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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: October 2017

From an old soul inspired by Freddy Fender to a vocalist who channels the best of Nineties female pop-country

A brooding hardscrabble honky-tonker, a band of bluegrass experimentalists and a country vocalist with a pole-dancing hobby and a single called “Stripper for a Week” make up the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear this month.

Faren Rachels

Sounds Like: The glory days of female-fronted, Nineties country music, updated for a generation raised on Spotify rather than FM radio.

For Fans of: Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Jon Pardi

Why You Should Pay Attention: After kickstarting her career on the college-bar circuit, Rachels will spend the rest of 2017 in much bigger rooms, opening a run of shows for Dwight Yoakam before joining Luke Combs for the rest of his sold-out fall tour. The timing couldn’t be better. Faren Rachels, a five-track EP of heartbreak songs and party anthems, arrives November 10th, showcasing a Georgia native with Tennessee-sized twang and ball-busting sass. “There’s some programming on the songs,” she says, “but there’s a lot of fiddle and steel guitar, too. I love those instruments, and I miss them these days. I wanted the EP to be super country but still feel 2017.”

She Says: “I grew up on all the Nineties power females, like Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Lee Ann Womack, and Sara Evans. That’s the stuff I still love more than anything in the world. I’m super drawn to traditional country music, but when I write something, I need the lyric and the vibe to be super fresh. It’s in a lane of its own.”

Hear for Yourself:He’s about as good for me as free drinks all night long,” Rachels sings in “Free Drinks,” a mid-tempo anthem about avoiding the temptations that’ll only hurt you in the morning. R.C.

Sacha Isreal

Mipso

Sounds Like: A back-porch hootenanny set not in an Appalachian holler but in a city, where the songs performed draw from Bill Monroe to David Bowie

For Fans of: Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Old Crow Medicine Show

Why You Should Pay Attention: Coming up on seven years since they formed as undergraduates at the University of North Carolina, Mipso have built enough national presence to have cracked the Top 10 of Billboard’s bluegrass chart with their last three albums (one of which, 2015’s Old Time Reverie, went all the way to Number One). On this year’s Coming Down the Mountain, the quartet’s winsome Americana is as catchy and easygoing as ever, but with drums added at the behest of producer Brad Cook (Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun), it packs a lot of rhythmic pep. Veteran road dogs, Mipso are spending this fall on a coast-to-coast Campfire Caravan Tour, co-headlining with the similarly minded Brothers Comatose and Lil Smokies. That sets things up nicely for their recorded-but-as-yet-untitled next album, produced by Ani DiFranco sideman Todd Sickafoose and due out next spring.

They Say: “By the end of this calendar year, we’ll have played 135 shows and been on the road 190 days,” says mandolinist Jacob Sharp. “We actually recorded the next album before Coming Down the Mountain even came out because we wanted a challenge, to record it ahead of whatever feedback we’d be getting. So we decided to follow the music. We went to Eugene, Oregon, and holed up for three weeks during a dark and depressing Oregon winter. It definitely reflects that place and time where and when it was made.”

Hear for Yourself: “Hurt So Good” rolls along at an amiable pace, with lilting hoe-down fiddle from Libby Rodenbough and an earworm lead vocal by Joseph Terrell. D.M.

Denny Strickland

Sounds Like: Arena-sized country with a not-so-guilty pleasure for poptimism

For Fans of: Big & Rich, Thomas Rhett, Kid Rock on Tennessee mountaintops

Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in Arkansas with family on the West Coast, Strickland was a competitive horse rider in his youth, where he learned the discipline and self-assurance of performing in front of crowds. It was at one such equestrian event that he met Johnny Cash’s longtime bassist Marshall Grant, who took him under his wing after listening to a demo and indulged Strickland’s interest in everything from classic country to Black Eyed Peas. While Grant passed away in 2011, Strickland, who ha released a handful of singles over the years, joined forces with Big & Rich producer Sean Giovanni for his first LP, California Dreamin, released in August. Now based in Nashville, he writes party-friendly anthems and doesn’t try to hide his affinity for Lana del Rey and Timbaland on songs that bear heavy pop and electronic influences.

He Says: “I’m very open-minded. Anytime someone wants to talk about the old school or the new school, I’m very intrigued, especially when I’m talking to other artists. I want to know what they’re passionate about, what drives them. Because I know what drives me,” Strickland says about his pop leanings, which he says result from a desire to be “bold” rather than “cookie cutter.” “There are so many interesting things out there with technology and the studio. [But] I love to tell stories. Country is known for that – that’s one genre where you can tell a story. And of course ballads are fun, too.”

Hear for Yourself: “We Don’t Sleep,” California Dreamin‘s lead single, is a country power ballad about an insomnia-inducing romance, complete with Top 40 synths. J.G.

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