A few years back we published an article on 10 of the best unsigned country artists. Two years later, many of those artists proved us right.
Maren Morris became a Grammy-winning star. And of course, Margo Price made history with her debut album (though she dropped the “Price Tags” part of her moniker). Steve Moakler just released his major label debut, while Carly Pearce had a smash hit on Sirius XM’s “The Highway.” So she just signed a deal with Big Machine.
But that’s not all — most of those folks continue making great music, from Joseph LeMay’s critical success to John and Jacob creating their new band The Brummies.
Now, we have a new list of unsigned artists we believe deserve all the love and appreciation of their major label counterparts. Take a listen to 10 of the best-unsigned country artists, 2017 edition.
10. Flatland Cavalry
Lubbock’s Flatland Cavalry, as you may have heard, is one to watch. The easy listening, rootsy five-piece draws inspiration from Texas and red dirt heroes Randy Rogers and Turnpike Troubadours. Throw in a little John Mayer, and you’ve got a great recipe for one the scene’s rising stars.
In one short year, they’ve gone from relatively unknown to road warriors. A lot of that is thanks to their album Humble Folks charting on the Billboard charts. They hit No. 17 on the Americana/Folk chart and No. 38 on the country chart last year.
9. Jamie Lin Wilson
There’s a decent chance you’ve heard of Texas’ Jamie Lin Wilson, but that’s because you’ve got refined tastes. It’s high time the rest of the world knows who this talented songsmith is, too. Her 2016 album Just Some Things is just downright gorgeous.
Wilson easily flows in the vein of other signed acts like Brandy Clark and Lori McKenna. Her duet with Wade Bowen “Just Some Things” showed that even with one of Texas’ biggest names on the track, she’s still the star.
8. Sam Riggs
Ever since his album Outrun The Sun, Sam Riggs has been one to watch. Mixing just the perfect amount of contemporary structure and melody with Americana roots, Riggs already has plenty of success to his name. And there’s a good chance the reason he still doesn’t have a major label is he doesn’t really need one right now.
Riggs instead chose to self-fund his most recent album Breathless and release it through independent label services company Thirty Tigers. With strong streaming numbers, plenty of hungry fans and a high-energy live show, Riggs has what it takes to take it to the big stages.
7. Dan Layus
Dan Layus knows exactly what it’s like to be a major label artist. He fronted rock band Augustana on Epic Records for better than a decade. But as the sole remaining member of that group, Layus began releasing music as a solo artist. And something quite different came out.
He rediscovered himself after moving to Nashville from L.A. and writing songs for other bands. That shines through on his 2016 album Dangerous Things, a brooding but tender country/Americana record full of grit and years worth of lessons learned the hard way.
6. Muscadine Bloodline
Comprised of Gary Stanton and Charlie Muncaster, Muscadine Bloodline found success when the two Alabama natives joined forces. Their song “Porch Swing Angel” took off with fans and became their first viral hit. Who needs a label when you’ve got a great fan base?
Since then, they’ve toured heavily, impressing audiences all over the country and flabbergasting major labels with their organic success. Their recent EP showcases modern sounds wrapped around traditional story-based country songwriting.
5. Angaleena Presley
Angaleena Presley may first entered the public consciousness as a member of the Pistol Annies, but she’s done more than enough to merit attention as a solo artist. Her debut solo album American Middle Class hit No. 29 on the Billboard country chart, and her follow-up album Wrangled comes out April 21.
Full of feisty tunes ripped right from outlaw country traditions, Presley honed her craft as a Nashville songwriter for more than a decade. She’s done playing by the typical Music Row rules, and it shows in her diverse, thoughtful music.
4. Mike Ryan
Following in the vein of other Texas acts like Cody Johnson, Mike Ryan has just about everything he needs in place to make a big splash. Between booking, management, publishing and radio promotions, he’s just about set. That team has helped him become one of the most promising acts coming out of Texas and somebody poised for bigger stages a la Randy Rogers.
After hitting No. 1 on Texas radio several times with his 2014 album Bad Reputation, Ryan returns with a new effort and a chance to stake his claim as one of country’s next big acts — major label or not.
3. Natalie Hemby
The woman behind some of your favorite Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town songs, Natalie Hemby can downright write good music. With the release of her solo debut Puxico, she proved she can downright sing good music, too.
Hemby released Puxico through her own label, garnering instant praise from peers and critics alike. The neo-traditional album feels equal parts new and old. She’d be a no-brainer hardware winner on any label roster, but she’s doing just fine without it. (She also wrote “Timing Is Everything,” one of the best songs ever written, period).
2. William Clark Green
William Clark Green is another one of those artists who just seems to be too busy being successful to care about inking a major label deal. The Texas country artist has made quite a bit of progress in four independent albums. His most recent, Ringling Road, really established him as a heavy hitter.
But Green isn’t the typical Red Dirt artist whose sound keeps him boxed in. He writes songs that could easily land high on Billboard charts if and when the timing is right.
1. Cody Jinks
Cody Jinks’ status absolutely skyrocketed over the past year. And hey, with endorsements from celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it’s not hard to see why. But the independent neo-traditionalist made waves way before The People’s Champ lent him a few nice social media posts.
Jinks quietly started selling out clubs all across the country when his album I’m Not The Devil landed on best-of lists across the country. With a buttery voice and a knack for hooks that never lose their soul, Jinks may be beyond what a traditional label deal could offer him. At this point, he deserves CMA Awards and Grammys. The politics of it all may keep him out of it, but pay no attention to that. Jinks has a lifelong career ahead of him.