10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: Summer 2015 - Rolling Stone
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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: Summer 2015

From a timeless Los Angeles troubadour to a bohemian pop-country chanteuse

Sam Outlaw Annie Bosko

Mark Davis/Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

A Los Angeles cowboy influenced as much by mariachi as Merle, a New Orleans band whose primary mission is to make fans dance and a bohemian vocalist with a crooked halo and pop lilt make up this warm-weather season's list. It's such diversity that helps define both the country and Americana genres, affording fans a listening opportunity unlike any other. With that in mind, here are the 10 acts you have to hear right now. 

Chris Lane

Kristin Barlowe

Chris Lane

Sounds Like: If Justin Timberlake moved to Nashville and spent his nights partying with Luke Bryan

For Fans of: Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, synthesizers mixed louder than the steel guitar

Why You Should Pay Attention: It's not every day you hear falsetto on a modern country record. Actually, it's pretty much never. But North Carolina native Lane is hoping to change all that on the debut EP he's recording with Joey Moi (Jake Owen, FGL), which is a left turn from his only single, "Broken Windshield View." Think R&B grooves, rock guitars and aggressive dance beats, held together by Lane's dynamic range and love for country's more present-day heroes (Keith Urban is his idol). The former baseball star discovered himself as a performer after suffering a torn ACL, playing sets in his hometown that comprised mostly covers, occasionally slipping in a song or two of his own. When the crowd kept dancing, he knew he was on to something.

He Says: "I feel like I found a sound that is unique to country music, in my own lane," Lane says of the new material's R&B vibe. "There's always going to be people who say, 'This ain't country.' But that's fine, that's how it is. Those same people aren't listening to Sam Hunt, aren't listening to FGL. But obviously a lot of people are. Everything evolves, not just music."

Hear for Yourself: Though his still-under-wraps new songs are nothing like "Broken Windshield View," it does give you a taste for his love of big rock guitars and Jason Aldean-style swagger. Marissa Moss

Carly Pearce

Courtesy Carly Pearce

Carly Pearce

Sounds Like: A slightly raspier Trisha Yearwood with a touch of Rosanne Cash

For Fans of: Yearwood, Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans

Why You Should Pay Attention: Yearwood — and husband Garth Brooks — took a shine to the Kentucky native when she made her Opry debut in May and red hot songwriter-producer Busbee has chosen her as his first country artist to mentor. "I'm his baby artist that he's been looking for to really stick his neck out there to show he can do country production," says Pearce of the man who has penned hits for everyone from Lady Antebellum to Kelly Clarkson. "I found a true champion for me."

She Says: "I've always lived a life of being fearless and almost kind of naïve, just because I knew I was meant to be on a stage," says the 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Pearce's early dedication to country music was so strong that she asked to be home-schooled at 16 in order to perform six shows a day at Dollywood before moving to Nashville at 18. She signed and then lost a record deal in 2012, but it turned into a blessing. "I am so thankful it did not happen," says Pearce, especially because the opportunities she's had since — including a slot on the Country Throwdown Tour with Florida Georgia Line and a stint as a background singer on Lucy Hale's recent tour — was her version of college. "I've gotten to stand on the sidelines and get all of that valuable information and experience that you cannot be taught." Pearce currently has an EP available on iTunes and is hoping to have her debut album out within a year.

Hear for Yourself: In the lilting "Blame the Whiskey," Pearce begins to fall for a guy but preemptively worries that she is "just kissing a boy with a buzz." Sarah Rodman

Rainey Qualley

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 28: Musician Rainey Qualley attends day 7 of the ASCAP Music Cafe during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for Sundance)

Fred Hayes/Getty

Rainey Qualley

Sounds Like: Miley Cyrus meets Miranda Lambert

For Fans of: Cyrus, Lambert, Shania Twain

Why You Should Pay Attention: Listening to tunes like "Turn Me On Like the Radio," with a sleepy pedal steel and lazy whistle underscoring her husky vocals, it's clear that Qualley is a classic country fan with a flair for pop. In a get-to-know-you promo video the singer-songwriter jokes she hopes to record "the most popular album ever made in the history of the world." It's all about lofty goals, she says with a laugh: "As an artist, you have to aim high."

She Says: "I started singing before anything else," says Qualley, who grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, the daughter of a hobbyist musician who taught her to play guitar and instilled her love of artists like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline.  She was thrilled when she recently got the chance to open for Willie Nelson at the Ryman Auditorium. "It was a lot of pressure but it was incredible," says Qualley, who has also shared the stage with Loretta Lynn. Qualley's mom is actress — and big country fan — Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day, St. Elmo's Fire). Although she has dabbled in acting — Mad Men fans may recognize her from a small but memorable part she played in the final season as an actress auditioning for a fur-coat commercial — Qualley is a singer-songwriter first. "Music definitely has always been where my heart is,” says Qualley, who moved to Nashville a year and a half ago after stints in New York in L.A. She's currently writing and recording in the hopes of releasing her full-length debut by the end of 2015.

Hear for Yourself: Qualley has some fun making a trifling man regret the day he was born in the cheeky kiss-off "Me and Johnny Cash." Sarah Rodman

Anderson East

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 17: Singer Anderson East performs at the BMI SXSW kick off party at Stubbs on March 17, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Scott Dudelson/Getty

Anderson East

Sounds Like: Ray LaMontagne with a bigger range and a better sense of humor, cutting loose on Stax Records

For Fans of: Americana that's brass-y, not steel-y

Why You Should Pay Attention: Anderson East was always one of those familiar names on the Nashville circuit, where most people who gathered to see him in tiny venues or backyard concerts would often whisper, mouth agape, "Why isn't this guy bigger?" After tours with Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell and an LP, Delilah, produced by their right-hand man, Dave Cobb, the Alabama native may very well be on his way to "next big thing" status. Because, boy, can he sing: Few can sound, in one breath, like they've lived enough lives and smoked enough cigarettes for 10 men, and belt out a soulful, pitch-perfect howl the next that reaches as high as a church steeple. Hear him blast through the classic "Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em" — a song affectionately referred to as the "Four F's," and East, with the album's ubiquitous horns and praise 'em chorus, shows there's no need to spell out that fourth "f."

He Says: "I just wanted to have more fun for once in my life," he says. "[Soul music] is ultimately the best feeling around. I think people are naturally drawn to it. I don't know anybody that can hate Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. We're trying to tip our hats to that style of music, but I don't want to wear that hat. I still want to be relevant now. I don't want to be making 1960s music in 2015." 

Hear for Yourself: "Devil in Me" is a soulful ode to temptation that brings his acoustic, Nashville side straight into the FAME studios. Marissa Moss


Bill Orner


Sounds Like: Old Crow Medicine Show at their most jammy, the Grateful Dead at their most country     

For Fans of: Old Crow, the Avett Brothers, high-energy newgrass

Why You Should Pay Attention: This summer, the Northeastern Pennsylvania six-piece will share stages with Gregg Allman (they've played every installment of the Allman Brothers' Peach Fest), Willie Nelson, Counting Crows and Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt — a mix as eclectic as Cabinet's own string-based sound. Their latest album, Celebration, lives up to its name, a propulsive ritual of a record that shows off the 10-year chemistry between pickin' cousins Pappy Biondo and J.P. Biondo, drummer Jami Novak, fiddler Todd Kopec, bassist Dylan Skursky and guitar player Mickey Coviello. Landing on bluegrass as the group's structure was merely an accident says Pappy Biondo. "The instruments themselves drove us to where we are today. J.P. didn't know what a mandolin was, and I had no idea what a banjo was. He had one sitting at his house and I picked it up, but I hadn't listened to a lick of bluegrass," he says. "We really had no idea what bluegrass was, and to a degree, we still don't. That's the beauty of it."

They Say: "We're kind of chameleons and what our fans like most about us is how we weave in and out of genres. Some of my favorite bands have done that, Beck in particular," says Biondo. "J.P. and I got our acoustic kicks on this last record, and maybe Todd will do something experimental with the next one. There's no leader to the group. We just see where it goes."

Hear for Yourself: The unstoppable groove of "Celebration" is a how-to guide for lovin' — and hurtin'. Joseph Hudak

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