10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: November 2017 - Rolling Stone
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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: November 2017

From a young singer who blends pop hooks with alt-rock, to a blues guitarist with a gift for torch songs

An Americana singer living in Germany, a gothic-country band with a flair for theatrics and a onetime Santa Monica street performer poised for her breakout moment make up the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear this month.

Ian Fisher

David Johnson

Ian Fisher

Sounds Like: A world traveler’s perspective on American folk-rock and classic pop, recorded halfway across the globe.

For Fans of: The Beatles’ solo projects from the 1970s, Josh Rouse, Neil Young

Why You Should Pay Attention: Before moving overseas in 2008, Ian Fisher grew up in Missouri, raised on the soulful sounds of his father’s 1970s record collection and the punchy twang of Nineties country. Although he made several trips to Nashville with childhood friend and songwriting buddy Chris Janson, it was a relocation to Vienna that served as the launching pad for Fisher’s songwriting career. He’s been living in Europe ever since, rolling the best parts of American music – including Fleetwood Mac’s harmonies, Jason Isbell’s charged Americana and the subdued, rainy-day vibe of his Seventies favorites – into Idle Hands, an upcoming album that’s politically conscious and globally minded. “The more I felt that I was losing my national identity,” he says of his early days as an expat, “the more I was able to enjoy country music again. I was able to separate the genre from the political and social ideas that attached themselves to it. I realized that country music didn’t need a country to exist.”

He Says: “I like to blur the lines between what is personal and what is social in my lyrics,” says Fisher, who recorded Idle Hands in a small East Berlin studio surrounded by Soviet apartment blocs. “In the song ‘Road to Jordan,’ for example, I mix the themes of the healing power of empathy in the wake of the death of a friend with the backdrop of the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe. Why write about just one thing when it’s all connected, anyway?”

Hear for Yourself: One of the most Americana-leaning songs on a wildly diverse album, “Road to Jordan” roots itself in pedal steel guitars and Levon Helm-worthy grooves. R.C.

Samantha Fish

Sounds Like: The intersection of coffee-shop folk and juke-joint blues, performed in a sophisticated jazz club

For Fans of: Rhiannon Giddens, Muddy Magnolias, Amy Winehouse

Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in Kansas City by a father who played guitar and a mother who sang in the church choir, Samantha Fish was steeped in roots music from a young age. Learning the drums and later guitar, she cut her teeth playing local blues jams, where she developed a reputation as a serious blues guitarist. Her second solo LP, Wild Heart, topped Billboard‘s blues chart in 2015, and this year Fish released a pair of albums showcasing different sides of her talents, beginning with Chills & Fever, a covers collection of obscure R&B. Earlier this month, she dropped Belle of the West, which reunited her with Wild Heart producer Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars. Like that album, it debuted at Number One on the blues chart

She Says: “It doesn’t really cross my mind to try to make something contemporary. I think when you find yourself in something, that’s what makes it contemporary. [With Belle of the West,] I feel like these are the best songs I’ve written, but it’s just my most personal album. I wanted to put the guitar hero thing down for a second and I wanted to let other things shine. It’s sort of like it was with Chills & Fever, but this album is about the songwriting and vocals and instrumentation. The guitar’s still there, but we pushed other things up to the forefront.”

Hear for Yourself: “Belle of the West” evokes the painted skies of the American southwest with subtle Spanish guitar and Fish’s yearning vocal. J.G.

Cale Dodds

Sounds Like: Smooth pop-country crooning over arena ready arrangements, distinguished by clever lyricism

For Fans of: Dustin Lynch, Tucker Beathard, Brett Young

Why You Should Pay Attention: Cale Dodds is no stranger to Music Row, having penned songs with artists like A Thousand Horses. His time behind the scenes was never meant to last long, though, as tracks from his independently released 2016 EP People Watching notched millions of streams for the Georgia-born artist. On his 2017 single “All Over,” Dodds blends big pop hooks with alt-rock guitars, making for a tune that should appeal to fans of Dustin Lynch’s country sheen and Tucker Beathard’s pop-punk ethos in equal measure.

He Says: “I think that everybody has a moment like the one I am describing in this song: the guy is seeing someone he was with for a long time with someone new,” Dodds says of “All Over.” “The difference in this story is that the guy does not do what he wants to do, but what he knows he needs to. He takes the high road by not getting angry after realizing that the girl is happy for the first time without him. In many ways, I hope some guys out there will hear this song and maybe react the same.”

Hear for Yourself: “All Over,” Dodds’ first official single with Warner Music Nashville, is a mid-tempo ode to an ex-lover that succeeds with some inventive wordplay. B.M.

Hayes Peebles

Sounds Like: Cerebral lyrics à la Conor Oberst, with no-frills, twangy arrangements that call to mind troubadours like Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt

For Fans of: Justin Townes Earle, Cale Tyson, Marlon Williams

Why You Should Pay Attention: Hayes Peebles has been floating around Brooklyn’s folk scene for several years now, making a name for himself among the circuit’s bars and small venues. Now the New York native’s vintage-inspired folk tunes are starting to make their way out of Brooklyn, thanks in part to the strength of his 2017 EP Ghosts and subsequent release of two additional tracks, “Airways” and “Bella.” Those recent releases show the young songwriter to be a distinct new voice in Americana songwriting, one who’s clearly studied up on his idols before him.

He Says: “If you told me 10 years ago that I’d be making anything remotely like country music I wouldn’t have believed you. I grew up worshipping the Strokes and Interpol like a good New Yorker. But I also spent hours a day digging into Neil Young and the Band and Dylan’s twangier stuff trying to figure out why they moved me so much. Townes Van Zandt was probably the final straw. Once I heard Delta Momma Blues I just admitted to myself that I needed to make this kind of music, or try to. I’m not capable of giving up indie rock, sonically or otherwise, but I’m so drawn to the troubadour and the sad song and the way the steel sounds that I’ve really got no choice but to try and do both all at once.”

Hear for Yourself: “Ghosts” is a plaintive acoustic ballad that shows off both Peebles’ way around a lyric and his haunting baritone. B.M.

The Bad Signs

Sounds Like: A country-gothic garage band playing a high-school sock hop during the early Sixties, dressed up in black leather and blue velvet

For Fans of: Quentin Tarantino soundtracks, the Cramps, Sun Records’ rockabilly artists

Why You Should Pay Attention: Launched by members of punk group the Blacklist Royals and fronted by country singer Samantha Harlow, the Bad Signs brew up their own blend of haunted honky-tonk and slow-moving psychedelic rock. It’s a woozy, nostalgic sound, dripping with reverb and punctuated by Harlow’s voice, whose sad-eyed twang echoes Patsy Cline. Partially recorded at Sun Studio, where Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison built their own legends during the 1950s, Black Magic Moments is the band’s debut, full of songs about switchblade fights, doomed love and consciousness expansion. After hitting stores in April as an official Record Store Day release, the EP was reissued on November 10th with several live tracks.

They Say: “Recording at Sun was creepy,” says Nat Rufus, who first crossed paths with Harlow while pumping quarters into a Nashville venue’s jukebox. The two found themselves drawn to the same jukebox selections, including Sam Phillips’ pioneering work with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Months later, they finished the Bad Signs’ debut in Phillips’ old studio. “There’s still magic in that room,” he adds. “To us, music like that is religion. I don’t go to church – I listen to Elvis records on Sunday.”

Hear for Yourself: Recorded live, the band’s cover of Sam Cook’s “Bring It on Home to Me” sounds as though it’s being delivered from the bowels of an echo chamber. R.C.

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