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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.

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Paul Cauthen

Sounds Like: A triple-barreled blast of Texas country, soul and holy-roller rockabilly, delivered by a big-voiced crooner who kicked off his career as frontman of the Americana group Sons of Fathers.

For Fans of: Waylon Jennings, Luke Bell, Sun Records' country catalog

Why You Should Pay Attention: "I feel like there's a sweatshop somewhere on Music Row, and there's a bunch of guys in there with their pencils and their Parker Fly electric guitars, and they're just throwing things down the assembly line and writing these shitty Top 40 country songs," says Cauthen, whose solo debut, My Gospel, steers clear of the pop (and pap) of modern-day Nashville. Produced by Beau Bedford and released October 14th by Lightning Rod Records, the album unleashes the full fury of Cauthen's voice, a barking, booming baritone developed during his childhood days as a choir member at the Church of Christ. There's plenty of gospel here, but these songs also worship at the altar of Muscle Shoals soul and groove-heavy country, packed with all the drive and drama of Roy Orbison's work.

He Says: "I really found my voice on this album. It's got a lot to do my with upbringing. You've gotta sing real loud in the Church of Christ, because there's no mics. You've gotta learn to belt. And that's what I did with My Gospel. I didn't want to be timid; I wanted to pour my heart out and be honest. I wanted to put some genuine music out into the air, because that's the stuff I love. When you can get to know someone, just from listening to their songs, they're doing their job well."

Hear for Yourself: Cauthen puts the pedal to the metal with "Still Drivin'," a knockout punch of truck-driving twang whose melody spans more than two octaves. A.L.

Greg Roth

Elise Davis

Sounds Like: Saturday night turning into a kiss-and-run Sunday morning, as sung by a suicide-blonde honky-tonk angel

For Fans of: Kathleen Edwards, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, heartbreak

Why You Should Pay Attention: A year after this Arkansas native moved to Nashville, she won American Songwriter magazine's 2013 "Pub Deal Contest," which thrust her into the world of Nashville co-writers. Eventually she hooked up with Clint Wells, her primary collaborator, with whom she co-wrote most of the 14 indelible and deeply personal songs of relationship trauma on her album, The Token (out September 9th). Sharp production from Josh Ritter keyboardist Sam Kassirer and just-right backup from a band of what Davis calls "really cool non-Nashville guys" transform her confessions of alcohol-fueled romantic misadventures into stark relief. Songs like "Benefits," "Motel Room" and "I Go to Bars and Get Drunk" are lived-in and true to life.

She Says: "Ever since I was young, songs have been like my diary. Every song on this record is pretty much verbatim. I don't write about things I've not experienced, at least not so far. Something I've only recently realized, because of the demise of every relationship I get into, I have trouble telling men what I feel and think about them – but not writing about it. Songs are my easiest outlet for speaking super vulnerably about what I'm feeling but can't say face-to-face."

Hear for Yourself: "The Token," her album's title track, plays like a series of mood swings from the exit ramp of another cratering relationship. D.M.

Mason Porter

Mason Porter

Sounds Like: Bluegrass musicianship meets jam-band exploration, delivered with a self-confident Philly attitude

For Fans of: Old Crow Medicine Show, the Felice Brothers and the string-based collaborations of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman

Why You Should Pay Attention: Formed in 2006 during a mini-explosion of indie bluegrass in Philadelphia and its 'burbs, Mason Porter evolved into a jam-oriented folk-rock-country hybrid, culminating with their latest EP Heart of the Mountains. The record is a loose concept project, tied into the centennial celebration of the U.S. National Park Service, a touchstone for mandolinist-guitarist-vocalist Joe D'Amico. Tim Celfo (upright bass, vocals), Paul Wilkinson (guitar, vocals), Sarah Larsen (violin) and Evan Smoker (drums) round out Mason Porter, who have played with artists as diverse as Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Daniels and jam-guitarist extraordinaire Tom Hamilton.

They Say: "We're able to draw a folk crowd, a jam crowd, a bluegrass crowd and stand out within each of those spaces. We're able to be accepted in multiple communities and that's key these days, as everything becomes more vague. 'Americana' – what does that even mean? It means different things to different people," says D'Amico, who will assemble Mason Porter on September 16th and 17th for the group's second-annual Midnight Mountain Music Show in Pennsylvania's Poconos Mountains. "It started as a chili cook-off in my backyard and now it's turned into our own festival."

Hear for Yourself: "See America" is a rollicking road trip across the country, with a stomping drumbeat and hoedown fiddle. J.H.

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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