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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: Winter 2015

From a hard-rocking group of country boys to a vocalist who may be the next Carrie Underwood

Mickey Guyton and Adam Hood

Mickey Guyton and Adam Hood

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

There's a lot to be excited about in this winter edition of our quarterly new-artist round-up. A Carrie Underwood-like power vocalist is on the horizon, a dusty southern country-rock band is galloping onto radio and an irreverent acoustic-based duo is infusing country with a much-needed sense of spontaneity. There's also a Number One songwriter with enough cool cachet to fill a football stadium — and the voice to match. Here are the 10 new country acts you need to check out right now.

Mo Pitney

Joseph Llanes

Mo Pitney

Sounds Like: A heartfelt country crooner from before Pitney was born.

For Fans of: Keith Whitley, Gene Watson, Joe Nichols

Why You Should Pay Attention: Although he once set aside guitar to play bluegrass banjo, this Illinois native is pretty damn "country." His debut single is, in fact, called "Country." Co-written with Opry legend "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin, the song isn't one of those flag-waving anthems about farm life, dirt roads and pickups that have been all the rage at radio lately. It's a deeper meditation on faith, family and patriotism, from someone who is admittedly an old soul. At his core, however, Pitney is a vivid young storyteller who happens to play country music. "I don't even like to call myself country sometimes," says Pitney, "because I listen to James Taylor, I listen to Randy Newman. I listen to a lot of different types of writers."

He Says: "I tend to attract the purists. They want to immediately link arms and say, 'Let's fight this other monster.' And I say, 'It's not a monster. They're artists and they're doing what they do.' There are more tweets on my Twitter that say #saviorofcountrymusic. I'm like, 'Don't put that on me!' I just want to make music. I'm honored that people see me as that but I'm not doing this as a way to be different."

Hear for Yourself: The clever, country-to-the-core "Clean Up on Aisle Five" earned Pitney a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry. By Stephen L. Betts

The Railers

MANHATTAN, KS - JUNE 27: Recording Artists The Railers backstage during "Kicker Country Stampede" Day 2 at Tuttle Creek State Park on June 27, 2014 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Neste Event Marketing)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The Railers

Sounds Like: The Eagles, but with mandolin, violin, accordion, a female member and a whole lot of Red Bull.

For Fans of: Zac Brown Band, Fleetwood Mac, Little Big Town

Why You Should Pay Attention: The Railers — brothers Jordan and Jonathan Lawson, Jonathan's better half, Cassandra Lawson, and Tyler Oban — are all classically trained musicians with instrumental prowess and a knack for lush vocal harmonies; their multifarious sound is unlike anything on today's country radio. The magic is in the group's stage-to-studio strategy, as the foursome craft music based on its live show, and not vice versa. The Railers' 2014 EP, The Geraldine Sessions, is more like a "jam session in your living room," they say, and effortlessly transfers their infectious energy — and chemistry — to tape.

They Say: "We don’t want somebody to push fast forward," says Cassandra of the Railers' upcoming full-length. "We want to take somebody on this whole long story: There are songs about reckless, coming-off-the-rails kind of love, and then there's the questioning of relationships, and then there's just the good old, 'Let's have a good time and forget about our troubles' songs."

Hear for Yourself: "Kinda Dig the Feeling" shows not only the quartet's extraordinary musicianship, but also the free-spirited personalities of its members. By Beville Dunkerley

Jackie Lee

Broken Bow

Jackie Lee

Sounds Like: The clean-cut boy next door who wants to make your dreams come true but isn't above a little mischief.

For Fans of: Hunter Hayes, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw

Why You Should Pay Attention: The 23-year-old Tennessee native has been playing and singing since childhood and possesses the kind of voice that makes you want to lean in and listen: strong with a touch of smooth southern soul and a feathery falsetto underscoring his country twang. After playing sports in high school, including winning two state championship football rings alongside future Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb, Lee decided that his true calling was music. The crowd at the Grand Ole Opry apparently agreed, giving the newcomer, who signed to Broken Bow Records in late 2013, a standing ovation during his debut performance at the venerable venue.

He Says: "My senior year of high school, Carson challenged me," Lee comments of famed producer Carson Chamberlain (Keith Whitley, Easton Corbin), whom he met as a child when Chamberlain worked with his aspiring musician father. "He said, 'I want you to write a song every single week and turn it into me.' And that really started to help mold me as a songwriter and lit a passion in me to want to do this." He hopes to pick up where his dad left off and was thrilled when he was able to have his father perform on the Opry with him. "I want to win a CMA award and an ACM award and all those things — that would be amazing — but the Opry is something we hold so dear to our hearts and high up on a pedestal."

Hear for Yourself: "She Does" is a radio-ready, mid-tempo charmer. By Sarah Rodman