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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: May 2017

From a country-soul chanteuse to a hard-stomping band of Southern rockers

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. 

Country Artist to Listen to May 2017

Allen Clark

Steel Woods

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.

Country Artist to Listen to May 2017

Cal Quinn

Vandoliers

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.

Country Artist to Listen to May 2017

Amarylis Lockhart

Stephanie Quayle

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.

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