10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: September 2016 – Rolling Stone
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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: September 2016

From an outlaw country badass to an classic-country songbird

10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: September 2016

Jason Kempin/Getty, Gregg Roth

This month's installment of rising country and Americana artists puts the emphasis squarely on lyricism. From the introspective, brooding ballads of Cody Jinks to the daring glimpses into society's dark corners by Shelley Skidmore, the songs are what elevates September's class of new talent. Put simply, these aren't disposable tailgate jams. Here's September's 10 new artists you need to hear.

Farewell Angelina

Chuck Arlund

Farewell Angelina

Sounds Like: The crystal-clear harmony of four award-winning songwriters and multi-instrumentalists whose songs have previously hit country radio in the hands of other artists.

For Fans of: Dixie Chicks, Pistol Annies, SheDaisy and wickedly smart songwriting delivered with a healthy dash of sass

Why You Should Pay Attention: Before becoming a single unit, the multi-talented members of Farewell Angelina – Nicole Witt, Andrea Young, Lisa Torres and newcomer Lauren Lucas – experienced individual successes by having their songs cut by artists like George Strait, Lee Brice and Rodney Atkins, while also lending their voices and instruments to songs by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean and Jerrod Niemann. Their debut self-titled EP, co-produced by Keith Stegall (Zac Brown Band, Alan Jackson), was just released this summer and features the tongue-in-cheek "Hillbilly 401K" and the flirty "Shotgun Summer," which flaunt the group's songwriting savvy and instrumental expertise.

They Say: "It's been a real gift to write for our band and find our own voice. Although writing solo is rewarding, writing together is rewarding and a blast," says Witt. "We really have a lot of fun in the writing room. We have such a strong relationship where everybody can let it all hang out. We know that unless you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, you aren't ever going to catch the magic." Regarding their "courtesy of Bob Dylan" moniker, Young says: "We were looking for a unique band name that was both attention grabbing and feminine. Since some of our favorite bands have been named after songs, we started a list of song titles with women's names in them. We all gravitated to 'Farewell Angelina' and we fell in love with the story behind the song. It was written in the middle of a musical transition for Bob Dylan. For us, it represents that same musical growth and discovery."

Hear for Yourself: "If It Ain't With You" does a great job of bringing together everything that Farewell Angelina does best – witty lyricism and deft playing – into one sonic knockout punch. W.H.

brandon ray

Joseph Llanes

Brandon Ray

Sounds Like: Heartland pop/rock with a country core, fueled by the guitar chops of former A-list sideman who now fronts his own band.

For Fans of: Kip Moore, John Mellencamp, Will Hoge

Why You Should Pay Attention: "I used to say that Big Spring has nothing but football, dirt and Jesus," Ray says of his Texas hometown, where he played high-school baseball before a career-ending injury prompted him to pick up the electric guitar instead. After moving to Nashville, those guitar skills landed him a sideman gig as Brett Eldredge's guitarist — a job that included a six-week run on Taylor Swift's Red Tour — while adding a riff-heavy focus to his own songs. Now a full-time solo artist and Sony/ATV songwriter, he draws on those Texas roots as a sort of stylistic compass, focusing on blue-collar anthems and riffy roots-rockers that have as much in common with the grit of the Lone Star State as the polish of Music City.

He Says: "I'm not trying to be John Mellencamp, but there's an honesty in that kind of music — the storytelling, the phrasing, the whole attitude — that fits in with who I am. Country music is all about storytelling, where you can paint these pictures for your audience. Look at 'Jack & Diane.' You can see the Tastee Freeze. You can see these two kids as their story unfolds. I love that. We're doing something similar on our new six-song EP, where we're looking to bring some real meaning with us, instead of just six or seven songs about tailgates and beer."

Hear for Yourself: Co-written by Kip Moore, Ray's "American Way" is a arena-country anthem that aims for the cheap seats, sketching the picture of a small town gearing up for a big weekend. A.L.

Cody Jinks

Sounds Like: Tattoos, Telecasters and Texas twang, performed by a recovered metalhead who still digs the darker things in life.

For Fans of: Whitey Morgan, Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton

Why You Should Pay Attention: A road warrior since the late Nineties, Jinks logged six years as frontman of the metal group Unchecked Aggression before returning home to Texas, where he rested his shot-to-shit voice and rediscovered a love for outlaw country. More than a decade later, I'm Not the Devil — the latest in a string of solo releases — has turned Jinks into an unlikely Top 10 star, peaking at Number Four on the Billboard Country Chart shortly after its August 2016 release. Full of honky-tonk heartache and barroom ballads, the record also steers Jinks into unusual territory for a country singer, with vampires, devils and apocalyptic imagery all rearing their heads. You can take the country singer out of heavy metal. . . 

He Says: "We look like a dirty-ass rock & roll band, but whenever people ask what kind of music we play, I just tell them 'country.' I don't use any other adjectives. That leaves it really open-ended. It leaves room for everyone. I'm one of those guys where one of the best compliments anyone can give me is, 'I don't like country music, but I really dig your stuff.' I just want it to be good music, really. That's the stuff that resonates."

Hear for Yourself: On the apologetic "I'm Not the Devil," Jinks pleads for forgiveness over power-ballad guitars and waltzing percussion. A.L.

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