The latest installment of Rolling Stone Country's Artists You Need to Know features the über-talented offspring of two famous country names, a barnstorming band of heartland rockers and a Canadian singer-songwriter who, while far from a "new" artist, is poised to have his biggest success yet. Here's 10 acts you'd be wise to check out, be it on record or live onstage.
Sounds Like: Heartland country-rock built for roadhouses and keg parties, with tunes that chronicle the highs, hangovers and heartbreaks of Middle America
For Fans of: Cross Canadian Ragweed, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen
Why You Should Pay Attention: In a genre filled with pin-up singers and anonymous backup musicians, Turnpike Troubadours are a genuine band, with a touring schedule that's kept the guys together on the road for nearly a decade. Already kings in Texas and Oklahoma, they're making a national splash with their self-titled fourth album, which bowed at Number Three on the country charts.
They Say: "Any time some rock & roller gets washed up in whatever band they're in, they switch to country music and try to play our game," says frontman Evan Felker. "But it's not country music. It's just bad pop. I grew up in a town of 400 people. I worked in a paper mill. My dad's a cowboy. I'm from the country, and you just can't fool me with that pop stuff." Does that make him reluctant to use the "country" label with the Troubadours then? "No, it makes me want to use it more. I'm happy to be a country band. Somebody's gotta do it!"
Hear for Yourself: The album's lead-off single "Down Here" is heavy on pedal steel, fiddle and the promise that things will get better. Andrew Leahey
Sounds Like: A snarky, barbed-wire cross between Lee Ann Womack and Buddy Miller
For Fans of: Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, Lee Ann Womack
Why You Should Pay Attention: With nary an acoustic guitar to be heard on her gritty and glorious debut LP, New City Blues, Sellers can definitely rock you out of your mind, while her sweeter side can melt even the hardest soul down to nothing. The daughter of songwriter-musician Jason Sellers and country-music treasure Womack, Sellers can't help sounding like her mom. But with hints of cynical darkness and aggressive splashes of straight-ahead rock — what she rightly terms "garage country" — this definitely ain't her mama's country music.
She Says: "If you heard a lot of these songs in their original form, you'd be surprised how they turned out," says Sellers, who reveled in shaping the sound of the LP alongside the project's producer, and her stepfather, Frank Liddell. "When I'm writing, I'm focusing more on just the basic melody and the lyrics. What really excites me is the production. I get in there and change a lot of stuff."
Hear for Yourself: "Loveless Rolling Stone" has a soulful bitterness that will haunt you. Stephen L. Betts
Sounds Like: Bonnie Raitt, circa 1989, covering Taylor Swift's 1989
For Fans of: Brothers Osborne, Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club, Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves' CMT Crossroads
Why You Should Pay Attention: "I've cussed on a Sunday, I've cheated and I've lied," confesses Texas-born, Nashville-residing Maren Morris on "My Church," her new single about finding redemption through the dial of the FM radio. But with the snappy pop doo-wop of Meghan Trainor, the lyrical spitfire of Musgraves and a set of booming vocals that can gospel howl one moment and shoot raspy twang the next, she spins those sins into surefire singles. Morris came to town as a songwriter after serving time as an artist on the Lone Star scene, snagging cuts with Kelly Clarkson and Tim McGraw, but the performing bug never faded — and, courtesy of only the occasional local gig, she grew to be one of Music City's most promising new voices. Country's currently enamored with the soul tradition, and Morris has it in heaps: with songs like the sultry, R&B-tinged "I Wish I Was," she's the girl Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" could be crushing on.
She Says: "I think being solely a songwriter helped with perspectives," Morris explains about the years where crafting songs for others was her main priority. "I learned to write from different points of view and not just something I would say. Being the everyman in the writing room helps a lot: you have to be a real collaborator and selfless, and not have ego when you walk in there. That's the antithesis of the artist mentality."
Hear for Yourself: "My Church" has playful, but never preachy, soul-swagger. Marissa R. Moss
Sounds Like: Eric Church before he matured into the Chief, Thomas Rhett before he discovered Bruno Mars
For Fans of: Church, the Cadillac Three, attitude-heavy country
Why You Should Pay Attention: Beathard's father is hit songwriter Casey Beathard, who was inspired to write the Eric Church hit "Homeboy" after his rowdy son lost his direction. But the younger Beathard, 20, isn't defined by his pops or his wayward past. The songs on Tucker's recent Demos EP showcase a singer-songwriter with attitude and hooks to burn, all delivered in a sing-songy stoner voice that is as hypnotic as it is unrepentant.
He Says: "With songwriting, I always looked up to my dad. But with music, it was anything and everything, whether it's a slow melodic pretty song or a rocking balls-to-the-wall heavy song. You grow up and hear all this different music, and file it away in your head. But I'm not trying to copy anything. I'm just doing whatever sounds right."
Hear for Yourself: The no-regrets rocker "Momma and Jesus" thumps along with devilish delight, and packs just as much oomph in the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves. Joseph Hudak
Sounds Like: Lady Antebellum's smooth pop-country topped with John Mayer's raspy vocal style and a dollop of a drawl
For Fans of: Lady A, Mayer, Keith Urban's guitar playing
Why You Should Pay Attention: Because venerable producers Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, Zac Brown Band) and Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Lady A), and songwriter Josh Osborne (Sam Hunt, Keith Urban) have taken an interest in the Birmingham, Alabama singer-guitarist — and they know their stuff. Plus, he's currently on the road with two of country's best barometers of cool: Jennifer Nettles and Brandy Clark.
He Says: "I have absolutely ripped apart everything Keith Urban has done. The second I started playing it just blew my mind, I was passionately in love," says Kinder of his guitar hero. That love affair — and a tornado that reminded him that life is short — brought him to Nashville where he is now signed to Warner Music Nashville, who will release his debut album in 2016.
Hear for Yourself: "Tonight" has a catchy "oh-oh oh-oh-oh" chorus and breezy groove, with a keening vocal from Kinder. Sarah Rodman
Sounds Like: Modern country pop broken into its base elements
For Fans of: Kenny Chesney, Cole Swindell, Michael Ray
Why You Should Pay Attention: Granger Smith will be identified as a newcomer by most country fans, but in reality he's been a underground star for over a decade, wracking up seven independent albums and millions of YouTube views (plus a dip-spitting, comedic alter-ego named Earl Dibbles Jr.). With a radio-friendly, modern-country sound and a clean-cut vocal presence, Smith's commitment to simplistic, über-relatable songs has attracted the attention of Broken Bow Records. His first major-label EP, 4X4, was released in May, peaking at Number Six on Billboard's country albums chart, and a full album is in the works. "I try to avoid that indie-rock mentality of 'I have a great idea but I don’t want anybody to really know what this is about unless they ask me,'" he says. "I don't get energy back from people when they hear [my songs] unless they are easily digestible, which I think ultimately is the essence of country music."
He Says: "'Backroad Song' was one of the first songs I wrote for the EP. It was one of the top ideas I had because it was the simplest. I thought, 'Well, what's worked in the past is just these little feel-good songs.' Sometimes [the characters] were getting into love or just getting out, and I just thought, 'What if I forget about all that extra stuff and just cut straight to the chase?'"
Hear for Yourself: Like the appetizer platter at your local sports bar, "Backroad Song" is a no-fuss take on a list of sure-to-please favorites — the freedom of the open road, the optimism of youth and carefree love. Chris Parton
Sounds Like: High-octane coffee-tonk: introspective, heartland country that works in the honky-tonk and the coffeehouse.
For Fans of: Will Hoge, Dierks Bentley, if Kip Moore did MTV's Unplugged
Why You Should Pay Attention: When native Texan Ryan Beaver released his soft-twanging, soulful second LP Constant in 2011, country music was on the cusp of a tidal shift — a "Cruise," if you will — toward party-vibed bro-rockers that left little room for his soul-searching songs. Now in the wake of Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and other voices of the genre who fuse traditionalism with contemporary craft, there's plenty of space for Beaver. His single"Dark," from his upcoming LP Rx, stakes his claim with Springsteen grit, an infectious hook and roaring instrumentals that don't just part the cloud hanging over his head; they explode it.
He Says: "The whole process of making this record was the first thing I've done in three or four years," Beaver says 0f the genesis of Rx's thought-provoking album title. "And it was so much fun, and so therapeutic, that I didn't realize how good it was for me. These songs serve as a prescription for getting excited about music and life. And if they are like medicine for me, maybe they will be for the listeners."
Hear for Yourself: Written to make amends with a string of deaths and disappointments, "Dark" turns loss into gain — and packs a powerful, anthemic punch. Marissa R. Moss
Sounds Like: A twentysomething Bible Belter whose music takes its cues from both sides of the pond, mixing the swoon of modern-day Americana with the Brit-folk swirl of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.
For Fans of: Ryan Adams, First Aid Kit, James Bay, Jim James' EP tribute to George Harrison
Why You Should Pay Attention: Signed to Rough Trade Records before he was 20 years old, LeBlanc cut his teeth duetting with Emmylou Harris and opening for Bruce Springsteen. He sounds older, wiser and considerably warmer on his upcoming album, Cautionary Tale (out January 15th), which finds the Muscle Shoals native working with two hometown heroes: the Civil Wars' John Paul White and the Alabama Shakes' Ben Tanner.
He Says: "I wanted this record to move a little more than my earlier records. I was tired of writing 'sad bastard songs.' I wanted to write about what's going on in the world today, instead of lamenting on the past, and I thought, 'A groove and a powerful message go a long way.' So we focused on our rhythm section and added a lot of strings, and we wound up with a pretty honest record."
Hear for Yourself: The ethereal "Cautionary Tale" evokes Ryan Adams at his most crooning; it's roots music for rainy days. Andrew Leahey
Sounds Like: A roots-driven singer-songwriter who balances wry humor, erudite observation, and poignant lyrics in the vein of Steve Earle or Loudon Wainwright III
For Fans of: Earle, Wainwright, Fred Eaglesmith
Why You Should Pay Attention: Since he's been making records for 20 years, Lund isn't exactly a secret — in fact, he's an award-winning star in his native Canada. "I always make jokes that we're going to win the 'newest oldest band' award,'" he says with a laugh. He's progressively been making more noise in the U.S. over the years and his stellar new album Things That Can't Be Undone — produced in Nashville by the in-demand Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson) — poised to help the singer-songwriter reach an even wider audience.
He Says: "I get bored with records that are the same throughout, especially when it's love song after love song. That just doesn't do it for me," says Lund, who explores a wide range of styles on his latest LP, as it hopscotches from serious mood pieces like "Sadr City" — a true story told to him by a soldier after a show — to the rockabilly of "Alt Berliner Blues."
Hear for Yourself: The Johnny Paycheck-like honky-tonker "Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues," co-written by Turnpike Troubadours' Evan Felker, visualizes the nightmare scenario of every working musician: going back to your day job. Sarah Rodman
Sounds Like: A classic-country enthusiast who leads with her sass and robust voice
For Fans of: Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt
Why You Should Pay Attention: A self-described "big fish in a little pond," the 24-year-old Houston native left home at 16, hell-bent on living in an entertainment capital with more opportunities. Lane landed in Los Angeles, where she attended college, before uprooting to Nashville two years ago to hone her chops around town and open for the likes of Wynonna and Kip Moore. Lane has already put out two EPs buoyed by spirited kiss-offs such as "You Part 2" and recently released an acoustic mixtape, Heart Unlocked, available for free download through her website. "I just have an attitude of, 'Why not?'" she says. "No dream feels too big for me right now."
She Says: "I love a lot of different types of music, but honestly it was the storytelling that drew me to country. From a very young age, I knew I was going to be an artist of some sort. I did acting, singing, and guitar and piano lessons. I didn't figure out what I wanted to do until I went to college and took songwriting classes. And it's a great time to be in country music. You have someone like Sam Hunt, but you also have Kacey Musgraves. There's room for all of it.”
Hear for Yourself: The radio-ready "Lightning," from Heart Unlocked, pushes banjo to the fore before club beats raise the roof. James Reed