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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: November 2018

From the socially conscious folk of Rachel Baiman to the dynamic string-band sound of Martha Spencer

Rachel Baiman, Martha Spencer, new country artists

Rachel Baiman and Martha Spencer are among the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to know.

Gina Binkley; Christy Baird

Modern-country songwriter Nick Wayne, rockabilly vet Kim Lenz and garage-country outfit the Craig Brown Band are among the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear now.

Kim Lenz

Kim Lenz

Sounds Like: Masterful rockabilly with modern influences and sonic touchstones that span the best of American roots music

For Fans of: Wanda Jackson, Imelda May, JD McPherson

Why You Should Pay Attention: While it’s not quite accurate to call Kim Lenz a “new” artist (she released her debut album in 1998), it’s safe to assume she’ll attract a host of new fans with her forthcoming fifth album Slowly Speeding when it releases on February 22nd. Where her earlier efforts solidified her as one of rockabilly’s more exciting voices, Slowly Speeding finds Lenz exploring her interest in American roots music and blending gospel, soul and country with her rockabilly sensibilities. The resulting collection is a kaleidoscopic look at rock music and all of the genres from which it first grew.

She Says: “[Slowly Speeding is] a lush landscape of roots traditions, tones and sounds from county, rockabilly, blues and gospel. I wanted to combine the unexpected with the familiar. It has the same deep rockabilly feel I have offered in the past, with a bit of Western gothic overtones. ‘Slowly Speeding’ elicits the feeling of the beginning of a love affair, that overwhelming feeling that makes you question your acceptance of consensual reality. ‘Did the stars all turn blue?’ ‘Yes, it’s true.’ Enjoy the intoxicating euphoria. Fall in love.”

Hear for Yourself: “Slowly Speeding” is the first single off Lenz’s forthcoming album of the same name and, with its spare arrangement and ghostly production, shows the rockabilly mainstay to be ever-evolving. B.M.

Rachel Baiman

Rachel Baiman

Sounds Like: Woody Guthrie’s social consciousness, Alison Krauss’s fiddle, and Emmylou Harris’s vocal shimmer sharing a brown-bag singalong around a hobo fire

For Fans of: Gillian Welch, Amanda Shires and the mystical vocal-instrumental finesse of I’m With Her

Why You Should Pay Attention: NPR praised folk singer/fiddle player Rachel Baiman’s 2017 album Shame for “testing her music’s potential to carry a timely message” and her new 4-song EP Thanksgiving finds her pushing out those walls even further. Initially inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that hit a cultural awareness peak on Thanksgiving Day 2016, Baiman was inspired to write an “alternative” holiday album that attempts to reconcile the brightest and bleakest elements of the season. Part protest album and part nostalgic invitational, Thanksgiving offers perspective and celebration shouldered by slinky fiddle lines, rolling banjos, bluegrass harmonies and campfire guitars. As a songwriter, Baiman smartly matches the opening topical heft of “Tent City” and “Thanksgiving” with the closing affectionate warmth of “Madison Tennessee” (her bluegrass-bounced John Hartford cover) and “Times Like These,” providing an incredibly rich listening experience for both the head and the heart.

She Says: To take the Thanksgiving theme even further, Baiman added some extra chairs to her table and invited a few special guests to join her on the EP: “One thing that was really exciting about the idea of an EP was being able to do a few different collaborations. With a full-length record I feel more pressure to maintain a cohesive sound, but this was more of a fun sampler in terms of genre and style. Molly Tuttle brings such an incredible energy and ability to her guitar playing and singing that just elevates any performance. Josh Oliver is such a deep and tasteful musician that I always tell people that adding his vocal is like sprinkling teardrops into a song.”

Hear for Yourself: The wistful banjo ballad “Thanksgiving” finds Baiman striking the Guthrie-Dylan vein of brutally honest lyrics wrapped in beautifully sung melodies. W.H.     

 

Stephen Kellogg

Stephen Kellogg

Sounds Like: A golden hour snapshot of a shared road trip with your favorite person beside you

For Fans of: Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, Nebraska-era Springsteen

Why You Should Pay Attention: Although Stephen Kellogg has released 10 albums and played over 1500 shows over the last decade, the vast majority of his career has been as a front man for his band the Sixers. However, with this month’s release of his new solo album Objects in the Mirror, Kellogg is poised to introduce himself as a singer-songwriter who can replicate the power and electricity of a full band with only his voice and guitar. Produced by Americana rocker Will Hoge and quickly recorded in just a single week in Nashville, Objects in the Mirror captures the talent, spontaneity and humanity of Kellogg’s songwriting and presents it in a soulful, folk-rock packaging that is refreshingly free of pretense and studio polishing. In another new move for the artist, Kellogg wrote a book of companion essays called Objects in the Mirror: A Storyteller’s Take on What Matters Most that will be released next year. Kellogg is currently on a solo headlining tour that runs through the end of December and will then embark on a full-band tour next March.

He Says: “I play music to articulate the contents of my heart and in order to do that, I need to be able to approach it conversationally,” he says of the “live in the room” recording process used for the album. “If one were to try to have a conversation in bits and pieces, it would feel pretty fragmented. I’ve found the same is true with my music. In cutting all the songs live and keeping the vocal passes unedited, we allowed for something I can recognize as myself — flawed, but real.”

Hear for Yourself: The slow-burn heartland rock of “High Highs, Low Lows” unfolds like John Prine fronting the Heartbreakers with Kellogg’s relaxed vocal delivery and just enough pedal steel and piano to strike the sonic sweet spot. W.H.  

senora may

Senora May

Sounds Like: A mountain music version of Feist’s “Gatekeeper” with the occasional flute

For Fans of: Cat Power, Bright Eyes, Lucinda Williams

Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up in Kentucky as one of six children, Senora May informed her musical identity through both the native sounds of her home state and everything from Tracy Chapman and Natalie Merchant to Led Zeppelin. Now living in an off-the-grid homestead where she spends her days hauling buckets of water, her debut LP, Lainhart, shows why it’s never worthwhile to make assumptions based on where someone might be from or how they live. Although she uses the tools of Appalachia to create a lush folk landscape, her breed of sonic inquisitiveness feels more about finding the universal within the personal and less about a particular sense of place. Fittingly, much of Lainhart is about refusing to be what we’re expected — from the point of view of a woman who grew up defining her identity around a slew of brothers; to one in love but not willing to lose herself; to one from the holler who looks to Beyoncé as a main source of inspiration. “It’s a borderline dangerous obsession,” she says of her Beyoncé fandom. “But I think it’s remarkable how she’s kept control of every situation after being in the limelight for so long.”

She Says: “My dad always chose the boys to do stuff, and I always wanted to be a boy because of how much recognition they got,” says May, who worked through that concept in songs like “Female” and the album’s title track, where she explores what women are conditioned to give up when they get married. “I tried to capture those sides,” she says. “From the raising I had, from the more independent side from my mom, and then growing up and finding myself and my sexual power. That’s another reason I adore Beyoncé: she’s so comfortable with that side of herself, but it’s all for her art.”

Hear for Yourself: Keith Urban may have tried (and, arguably, failed) to capture the spirit of women on his “Female,” but May’s “Female” truly hones in on the balance between power, sexuality and the ability to let go of the definitions and road maps placed on women from the pink-colored cradle and on. “You say I’m just so pretty, you say I look real small, I ought to be at home pinned against the wall,” she sings to a soulful shuffle, her voice rolling to wistful highs. M.M.

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