10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: September 2018
A progressive performer who draws comparisons to Sam Hunt, an empowering songwriter following in Kelsea Ballerini’s footsteps, and a vibey band of rockers making music fit for muscle-car stereos help make up our list of the must-hear country and Americana artists this month.
Sounds Like: A catechism in song of everyday hurt and hope
For Fans of: Rufus Wainwright, Jonathan Tyler, Black Crowes
Why You Should Pay Attention: Nashville singer-songwriter Kirby Brown feels at home in big cities like New York and Dallas, but his roots lie on a dairy farm in rural Arkansas. First playing music in a praise-and-worship group at his family’s church, Brown was weaned on secular film and literature by his father but pursued his own music after the death of two close friends — including his “first love” — at the age of 19. Touring with Jonathan Tyler for a spell and recording his first LP, Child of Calamity, with the Texas Gentlemen’s Beau Bedford in 2011, Brown’s path then took him to New York and eventually Music City. His second album, Uncommon Prayer, a thoughtful, clever collection that rocks and swoons in equal measure, came out September 7th. Largely recorded at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios, it includes a guest vocal from Leon Bridges on stained-glass soul number “Sweet Shame.”
He Says: “[My family] were porch pickers. People would sit around playing old gospel songs and old country songs on the weekend. We didn’t tell anybody about it because it might be thought of as sinful to be playing secular music,” says Brown. “I think the act of prayer or meditation or however you center yourself in this life, it’s a way of trying to alchemize some pain, or a desire or lack or need. Growing up with religious language, that meant one thing to me, but now I think it’s all prayer, everything you do is desire. All you can do is give something away and hope that something comes back to you.”
Hear for Yourself: “Joni” encapsulates Brown’s irreverent wordplay and knack for sad story subjects paired with spritely, up-tempo melodies. J.G.
Sounds Like: Expertly written songs about love and loss, sung by an artist with an acrobat’s vocal agility
For Fans of: Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, Ashley Monroe
Why You Should Pay Attention: For starters, Morgan calls Lori McKenna a co-writer, which in and of itself should tell you a lot about her level of songwriting talent. She can easily stand on her own, though, thanks to her dynamic, emotive voice, which boasts the agility of Lee Ann Womack and the vulnerability of Ashley Monroe, and her willingness to bare her soul in her songs. On October 5th, Morgan will release her debut album Borrowed Heart, a Paul Moak-produced LP that’s sure to establish her as one of country’s more promising new singer-songwriters.
She Says: “I hope listeners experience my perspective on passion and emotion. I’m a deep feeler, and that was a lot of the motivation for these songs and this album. I know I’m not the only one that has gone through these life experiences of love and heartbreak, but I hope the perspective I’ve painted connects with the listener in a new way. I love writing with artists and digging into their life story and whatever chapter they might be in. When I’m writing for myself, I love to dig in to the place I’m in as well. Sometimes that means I cry or feel like I’m ripping off the same Band-Aid until a song is done. I lead a lot with personal emotion versus a hook.”
Hear for Yourself: On “Your Hurricane,” Morgan charts heartache with clever lyrics and graceful vulnerability, likening confronting lost love to hunkering down for a powerful hurricane. B.M.
Sounds Like: Heartland rock & roll built for Trans Am stereos, mushroom trips and the boombox in Jeff Spicoli’s bedroom
For Fans of: The War on Drugs’ guitar rig; Tom Petty’s Mad Hatter phase; Ryan Adams’ Reagan-rock anthems
Why You Should Pay Attention: Frontman Johnny Delaware had recently parted ways with his former band, Susto, when he received a text from Ben Bridwell in late 2016, asking if he’d open up for Band of Horses on New Year’s Eve. The last-minute gig offer helped jumpstart the Artisanals’ creation, pushing Delaware to transform a handful of homemade demos — many of them recorded alongside the group’s guitarist and co-founder, Clay Houle — into building blocks for a band rooted in the pop hooks of Jeff Lynne-era Tom Petty and the half-stoned stomp of My Morning Jacket. The Artisanals let their freak flag fly on their self-titled debut, which balances its epic sweep with sitars, flower-child lyrics and nods to Eastern philosophy. Throw Delaware’s bellbottoms and Jesus-like mane into the mix, and you’ve got a band built to preach the gospel of rock & roll — particularly its Seventies and Eighties incarnations.
They Say: “The band formed in Charleston, South Carolina,” explains Delaware, “but I still call our music ‘West Coast Americana rock.’ It’s less about a landscape and more about a soundscape, or a feeling that people get out when they’re out there. I love the desert. I love the pink landscape of New Mexico. I think we’re pulling from that vibe.”
Hear for Yourself: From the first gong hit to the last wave of chorus-pedaled guitar, “Drag” is woozy, haunting and thoroughly nostalgic, like a long-lost single from the Lost Boys soundtrack. R.C.
Sounds Like: A songwriting voice from a bygone era, when arrangements were simple and the lyric was king
For Fans of: John Prine, Josh Ritter, Brent Cobb
Why You Should Pay Attention: Mississippi native Logan released his debut album, Raised by Wolves, in early August, which he recorded in Nashville at local studio mainstay Welcome to 1979. The album is full of story-songs in the tradition of Prine and Townes Van Zandt, a sound owing both to Logan’s love of classic Americana songwriting and to his own knack for spinning a phrase (or a name, in the case of standout track “Annalee”) into a three-minute world all its own. Logan has already toured Europe with fellow songwriter Brent Cobb, and once folks get wind of Raised by Wolves it won’t be long before he’s plotting his own headlining tours, too.
He Says: A devotee of Van Zandt, Prine and Robert Earl Keen, Logan says of his influences, “I love the way all three of those guys really paint a picture with their songs. Sometimes they leave them vague in interpretation so you have to find out what the song means specifically to you. Others are very specific. They make you feel like you’re right there in the song. It’s your own heart breaking, or you’re the one falling in love. They feel timeless. I want to send out those types of emotions through my own songs.”
Hear for Yourself: Logan wrote “Annalee” shortly after moving to Nashville, and the song bristles with the electric longing for a fresh start that often comes with putting down roots in a new place. B.M.
Anna St. Louis
Sounds Like: Folk music that conjures whispered musings and remote, serene streams
For Fans of: Karen Dalton, Neil Young at his bluesiest, John Fahey, Elizabeth Cotten
Why You Should Pay Attention: It was only in August that Anna St. Louis finally quit her job waiting tables. And with good reason: the Kansas City-raised, L.A.-based singer-songwriter, whose sweeping, finger-picked songs evoke scenes of pastoral serenity, landed a touring gig supporting Waxahatchee. “That feeling that the shoe could drop at any moment is probably going to linger for a long time,” she says, admitting she was caught off-guard by the overwhelmingly positive response she received to 2017’s First Songs, a cassette of spare, honest recordings released on her friend-collaborator Kevin Morby’s Mare Records. On October 12th, St. Louis releases her proper debut, If Only There Was a River, which expands upon her evolving sound, one she describes as “country-folk mixed with maybe some Neil Young vibes.” It also features some of her sharpest writing to date. “So long honey baby / you can’t set me free / so you must be going / but our time was sweet,” she sings with a greasy howl, sounding like a mellow Wanda Jackson on the haunting, blues-tinged “The Bells.”
She Says: “I’m just starting to find my comfort level with [performing],” says St. Louis, whose first gig was in August 2017. Shedding her stage fright, she admits, has been a gradual process. “Before my first show I was sick with nerves. But then as soon as it was over, I was like ‘I wanna do it again!’ It’s been kind of that same way for the past year. Hours before a show I’m always like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And then I play the show and it feels really great and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s why I’m doing it!'”
Hear for Yourself: “Understand,” a sweet and slow-rolling plea for compassion, is all gracefully strummed acoustic guitar and cascading strings — the soundtrack to a time-lapse montage of a couple’s journey through life’s subtle alterations. D.H.
Sounds Like: Vocal-forward pop-country with playful flourishes of soul, rock and doo-wop
For Fans of: Danielle Bradbery, Jillian Jacqueline, Meghan Trainor
Why You Should Pay Attention: It’s no secret that there’s a striking lack of female representation on country radio, a disparity that’s even more pronounced when considered alongside the wealth of talented new women artists making and releasing music. Anderson falls squarely into that talented category, as shown on her excellent new EP I’m Good, which spans early Miranda Lambert-esque Southern pop-rock (“Naked Truth”), radio-ready empowerment anthems (“I’m Good”) and vintage sounds styled for a contemporary audience (“Dance Away My Broken Heart”). An artist who first got started as a songwriter, the Dallas, Texas, native has plenty more stories to tell, and a hell of a voice to tell them with.
She Says: “‘Make Him Wait’ was inspired by how my parents raised me and everything they taught my sisters and me about our value and our worth. I was thinking one day, ‘What is one thing girls everywhere would know if they had parents like mine?’ It would be knowing their worth, and that someone’s worth isn’t wrapped around a relationship. ‘Make Him Wait’ definitely stands out from the rest of the EP because it’s a ballad, but it is congruent with the theme of confidence. I’d like to think all of my songs exude confidence.”
Hear for Yourself: “Make Him Wait” is Anderson’s breakout song, and with good reason. A vulnerable ballad in the vein of early Martina McBride, the track introduces Anderson as both compelling lyricist and vocalist. B.M.
Sounds Like: Lovelorn country-pop dripping with beer, Jon Bellion-like instrumentation and the occasional polished rap verse
For Fans of: Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Eric Church
Why You Should Pay Attention: It’s impossible to listen to Tyler Filmore and not think of Sam Hunt, with the Nashville-based singer seamlessly fusing traditional country and polished pop. After his parents divorced when he was young, he leaned into his folks’ individual sonic tastes, listening to his Columbian mother play salsa music while she was cooking in the kitchen and digging into his dad’s Eighties favorites like John Mellencamp and Def Leppard. While music had always been a strong interest for him, the now-28-year-old didn’t start seriously pursuing it as a career until he graduated from college and relocated to Nashville. His uptempo country-pop hit “Slower” took off and has since notched nearly 20 million streams on Spotify, expanding his fan base in just the last few months. It paved the way for his EP Last Year, which distilled a year’s worth of experiences — including the end of a long-term relationship and a period of constant touring and being in-between homes — into three songs.
He Says: “When I was in fifth grade they offered a free recess if we joined the choir. So I did it to get free recess. That’s how it all started. From that point on, I was in choirs and bands, and I played sports all throughout high school. I was super involved in sports, and I ended up going to the University of Missouri for music and business. Then it expanded from there. I really honed in my songwriting craft when I moved to Nashville. I’ve been here for six years now. Over that progression, I’ve listened to a lot of people tell me what country is. When I stopped listening to people, it’s really when it started working.”
Hear for Yourself: An anthemic ode to the country music craft painted with his rich and raspy vocals, “Country Song” shows Filmore proving he’s serious about the genre to anyone who’s ever doubted him. I.K.
Sounds Like: The hammer of the gods pays a visit to Music Row
For Fans of: T.Rex, Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Buckley
Why You Should Pay Attention: Glimmering with the sequined flair of Seventies glam, Creamer’s swaggering rock & roll has been a longtime coming, ever since Philip Creamer taught himself the Beatles’ “Blackbird” at age 13. But he first caught the musical bug from a youth spent in church — his father is a preacher in Dallas, Texas — which helped form his intricate harmonic phrasing and sense for melodrama. Dovetail, a roots-rock band he formed 10 years ago, featured future members of the Texas Gentlemen, including younger brother Daniel on keys, but upon moving to Nashville in 2015 he started fresh. Connected with Pat Sansone through his friends in the Cordovas, Creamer was encouraged to hone a howl that registers somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Jeff Buckley. Having toured with Wilco in 2017, the band releases their self-titled debut on September 21st, produced by Sansone and featuring guitar heroics from Audley Freed and big beats from drummer Dave King.
He Says: “My mom played piano in our church, so at home there was a lot of her practicing hymns and traditional Anglo gospel music, these really rich chord progressions and a very harmonic singing style which has really defined my ear. I came from this really old-fashioned music that I thought I hated at the time but started appreciating as I got older. On my mom’s side of the family, my grandmother and her three sisters had a gospel quartet and cut a record back in the Sixties in Houston. It was really amazing,” says Creamer. “I was strictly supposed to listen to Christian church music, but I would get a cassette recorder in my bedroom [for] these radio broadcasts of classic rock and modern Nineties rock, and record over gospel cassettes. I’d go back and listen in my room, really quietly, at night, trying to ‘get the Led out.'”
Hear for Yourself: “Drugs No More” is a jangling, wall-of-sound ode to the intoxication of love. J.G.
Sounds Like: An edgy, Fearless-era Taylor Swift with crystalline vocals; ideal for hopeless romantics who are fire signs
For Fans of: Martina McBride, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood
Why You Should Pay Attention: Despite releasing music independently since 2016, Saskatchewan native Tenille Arts didn’t get her big break until she performed on The Bachelor in 2017. During the viewing party for the show, the head of Reviver Records came to see Arts play. Soon enough, the 24-year-old country newcomer landed a record deal. Although her debut album Rebel Child was released by 19th and Grand Records in 2017, a deluxe edition of the LP came out earlier this year via Reviver. Arts’ talent led her to an opening slot for Reba McEntire at select shows, and she’s in the midst of preparing for her first big tour with fellow Canadian country singer Dean Brody.
She Says: Performing on The Bachelor was a game-changer for Arts. “My manager said, ‘Send me your best love song. I think there’s going to be a big opportunity for you.’ [So] I sent him this song I had written called ‘Moment of Weakness’ and we recorded it really quickly and sent it into the show. They loved it and wanted me to be on an episode. I did that almost a year ago — in Ari’s season. Now we just found out I’m going to be on the show for Colton’s season of The Bachelor.”
Hear for Yourself: “I Hate This” addresses the helplessness that comes with any broken relationship, with Arts’ voice drifting and lilting over a Dobro riff. I.K.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Sounds Like: A reverent take on foundational country-blues boosted by gospel energy and scrappy Heartland edge
For Fans of: North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus
Why You Should Pay Attention: As a teenager, Josh Peyton became a hardcore fan of early country-blues, and his interest has never waned. Fronting Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, the rural Indiana native blends the primitive finger-picking of early Delta pioneers like Charley Patton with the hypnotic slide riffs of the Hill Country style to craft his own raucous, uplifting sound. Despite the name, the Big Damn Band is actually a stripped-down trio, with Peyton joined by his wife Breezy on washboard and drummer Max Senteney on a minimalist kit. The power comes from Peyton’s deep, preacher-like vocals and aggressive fretwork on a range of vintage guitars. With rowdy, collective energy, the group has found favor beyond the blues world, earning slots at Bonnaroo and on the Warped Tour.
What They Say: “Ever since I was a kid, when I first heard rural blues, and what guys like Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt were doing, I’ve been obsessed with it,” says Peyton. “My whole mission throughout my career has been to take this stuff and try to create new things, while still making it sound timeless. I’m always trying to push the boundaries. This music is communal, so at the end of the day, the idea is to put on a show and entertain people.”
Hear for Yourself: “Poor Until Payday,” the title track of the band’s upcoming LP (out October 5th), is a full-throated, foot-stomping anthem about the rewards that come from following your bliss before your bank account. J.F.