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10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: December 2017

From a Dwight Yoakam protégé to an Australian singer-songwriter proficient in outlaw twang-rock

A Dwight Yoakam cowpunk protégé with a Morrissey voice; an Australian singer who mixes outlaw attitude with Americana soul; and a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole since Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” make up this month’s 10 new country and Americana artists you need to hear right now.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Alex Justice

Tommy Ash

Sounds like: Country shuffles, train beats and honky-tonk heartbreak, all delivered by a magnetic entertainer who’s been serenading barflies since the age of 13

For Fans of: Dwight Yoakam’s influence, Waylon Jennings’ guitar tone, Margo Price’s perspective

Why You Should Pay Attention: “I was a barroom baby,” says Ash, who grew up attending country gigs with her parents in Arizona. By her early teens, she was playing shows of her own, singing country covers every Friday and Saturday night at a Phoenix roadhouse. Along the way, she opened up for John Conlee – at 14 years old, no less – and kick-started a songwriting habit that eventually took her to Nashville, where she’s readying the follow-up release to her 2013 debut Sinner’s Blood. Now a Tennessee resident, Ash continues to look west for inspiration, taking cues from the speedy, guitar-driven classics by Bakersfield icons like Buck Owens. The result is a sound the songwriter describes as “mean country music for bars,” rooted in husky-voiced melodies and Telecaster twang.

She Says: “I make revved-up honky-tonk barroom music,” says Ash, a current contender in the Honky Tonk Female category at the 2018 Ameripolitan Awards. “It’s not mellow. It really moves.”

Hear for Yourself: A child of divorce, Ash turns the dissolution of a rocky marriage into classic-country gold on “Keeping the House.” R.C.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Frank Ray

Sounds Like: Easygoing contemporary country with pop-soul hooks and a dash of Southwestern spice

For Fans of: Keith Urban, Chris Young, Eli Young Band

Why You Should Pay Attention: Frank Ray, a former police officer with the Las Cruces, New Mexico, force, left his full-time police job a few months ago and his country singing career has been accelerating rapidly since then. An experienced performer who had the chance to open shows for A Thousand Horses and Keith Urban with his previous band, Ray’s solo debut EP Different Kind of Country was released earlier in 2017. The EP’s forlorn lead single “Every Time You Run” is currently making its way toward the Top 20 of the Texas Regional Radio Report, a list highlighting the week’s most popular Red Dirt titles. In his song “Different Kind of Country,” Ray sings about the Hispanic immigrant experience in America, highlighting cultural differences but pointing out values – including family and hard work – shared with the country audience. “I wanted it to be a message to say, ‘Hey, we’re different but we’re very much the same,'” he says. “But also from a logistical standpoint, we can’t deport every single illegal immigrant – United States agriculture highly relies on that labor. We have to find a way to make it work.”

He Says: “My fiancée and I talked about it and she really knew this was important to me. It was funny the way she worded it – she said, ‘Everybody’s got confidence in you except for yourself.’ But it was just scary, especially after giving a decade of your life to the police department. It was scary to leave that comfort and stability.”

Hear for Yourself: Ray shows off his soulful vocals in the single “Every Time You Run,” where he subtly shifts gender narratives by letting his female love interest be the restless wanderer who refuses to be tied down. J.F.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Gregg Roth

India Ramey

Sounds Like: Lyric-driven, hardscrabble country for the Flannery O’Connor set

For Fans of: Lydia Loveless, Sunny Sweeney, Jason Isbell

Why You Should Pay Attention: The title of O’Connor’s classic short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” has always sounded like a country song, so it’s no surprise that Southern songwriters consider the author to be an artistic inspiration. Ramey ­– a deputy district attorney in Montgomery, Alabama, before she became a singer – counts her as an influence and incorporates many of the author’s hallmarks into her own work. Thoughtfully sketched characters, biblical references and the grotesque abound on Ramey’s latest album Snake Handler, a combination made all the more affecting when coupled with Ramey’s emotive voice and raw, rough-and-tumble arrangements.

She Says: “I have to really be moved by a song for it to hold my attention. I’m not satisfied just being entertained by a song, I want it to pick me up and carry me somewhere else. I want it to change me forever. I tend to draw pretty heavily from my own experiences in my writing or from those close to me. The things that I experienced and to which I was exposed growing up tend to be straight out of either an outlaw country song or a Flannery O’Connor story. It’s easier to paint the picture when it’s something you have actually lived.”

Hear for Yourself: “Devil’s Blood” is a first-rate story-song about trying (and failing) to outrun temptation and bad behavior. B.M.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Organic Photography

Animal Years

Sounds Like: Campfire sing-alongs polished up for the big city and the big stage

For Fans of: The Head and the Heart, Lumineers, Kings of Leon

Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up in Baltimore, Mike McFadden taught himself guitar as a teenager, when he occasionally jammed with high-school friend and All Time Low member Zack Merrick. Having recorded his first album under his own name at the age of 18, several of the songs resurfaced years later when they were picked up for advertisements by companies like Coca-Cola and Pennzoil. With the money from those placements, McFadden quit his job and moved to New York City, where he and bassist Anthony Saladino converted the songs from Sun Will Rise — an album recorded and produced by McFadden — into a full-band format with the addition of drummer Anthony Spinnato. Taking the name Animal Years from a Josh Ritter lyric, the Americana-leaning group recently teamed up with producer Ryan Hadlock (Lumineers, Vance Joy) to record inside a barn in Woodstock. The resulting five-song EP, Far From Home, was released in October.

They Say: “Baltimore has its own niche market. It’s more avant-garde stuff: Beach House, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, and Future Islands — that’s the kind of sound Baltimore really gets behind. In New York, there’s a market for every kind of music. There are more venues on Ludlow [Street in Manhattan] than in all of Baltimore. We just found a market there where we can build the band,” McFadden says. “I want the songs I write to be Top 40. I love writing pop songs. I want them to be radio friendly and appeal to a mass audience. The song we just released, ‘Friends,’ the goal there was to write a song that anybody will listen to and get behind it, whether it’s for the lyrics or the way it was recorded.”

Hear for Yourself: “Friends,” with a new video directed by Saladino, is a feel-good coming-of-age anthem with a booming chorus, handclaps and percussion. J.G.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Emily Faye

Sounds Like: A back-porch guitar pull led by a U.K. singer-songwriter influenced equally by British folk and American bluegrass

For Fans of: Alison Krauss, First Aid Kit, the crystal-clear vocal lift of Emmylou Harris

Why You Should Pay Attention: British country artist Emily Faye was raised on a steady musical diet of artists like ‪Fleetwood Mac, ‪Paula Cole and Alison Krauss, via her father’s mixtapes. In more recent years, Faye’s love of story-rich songs, catchy melodies and punchy lyrics drew her to modern country artists like Little Big Town and Maren Morris. While attending London’s British and Irish Modern Music Institute for four years, Faye started making a name for herself in the swelling U.K. country music scene. Earlier this year, she made the trek to Nashville to record her debut EP, due in early 2018. Faye has also secured a variety of U.S. tour dates and festival appearances, setting herself up for a big year with country fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

She Says: “My songwriting is inspired by life experiences and things I think might be cool to write about. For example, ‘Open Road’ was originally inspired by my Mum and Dad taking trips in their VW camper van and how when you’re on an adventure you don’t need material things because it’s all about spending time with the person you love. My boyfriend actually put the music video for ‘Open Road’ together for me as a surprise and I loved it so much that I have decided that all of my videos for the songs on the EP will be in that homemade style so that people can get to know me even better.”

Hear for Yourself: The Dobro-rich “Open Road,” the first single from Faye’s forthcoming debut EP, successfully captures the romance of traveling through the country. W.H.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Emily Joyce

King Leg

Sounds Like: If the Smiths grew up in the Nineties, had a sense of humor and were fronted by Roy Orbison

For Fans of: Dwight Yoakam, indie alt-country and, yep, Orbison and the Smiths

What You Should Pay Attention: A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Bryan Joyce grew up wanting to be a clown, admiring funnymen like Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey. Though he played music as a teenager, he arrived in Nashville with a plan to attend med school, with music taking a back seat for several years. A stint working concessions at the Ryman Auditorium helped kindle a love for classic country, which became a noticeable influence on Joyce’s rock & roll roots when he moved to Los Angeles in 2016 and got serious once more about performing. King Leg, named for a cockroach he’d once found under his couch, became a vehicle for channeling his various interests, mixing mod style with a campy, tongue-in-cheek sensibility. The band’s debut LP, Meet King Leg, was co-produced by Dwight Yoakam — whom Joyce had met while waiting tables in Music City — and released in October by Sire Records.

He Says: “I actually grew up avoiding country music. I wasn’t interested in it at all. When I moved to Nashville, I knew country was a big part of the town, but I was planning on looking for other rock players,” Joyce says. “[King Leg] is kind of an amalgamation of everything that’s influenced me since I was a child – starting out with Elvis, getting that bug, then the Beatle bug, and coming up through the new wave stuff I liked from the Eighties. Coming to L.A. made sense in a lot of ways because a lot of the music I grew up listening to was made here. [Yoakam] and the people here in L.A. saw through the jokes or novelty in my music and really found something deeper that maybe I wasn’t even aware of.”

Hear for Yourself: “Great Outdoors,” an ode to the sprawl of the American landscape, highlights Bryan’s Morrissey-esque voice and features a video co-directed by his mentor Yoakam. J.G.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Cal Quinn

Ruby Boots

Sounds Like: Soulful outlaw twang-rock with an Australian accent

For Fans of: Grace Potter, Nikki Lane, Margo Price

Why You Should Pay Attention: Some of the best Americana music being played these days comes, surprisingly, from outside America. Case in point: Nashville-by-way-of-Australia songwriter Bex Chilcott, who writes and performs under the name Ruby Boots. Chilcott earned a devoted following in her native Australia before moving to Nashville and signing with Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, a deal that precipitated her forthcoming album Don’t Talk About It. A pal of Nikki Lane’s, Chilcott is a welcome addition to the city’s thriving roots scene, bringing a fresh perspective, plenty of soul and a healthy dose of Down Under swagger.

She Says: “Sonically, I was missing a rockier, grungier feeling to my live show, so I set out to straddle the two worlds of rock & roll and Americana. Lyrically, I wanted the album to have a sense of defiance and fierceness whilst still showing that it can be achieved through vulnerability. I had to learn that being exposed and fragile at times can be just as powerful as being fierce and strong and that they, in fact, go hand in hand. It’s okay to feel something deep down to your core and express that in its raw form, or to fall apart when everything around you is falling apart, rather than trying to hold your shit together.”

Hear for Yourself: “It’s So Cruel” is pure rock attitude, with big, crunchy power chords lending a gritty backdrop to Chilcott’s wail. B.M.

Country Artist to know for December 2017

Chris Douglas

Scooter Brown Band

Sounds Like: Red-blooded country-rock, fronted by a Marine and influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitar-heavy tributes to Dixieland

For Fans of: Whiskey Myers, the Cadillac Three, Hank Williams Jr.

Why You Should Pay Attention: Scooter Brown Band follow in the footsteps of Bocephus, delivering unapologetic blasts of Southern rock and ideology. Namesake Scott Brown was still an active-duty Marine when he began writing music, and American Son – his band’s debut, shot through with overdriven slide guitar, barroom piano and plenty of Seventies nostalgia – finds him singing about the things he believes are worth fighting for. The music’s patriotic punch has already made a champion out of Charlie Daniels, who tapped the group as an opening act and made a cameo appearance on American Son‘s title track.

They Say: “We’ve built a following the old-school way: by getting in front of as many people as we can,” says Brown. “For me, playing a live show is the best thing in the world. There’s not a lot of time to take a breath up there. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 90 minutes, it’s balls to the wall. The country crowd digs us, and the rock crowd digs us, too. We’re kind of the best of both worlds.”

Hear for Yourself: On the gruff salute to the Stars and Stripes “American Son,” Brown finds a kindred spirit in the hyper-political Daniels. R.C.

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