A Canadian group of rootsy outlaws, an unabashed Nineties-country bro and an Americana duo who excel at hushed elegance make up the 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.
Black Mountain Whiskey Rebellion
Sounds Like: A fleet of rumbling IROC-Zs at Talladega revved-up on leaded gasoline and ready to chase the checkered flag
For Fans of: Blackberry Smoke, Whiskey Myers, latter-day Lynyrd Skynyrd
Why You Should Pay Attention: Black Mountain Whiskey Rebellion may seem to have come from nowhere, but this band of Canadians are pros on the touring and session circuits. Lead guitarist and visionary Mitch Merrett has racked up awards from the Canadian Country Music Association for his work with artists Aaron Pritchett and Chad Brownlee, while bassist Greg Carroll toured with Amos Garrett. Since dropping their debut single “Holy Smoke” on April 20th, Black Mountain Whiskey Rebellion have racked up more than 100k streams on Spotify, thanks to exposure on its popular Country Rocks playlist. The band plans to keep its streaming profile stocked with new music, with a debut album to follow on vinyl in late 2018. “Things ain’t always what they seem to be,” sings Clayton Bellamy on “Holy Smoke.” The song centers on snake-oil tent evangelists whose real calling isn’t the Bible but the buddha, as Cypress Hill would say. Co-songwriter Merrett’s interest in exploring tales of moonshine-runners and “how the history of North America came to be, [or] more of the underbelly of it,” inspired him.
They Say: “I thought it would make for great songs,” says Merrett of those illegal moonlit operations. “I started researching all this and made pages of notes and blew up my phone with guitar hooks and melodies. We started with a song called ‘Appalachian Entrepreneurs’ and it grew from there. The story we painted [on ‘Holy Smoke’] was this preacher father-and-son team that traveled town to town, preaching the Lord’s good work. But really they were there to sell weed to the ‘righteous and the true,’ as the song goes.”
Hear for Yourself: Merrett’s distorted guitar snarls underneath a chicken-pickin’ country hook, kicking off a tale told through lyrical double-entendre and a fist-pumping chorus before closing with a full gospel revival coda. J.B.
Sounds Like: A new spin on West Coast folk-rock, with classical tendencies, electric guitars, jazz-school chord changes and alt-rock strut all living under the same roof.
For Fans of: Jeff Buckley; Joni Mitchell’s songs played on a Jazzmaster guitar; a Laurel Canyon bedroom with Thom Yorke posters on the walls
Why You Should Pay Attention: At 21, Cunningham has already earned the support of roots-music power players like Chris Thile, who invited her to open a national tour with the Punch Brothers after watching her spellbind the crowd on his Live From Here radi show. Like Thile, she’s a gifted instrumentalist and evocative singer. The comparisons stop there, though, with Cunningham – who’ll head to a pecan farm near El Paso later this summer to record her debut for Verve Forecast – carving out a singular, genre-diverse sound on her new single, “Beauty into Cliches.”
She Says: “I have a real soft spot for classical music,” Cunningham explains from the lounge of the Punch Brothers’ bus, hours before a show in Durham, North Carolina. “Those melodies get under my skin. And I’m a die-hard Jeff Buckley fan. A huge Led Zeppelin fan. With this next album, I’m really going to showcase the common thread between all of those sounds.”
Hear for Yourself: “Beauty into Cliches” is a phenomenal, keenly observed takedown of anyone whose actions – or art – only serve to wear down the rough edges and irregularities that make this world unique. R.C.
Clay Parker and Jodi James
Sounds Like: Quiet, sweetly harmonized and unassuming but mesmerizing back-porch music
For Fans of: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Mandolin Orange, Lucinda Williams, truths softly told
Why You Should Pay Attention: Parker and James started out co-writing via email at a point when James was in Nashville and Parker was in Baton Rouge. After she returned to Louisiana, they sat down to play a dozen songs they’d written that way – and the results convinced them that Parker should quit his truck-driving job so they could become a full-time duo. The partnership bears fruit with their excellent new album The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound, taking inspiration from Woody Guthrie’s troubadour ways. You can see them on the road this fall, and also onscreen in Blaze, Ethan Hawke’s biopic about the late great Blaze Foley. James plays a waitress, and they also appear in a barroom scene yodeling “T for Texas.” The momentum should be enough to move them up to listening rooms and off the noisy bar circuit.
They Say: “There was this one rowdy college frat bar that had us in the middle of the floor, hardly able to move a guitar without hitting somebody,” says James. “Low ceiling, the line at the bar was 10 deep and people basically had to hurdle over our monitors to stand in line. Yeah, that one was probably the worst. But even so, some friends had come down from Tulsa and we got to hang out so it wasn’t all bad.”
Hear for Yourself: “Easy, Breeze” kicks off the album at the pace of an amiable stroll, with an accompanying video (premiering here) shot on the road in Terlingua and Alpine, Texas – a slice of the troubadours’ life. D.M.
Sounds Like: Gretchen Wilson’s unapologetic scruff withMartina McBride’s unapologetic belt
For Fans of: Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton, and Pistol Annies – solo or together
Why You Should Pay Attention: If overcoming hardship is a cornerstone of country songwriting, then Hammack’s got material aplenty: at 16, a cancer scare and surgery derailed an athletic scholarship and, just last year, her house caught on fire while the Georgia native was out of town on a writing retreat. But Hammack, who moved to Nashville five years ago with nothing but a few trash bags of clothes and “a high school diploma and a fake ID,” has a way of turning tragedy into creative fuel. A frequent face at Lower Broadway’s Honkytonk Central, Hammack went through the Music Row ringer – a potential manager once told her “we don’t want your songs, we just want your voice” – and came out with a publishing deal, label interest and songs filled with smart, shit-kicking energy. It’s true, Hammack’s got a voice to move mountains, but it’s her frank and clever storytelling that keeps it all in motion.
She Says: “I want my music to be seen as a salsa – very chunky textures with some pineapple in it, that has has flavor. That’s something I can chew on.” Mixed in will be plenty of life experience. “Have your house burn down,” she says with a laugh. “It seems to do wonders for your career.”
Hear for Yourself: This snippet of “Redhead” is a look into what Hammack has cooking with co-producer Mickey Reaves – and it’s as badass and unique as a fiery head of hair. M.M.
Sounds Like: The perfect intersection of traditional bluegrass, classic country, and Southern pop
For Fans of: Alison Krauss and Union Station, Dori Freeman, Emmylou Harris
Why You Should Pay Attention: Fraternal twins Sarah and Savannah Church first began performing in their small coal-mining hometown of Danville, Virginia, as children. Now 22 years old, the pair is signed to Big Machine Label Group imprint the Valory Music Co., and just released the debut full-length album A Night at the Opry. Unlike little else out right now, the album blends gospel, country, and bluegrass to remarkably catchy effect, with each track anchored by the sisters’ deeply felt musical connection.
They Say: “It took some time to find the sound that we were looking for in this album,” Savannah says. “It challenged us musically being our first country release, so to have it finally be out and see people enjoying it is incredibly special for us. We were very impressed with our producer, Julian Raymond [Glen Campbell], and the way he was able to pull straight from our lives and put our experiences into the songs.” Adds Sarah: “Having the opportunity to record songs written by Maren Morris and Lori McKenna is [also] huge for us. We really look up to them as powerful women in country music, so when we heard we would get the chance to sing their songs, we were over the moon excited.”
Hear for Yourself: The sisters don’t just cover country artists: they also lend their stellar harmonies to rock gems, like Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” B.M.
Sounds Like: Two-stepping musical salvation with a little help from the family and the big man upstairs
For Fans of: Jamey Johnson, Allman Brothers Band, Kentucky Headhunters
Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up on a mix of gospel, country and Southern rock in Decatur, Tennessee, Hennessee headed to Nashville in 1998, where he played five nights a week around town with the aim of landing a publishing deal and radio play. Along the way he met Jamey Johnson, forging a friendship that later led Johnson to invite him to join his band and tour as his opening act, sharing the stage with Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. In 2012, Hennessee recorded his first proper LP, Revival, with Dave Cobb. Two albums later, his latest, Ramble, features guest vocals from Johnson, Alison Krauss, the Wild Feathers, and even his own son. A mix of country ball