The Texas Music scene continually delivers the highest return of clever songwriters, country crooner throwbacks, progressive country-grunge rockers and soothing blues-tinged outfits. With each year, it seems the state’s iconic sound expands to new, unexplored musical territory. 2018 feels as strong and promising as previous years’ rising artists offerings have been. Here are 15 rising Texas artists you need to know.
Parker McCollum has been a refreshing addition to the Texas circuit. Like a young Jack Ingram, McCollum isn’t afraid to dive head-first into late night heartbreakers. His songs often venture into the ugly side of busted relationships, dealing with the perception of success and the love-hate affair of life on the road. In 2017, McCollum kept his growing fanbase engaged with a series of EPs that culminated in Probably Wrong, a collection of songs that embraced John Mayer‘s fresh pop sense and the crisp rock edge of Six Market Blvd. While McCollum can most certainly start the party, he’s at his best when narrating the morning after when life’s problems return.
Sounds Like: John Mayer’s slick pop grooves, Six Market Blvd’s rocking Americana range and the pacing of introspective Texas Country.
Required Listening: “Hell of a Year,” a gloomy heartbreaker that hurts so good.
While most Texas artists are exploring the merger of country, folk and rock & roll, Lubbock‘s Randall King is determined to reintroduce ’90s country ballads and honky-tonk homages to the mainstream — a neo-traditionalist revivalist by all means. King’s a powerful vocalist who’s sharpened his pipes after years of singing along to his father’s Alan Jackson and Keith Whitley tapes. Since releasing the EP Another Bullet in 2016, King’s been collecting songs for a loaded full-length follow-up. With songs such as the sultry “Mirror, Mirror” already being buzzed about since its introduction at this year’s MusicFest, King is in prime position to join the ranks as one of country music’s sure-fire talents. As of now, Randall King is set for a Spring 2018 release.
Sounds Like: A bonafide country crooner who delivers ’90s country callbacks, cowboy narratives and honky-tonking ramblers.
Required Listening: “Ain’t Waitin’ On You,” a slow dance enticing ’90s country throwback about moving on.
No one busted onto the Texas Country circuit in 2017 quite like Koe Wetzel. His star power charm, DIY attitude and candid writing style have resonated with the spirited college bar crowds within the state. With the release of Noise Complaint in late 2016, Wetzel and company took the state by storm with an outpouring of unapologetic songs about hometown gossip, young love (and lust) and the pitfalls of small-town Texas. At this point, Wetzel’s often been chided for juvenile lyricism. Yet, one thing remains true within Wetzel’s songwriting — the seeds of an honest and authentic storyteller. So far, Wetzel’s strongest suit has been an uncanny ear for memorable melodies. Wetzel and company will be focusing on recording a follow-up to Noise Complaint this year. The recently released single “Austin” is the first inklings of what’s to come.
Sounds Like: If Lynryd Skynryd had been raised on ’00s pop-punk and ’90s grunge in addition to their Southern rock roots. The piss and vinegar of a young Cross Canadian Ragweed.
Required Listening: “Austin,” a sleepless night of tossing, turning and falling down the rabbit-hole of a previous relationship. An anthem for the text message era.
The Last Bandoleros
San Antonio’s Last Bandoleros is as intriguing as any band currently making country-tinged music. While the band certainly draws from Tex-Mex, British Invasion pop, and early rock & roll, they’re not a novelty knockoff or one-trick pony. Sharp drums are often the driving force behind their jangling singalongs. Their harmony vocals are vigorous and lush throughout. After a string of singles, an EP and string of dates as Sting’s backing band, The Last Bandoleros seem primed to take 2018 by storm. The four-piece is set for a European run this Winter. Currently, their debut full-length is set for a May 4 release in Germany.
Required Listening: “Let Me Love You,” three minutes of pop perfection that captures them in stride.
Blue Water Highway
Blue Water Highway’s 2015 debut, Things We Carry, found lead vocalist Zack Kibodeaux and company blending refined roots rock elements similar to The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers with rich, soulful gospel-tinged harmonies. As a result, they invoke an invigorating sound that has the theatrics of an energetic traveling tent show. They’re able to bring down the lights and slow things down with delicate ballads that can shine the spotlight on Kibodeaux’s powerful lyrics and even more powerful vocal range. BWH kicks off 2018 with “Hanging On,” a new single that’s out Jan. 19.
Sounds Like: The harmonies of a Southern gospel, R&B soul and roots in Americana folk and storytelling.
Required Listening: “Evangeline,” a soulful piano-driven plea that was recorded in a single take in the studio.
Grady Spencer & The Work
Grady Spencer is yet another West Texas songwriter who got his start playing the dive bars and open mics of Lubbock, Texas. Since moving to Fort Worth a handful of years back, Spencer has steadily earned the reputation as being one of the scene’s best-kept secrets. With rich velvety vocals, Spencer delivers wise blue-collar anthems and hearty love ballads. His last two albums, Sleep and The Line Between, pepper in healthy doses of Black Keys-esque grooves and the melodic poetry of The Avett Brothers to create a robust sound that stays with you long after they’re finished playing. Spencer & The Work are tentatively set to return to the studio later this year.
Sounds Like: An intimate and personal collection of thoughts about love, marriage and life.
Required Listening: “Goats,” a blue-collar narrative that plays out like a Nebraska-era Springsteen folk tragedy.
Singer-songwriter Kody West started out as Dalton Domino‘s road manager. As a result, he’d often be the opening acoustic act for Domino. Soon thereafter, West began getting more than enough opportunities in his own right. After an encouraging effort with an EP in 2016 titled Higher Ground, West released Green, a slick collection of worn-in country rockers. Much like Domino or a more rugged Troy Cartwright, West has a strong sense of powerful images and a commanding voice.
Sounds Like: Heady guitar-driven songs perfect for dive bars and the open highway.
Required Listening: “Green,” a darkened groove with sharp guitar riffs, smoky vocals and an echoing chorus.
Texas Country’s Sarah Hobbs was raised on the traditional country music of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton. While that’s certainly seeped into her own writing, she adds a distinctly modern edge into the mix. Her 2016 debut Back Porch Country was a collection of heartfelt country ballads and laidback two-stepping numbers. There’s a sense of vulnerability in Hobbs’ writing. She often lets you into her world, even when if it’s a simmering heartbreak. 2018 sees Hobbs banking on a series of strong singles with a full-fledged release.
Sounds Like: The blending of traditional country callbacks with modern Texas Country.
Required Listening: “Texas Made,” a confident declaration of sweet southern charm and Texan swank.
Aaron McDonnell fits in nicely amongst his honky-tonk contemporaries of the greater Austin area. Though he’s slightly more refined than the likes of Mike & The Moonpies and Mayeux and Broussard, McDonnell shares a passion for warbling pedal steel, tears-in-my-beer sobbers and classic country imagery. Still, there are hints of a John Prine sense of humor that pokes fun at all parties at times. This past November, he released Lucky Me, a tight set of classic country odes with nods to Western Swing, Ernest Tubb‘s school of sorrow and the East Texas rust of George Jones.
Sounds Like: A smooth baritone country crooner who’d sound right at home on a jukebox from the ’70s.
Required Listening: “Life Sounds Easy on the Radio,” an easygoing tongue-in-cheek daydream about being a famous honky-tonker on the radio.
Dallas’ Vandoliers received much-deserved buzz this past year with the release of their energetic, genre-bending sophomore album, The Native. It was a refreshing deep dive into the various and distinct sounds found in the state of Texas. Often, the album felt like a love letter of sorts to the diverse Texas music scene. Much like the energetic thrashgrass of Whiskey Shivers or the swell of raw emotion found in early Old 97s, Joshua Fleming and company rarely slow down with their summer and spring anthems.
Sounds Like: The soundtrack to a Richard Linklater film set in ’90s Texas. The dive bars of Deep Ellum.
Required Listening: “Endless Summer,” a coming of age foot-stomper that races at breakneck speed without the crash and burn.
Ft. Worth’s Zach Nytomt harnesses a profound and sincere sense of storytelling that stems from the country-blues. Like a less gravely Ray LaMontagne, Nytomt’s vocals are rich and whiskey-soaked. Even while he’s armed with powerful pipes, he doesn’t rely on them to do the heavy lifting. Where Nytomot really shines is when he puts pen to paper. After releasing Love Street Blues way back in 2013, Nytomt is set for another go with a series of five-track EPs, with the first volume arriving in early 2018. He’s already released two songs from the project titled New York to Montana, the gritty jangling “Robert Jenkins” and the romantic space country ballad “Interstellar.”
Sounds Like: Cold Roses-era Ryan Adams with a slight Texan accent.
Required Listening: “Interstellar,” a romantic serenade that plays out like an indie flick set in space.
The Buffalo Ruckus
Denton’s country-rock outfit The Buffalo Ruckus draws much of their musical inspiration from the wealth of storytelling and robust textures of American roots music. There’s an earthy quality to their compositions. Their sophomore efforts of Peace & Cornbread further finds them stretching their legs and honing in on their ideal sound. At their best, they remind you of the best of the ’70s folk explosion or a rootsier version of The Band of Heathens or Uncle Lucius. Currently, the four-piece is planning on hitting the studio in the summer of 2018.
Sounds Like: Country-fried rock & roll with roots in southern soul and Appalachian folk that, at times, reminds you of The Band’s splendor.
Required Listening: “Hills and Valleys,” a piano-guided number that’s as haunting as it is captivating.
Judson Cole Band
San Angelo’s Judson Cole comes from the same branch of Texas Country as the likes of Erick Willis, Grady Spencer and Zac Wilkerson. His latest EP, The First Three, was released this past fall and produced by rising producing star Nick Jay. Still, Cole and company are set to return to Jay’s Central Texas studio to record a set of stripped-down acoustic songs before refocusing on full-band material. Yet to be titled, Cole will be releasing the acoustic set this March.
Sounds Like: The ride back home after late nights at the bar. The effortless blending of Gold-era Ryan Adams and Texas Country’s soulful side.
Required Listening: “Battles,” an introspective offering filled with heartening advice on picking yourself up after a hard tumble.
Hunter Rea Band
Belton’s Hunter Rea Band didn’t rush into releasing too much before they were ready. While they’re definitely still a new band on the circuit, the four-piece consciously waited for the right songs to come before releasing their debut full-length. That time, effort and patience pays off immensely for the group with the ever promising Lovin’ Ain’t Free. At times, it’s light and refreshing in a similar vein to Flatland Cavalry or Jamestown Revival. For most of the album, they explore the missteps of the dating world and the eventual uncovering of genuine love with anthemic choruses and intimate love ballads that are as soft as rose petals.
Sounds Like: The smooth and effortless harmonies of Green River Ordinance. The crisp and airy melodies of Flatland Cavalry.
Required Listening: “Dark & Light,” a serene love ballad just right for a first dance.
East Texas’ Drugstore Gypsies sound as if they spent most of their late teens digging through their parents’ record crates. Their debut self-titled is a hodgepodge of ’70s homages that check off all the staples of the day. For the most part, they add their own new spin on old tricks. Greasy ZZ Top guitars, Bobby Keys saxophone, Marshall Tucker Band‘s country-tinged Southern Rock and California Country harmonies all receive high marks. Still, there’s a large Texas Country presence in songs like the Randy Rogers Band-esque “Keep You Rollin’ On.”
Sounds Like: Uptempo grooves and Eagles-Lite harmonies combined with a polished Southern Rock flair.
Required Listening: “Breakin’ The Law,” a feel-good groove that lays the foundation for a hodgepodge of fat guitar lines, timely harmonies, boozy saxophone and warm organ.