With Sturgill Simpson’s ascent to stardom and his “Album of the Year” Grammy nomination, traditional and neotraditional country music official have a seat at the table. That’s big news after just a few short years ago, when nary a peep squeaked through the fortified bro country wall of sound.
But as artists like Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Jason Isbell continue to lead the way, a second class of more traditional country-minded artists emerged. People like Margo Price and Cody Jinks help fortify this second wave.
Well, guess what? We’re here to introduce you to the third wave. That’s right. This traditional resurgence ain’t just a fad, and we’ve got the tunes to prove it. Let’s take a look at 15 rising traditional country artists you need to know.
Shane Owens is about as close as you’ll get to a modern version of Tracy Byrd or Keith Whitley. While Owens has been at it a really long time — about 15 years to be exact — he’s finally found himself in the right part of the music business. The industry cut Owens legs out from under him a few times, but now he’s on firm ground with a record that’s getting him attention as a traditional country revivalist. Read more about him in our recent feature.
You don’t need to make it more than a chorus into Paul Cauthen‘s “Still Drivin'” to hear the promise in his throaty baritone. He mixes that outlaw country sound of the 1970s with a near Conway Twitty-esque vocal timber and driving songs that would make C.W. McCall, Alabama and Dale Watson proud. As traditional country artists go, Cauthen certainly can stake his claim in a genre with a very diverse history.
The Nikki Lane love is strong here at Wide Open Country. In 2015, she snagged an Americana Music Association nomination for Emerging Artist. She returns with her first new music since that distinction. Highway Queen drops Feb. 17 and one listen to its lead single shows just why Lane already draws comparisons to neo-traditional king Sturgill Simpson.
Joshua Hedley has amazed Nashville for awhile now. But he’s finally getting his sound out beyond the 615, and that’s a very promising thing. From his cute, folksy vocabulary to his simplistic melodies and guitar parts, everything Hedley does feels like a throwback worthy of the future. He can’t stay a secret for that much longer.
Courtney Marie Andrews
This Phoenix native is only 26, but she’s already released five albums. Her 2016 effort Honest Life finally cracked through and hit No. 1 on the Americana charts in the UK. With a guttural wail reminiscent both of Emmylou Harris and modern critical darlings like Brandi Carlile, Cartney Marie Andrews is laying a solid foundation for future success.
Any fan of 2000s era pop rock knows the band Augustana. Those who followed the history of the band after its dissolution know lead singer and sole remaining member Dan Layus continued making music under the band’s name. Well, to prevent confusion he officially just switched everything over to his name, and now Dan Layus is making some of the best neotraditional music around. Released a few months ago, Dangerous Things is a an album you shouldn’t sleep on.
The Secret Sisters
Well technically, this amazing vocal duo isn’t much of a secret. They actually released a few albums on a major label, but left Universal in 2015. Whatever the circumstances of that departure, it’s hard to imagine the fault fell on the mesmerizing Lydia and Laura Rogers. If you must find a comparison, think “female Everly Brothers.” New music is reportedly in the works.
Little Bandit — a five-piece fronted by Alex Caress — is about to release new record Breakfast Alone on Feb. 10. One listen to first single “Bed of Bad Luck” and it’s not hard to hear the traditional country influence of artists like Conway Twitty. And though it’s not a staple identifier of their music, Caress’ life as an open gay man takes center stage in the music video as he laments about coping mechanisms and bad love. It’s really quite powerful to see a band utilize so many components of old-school country in such a progressive way.
We raved about nearly Cale Tyson two years ago — a long time to still be considering a rising artist. But it’s not like the Hank Williams throwback hasn’t been busy. In fact, he’s been building his brand so well that he’s spending much of Spring touring the U.S. and Europe. So while he may not have new music to promote just yet, the throwback from Cleburne, Texas is clearly on the right side of working hard.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Hurray for the Riff Raff have been around for almost 10 years, but it’s high time country fans pay attention to this folksy neotraditional trio from New Orleans. Similar to Sturgill Simpson’s recent Grammy-nominated album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, this band explores contemporary rhythms while staying firmly rooted in the ground. Country would do well to attach itself to Alynda Segarra and company’s raw take on life and love.
Luke Bell ended up in Nashville by way of Austin, by way of Wyoming. The honky-tonker goes to great lengths to capture a cool retro vibe, both in his look and his music. Bell counts country greats like Jimmie Rodgers and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott among his primary influences. Though he seems like humble country folk, Bell has serious road chops, too. His video for “Sometimes” was filmed at Santa’s Pub, a famous karaoke dive in Nashville where Bell routinely plays Sunday nights.
Whitey Morgan and the 78s
Who doesn’t love a little bit of Midwestern country? Whitey Morgan and the 78s hail from Flint, Mich. And though Whitey looks like a frontman ripped right out of a southern rock band, his music feels right at home in the outlaw country world. He almost feels like a modern David Allan Coe (and it’s not just the hair). His cover of Towne Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ ‘Round To Die” garnered praise from the late legend’s family. If you love outlaw country with some bite, check out his album Sonic Ranch.
Kelsey Waldon gained the respect of Willie Nelson, and if that’s all you need to know, that would be enough. Her sophomore album I’ve Got A Way is tinged in tube saturated vocals and breezy reverbed out slide guitar. Think if Miranda Lambert existed in the 70s outlaw country movement.
You’re sure to hear about how Brent Cobb is a cousin to producer wunderkind Dave Cobb, but he’s well worth knowing even without that fun tidbit. Still, the pair certainly made magic on Brent’s debut album Shine On Rainy Day. Released only a few months ago, the album is well on its way to earning critical and commercial success. It debuted at No. 17 on the country charts.
We may not always remember it, but Southern California is a serious breeding ground for country music. Sam Outlaw hails from the area, and since his 2015 debut has been building a loyal fan base. With a modern sound wrapped around traditional themes and arrangements, Outlaw is a fantastic gateway between the traditional country of today and of 60 years ago.