, Indian ragas, gypsy jazz, unfamiliar time signatures and the free-spirited fun of a jam band leader. The resulting record breathes new life into a genre that’s sometimes so respectful of the past, it fails to push toward the future. Hunt certainly doesn’t neglect her roots, but she doesn’t wallow in the dirt of her influences, either.
She Says: “This is what American music truly is. It’s a melting pot of all these different cultures, inspired by all the places I’ve been and all the different types of music I’ve studied. It’s what America is based upon: the willingness to have an open heart, an open mind and a willingness to learn from everyone. That’s the idea of America that we were sold in school, at least, and it’s the idea we’re clinging to.”
Hear for Yourself: Hunt hits up a carnival outside Austin, demolishes a funnel cake and waltzes with strangers in the sweet, swoon-worthy video for “Just for Tonight.” R.C.
Sounds Like: The richly layered storytelling of John Prine, the croon-to-howl hybrid vocal of Tom Waits and Glen Hansard, and an intricately finger-picked guitar style that lands somewhere between Lead Belly and Lindsey Buckingham
For Fans of: Jason Isbell, Sean Rowe, the fiery side of Bob Dylan
Why You Should Pay Attention: While many artists fancy themselves as some variation of a modern day troubadour, Christopher Paul Stelling has earned the title outright. Over the last year and a half alone, he’s played almost 300 shows spread out over 46 states and 14 countries. His conversations and observations throughout that globetrotting gave birth to the grim-yet-gorgeous (and often prophetic) songs on his new album Itinerant Arias, out now on Anti- Records. The album was recorded over nine days in a locked-down log cabin with a full backing band, a decision driven by Stelling playing and traveling so much as a solo artist. “I’d been alone a lot and I needed some community around me. I needed my friends and I needed to hear something different and be inspired by it.” Personnel wasn’t the only change Stelling made to his sound, as he also swapped out his beloved, road-worn “Brownie” acoustic for a vintage electric. “That guitar and I have been through a lot, so it’s taking a well-earned break. I played an electric for this record. I needed change and a new sound.”
He Says: According to Stelling, Itinerant Arias “attempts to address the darkness in the world and hint at a solution through accepting that this is all going to pass. The record wasn’t difficult to make and the songs weren’t difficult to write, but getting through the traveling and tours that preceded and followed the recording was the challenge for me. It was a tiring and beautiful distraction that let the songs filter through without having to be forced into form.”
Hear for Yourself: “The Cost of Doing Business” is Stelling’s evocative take on the Faust legend set to a slinky finger-picked guitar and slithering violin lines. “It’s about that age-old pact with devil,” he says. “Given our current situation, I think America as a whole can identify.” W.H.
Sounds Like: Soulful country pop with retro production, layered harmonies, and a touch of playfulness
For Fans of: Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Sixties girl groups
Why You Should Pay Attention: Formerly a major label country artist – as Joanna Smith, she released charting singles “Gettin’ Married” and “Georgia Mud” – Jo Smith has returned with a new EP and some of country’s biggest names in her corner. Shane McAnally co-produced her EP Introducing Jo Smith with Jesse Frasure, and the four-song set shows Smith following the soul-music footsteps of artists like Maren Morris. While her EP has been out since 2016, feel-good lead single “Old School Groove” was recently released to radio, just in time for the windows-down summer listening season.
She Says: Smith comes by her brand of country honestly, coming of age to the music that would eventually inform her solo output. “I grew up in South Georgia listening to my dad’s country and Motown records, and it was so important to me to blend those influences on my new EP,” she says. “My single ‘Old School Groove’ sets the tone perfectly of who I am as an artist, and I’m so proud the world is getting to hear it.”
Hear for Yourself: “Old School Groove” sounds just like its name implies: It’s a laid-back groover with plenty of soul and Wall of Sound-style harmonies that harken back to the days of the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las. B.M.
Sounds Like: Drinking a bottle of bourbon and having inebriated hallucinations of Gregg Allman and Lucinda Williams standing hand in hand in powder-blue choir robes, as “Melissa” plays in the background
For Fans of: Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton, the Allman Brothers
Why You Should Pay Attention: Southern rock is having a moment right now, and this group of ruffians reminds everyone why the genre is one of the best forms of American music. For years, lead guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope actually played in Jamey Johnson’s band. “We go at this thing with the same musical integrity as Jamey,” says Cope. “Honest songwriting, always trying to push the boundaries of our musicianship and keeping it really close to our roots when it comes to our influences.” Those roots are in Alabama (lead singer Wes Bayliss) and North Carolina (Cope). The two met at a club gig in Nashville, where they’re both based, and began taking dude-bonding fishing trips to Kingston Springs shortly thereafter. It was only a matter of time before a killer new band was born. Their debut LP, Straw in the Wind, comes out May 19th.
They Say: When asked if they’d rather run a marathon in cowboy boots or wear a pair of gaudy running shoes while performing onstage at a honky-tonk like John T. Floore’s Country Store in the Texas Hill Country, Bayliss opts for the “marathon in boots, assuming that it’s possible for me to run a marathon.” (Probably not.) Cope agrees. “I feel like we’d be less likely to get beat up running a marathon,” he says. “It’d be us beating ourselves up.” After years of pre-gaming with “meat and moonshine,” Cope clobbers himself a little less nowadays. He jokes he’s quit boozing in favor of “ice water with lemons.”
Hear for Yourself: “I’m Gonna Love You” evokes the best of Chris Stapleton while balancing lyrical tenderness with a propulsive, Skynyrd-esque guitar solo from Cope. M.S.
Sounds Like: Rediscovering your parents’ country record collection and realizing they’d make good punk songs
For Fans of: Old 97’s; Titus Andronicus; guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music
Why You Should Pay Attention: After spending 15 years playing in rock and punk bands, including the last seven of those in a trio called the Phuss, Fort Worth, Texas, native Josh Fleming contracted an eye infection in the fall of 2014 that left him blind for two months. While recuperating, he stumbled across The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV and vowed to write an honest-to-goodness country album. That promise turned into the Vandoliers, a six-piece cowpunk band that took Fleming’s punk and ska roots and dressed them up with acoustic guitar, brass, and fiddle for a jet-fueled take on the Texas two-step. The Native, Vandoliers’ sophomore LP, was recorded in the same suburban Dallas studio as Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and drops May 26th on State Fair Records
They Say: “I’ve always been a storyteller and there’s not a ton of storytelling in punk music, so I never realized how left-field I was as a writer in that genre. But when I found country music, it was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been doing this the whole time, just in the wrong vein,'” says Fleming, who admits that as a young man he was “just too rebellious” to give his father’s music a chance. “For some reason, the Vandoliers worked out because I just simplified everything that I do without changing it and focused on my story, whether it be dropping acid in Tennessee all the way up to getting married.”
Hear for Yourself: “Endless Summer” mixes Kurt Cobain angst with the musical flair of country and Cajun. J.G.
Sounds Like: A child of country radio equally fluent in nostalgic Dolly Parton and airwave-friendly guitar pop
For Fans of: Faith Hill, Cassadee Pope, Lauren Alaina
Why You Should Pay Attention: Quayle made a splash last year when she released “Drinking With Dolly,” a wistful number about hanging out with country music royalty in the good ol’ days. “Imagine sitting around a table with Tammy, Loretta, Dolly and Patsy,” Quayle says. “Can you even picture it? What would have been said? I’d probably just sit there and take notes.” The numbers suggest that plenty of listeners share Quayle’s curiosity – “Drinking With Dolly” has accumulated nearly half a million streams on Spotify. Quayle grew up on a bison farm in Montana, where country music was a constant presence thanks to an AM radio in the barn. She started playing piano at age four, bought a guitar at age 15, and stepped onto a stage fronting a band the next year, at which point she decided “this was where I was meant to be.” After a short detour in Los Angeles, Quayle moved to Nashville, where she eventually signed with an indie to release “Drinking With Dolly.” New song “Winnebago” is beginning to make tracks at country radio.
She Says: “Drinking With Dolly” earned Quayle a nod from Parton herself. “She typed me a letter on her pink paper – how much she appreciated the song and how one day she hopes we put on our rhinestones and kick up our heels,” Quayle remembers. “With ‘Winnebago,’ I love that it’s roll your windows down and sing along. If that song doesn’t make you smile, then I don’t know what will.”
Hear for Yourself: “Winnebago” aims to conquer the youth vote with a viciously contemporary sound, all bouncy guitars and sternum-shaking bass. E.L.