Don't let anyone fool you: country music is better and more diverse than its ever been. Whether you like the traditional styles or the shiny, chrome-plated pop of Nashville, there are scores of rising artists who are producing excellent music. As we head into the new year, here are some artists we think are poised to make major breakthroughs in their careers, and some who you should just keep on your radar. From New Zealand to Music Row and everywhere in between, here are rising country artists you should watch in 2017.
If you're a fan of traditionalist country music, look no further than Shane Owens. Although he may be a new name to you, he's been hard at work making music for years. After three failed record deals, he's finally released his debut project, and it's worth the wait. His brand new album, Where I'm Comin' From, features an appearance from John Anderson, while country legend Randy Travis makes a cameo in his video for "Country Never Goes Out of Style." There's a reason why your favorite country stars are supporting Shane Owens, and it's all about the music. -- Lorie Liebig
What he sounds like: A fresh but nostalgic mixture of Tracy Byrd, Daryle Singletary and a dash of Keith Whitley.
Required listening: "Country Never Goes Out of Style," an infectious ode to staying true to your country roots.
Over the last year, North Carolina native Luke Combs has earned praise for his gritty voice and relatable, rocking tunes that you come to expect from artists like Jason Aldean. He built a huge following by posting stripped-down covers on his YouTube page and sharing his own independently released tunes. His infectious heartbreak anthem "Hurricane" quickly became a fan favorite and helped him snag a record deal with Sony Music in October. With plenty of pure talent and power behind him, 2017 looks to be the year that Luke Combs really breaks through to the mainstream. -- Lorie Liebig [Read more]
What he sounds like: A grittier Lee Brice, with an added dash of Southern-rock edginess made mainstream by Brantley Gilbert.
Required Listening: "Hurricane," a guitar-heavy tale of encountering that ex that left you a total mess.
Fans of the countrypolitan and vintage honky-tonk will instantly fall in love with Whitney Rose. The Canadian-born singer has been inspired by the music of artists like Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Hank Williams since she was a young child. As an adult, she's created a style that exudes retro but feels distinctly modern. She's already caught the attention of some of the best in the business. Raul Malo, frontman of the Mavericks, produced her second record and helped get her established in Austin, Texas, where she's become one of the city's most notable performers. With her new EP, South Texas Suite, and a new LP in the works, there are great things on the horizon for Rose. -- Matt Alpert [Read more]
What she sounds like: One part vintage pop, two parts honky-tonk.
Drake White already had what most upcoming artists would consider a charmed year. For starters, he toured all over with Zac Brown Band. His debut album Spark landed at No. 4 on the country charts, fusing his love of country, folk and funk in a refreshing way. The whole process has taken awhile; he released the first single off that album back in February 2015. But with his increasing exposure on the road and the warm reception to his debut record, White appears poised to take it all up a notch in 2017. -- Jeremy Burchard [Read More]
What he sounds like: The swagger and twang of Eric Church with a bent towards classic soul.
Required listening: "Makin' Me Look Good Again," a powerful song that shows off White's impressive vocal power and range.
Ned LeDoux, the second son of legendary country artist Chris LeDoux, started touring with his father's band at an early age. The years he spent playing drums behind his father lit a fire in him to chase a music career. When his father passed from cancer in 2005, Ned stepped out front to try singing and guitar. Thank the Lord that he did. Ned sounds uncannily like his father and brings his own fiery vocal talents and passion to his songs. His debut EP, Forever Country, is a collection pure country with no fluff; these are songs about real life as a rancher in the American West. If you love cowboy country, Ned LeDoux will be one of your favorite new artists. -- Matt Alpert
What He Sounds Like: A continuation of the country legacy his rodeo troubadour father began.
Required Listening: "Forever a Cowboy," a testament to the real life of an American cowboy.
It's been a big year for women in country music. Between the rising career of Margo Price and promising releases from artists such as Kelsey Waldon and Michaela Anne, country women are making their voices heard with or without radio play. You can add Tami Neilson to that list. The Canadian-born singer has drawn comparisons to both Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson, but she's no throwback novelty act. Neilson is pure country down to her bones. Her soulful, powerhouse voice moves seamlessly between western swing shuffles, rockabilly wailers, countrypolitan ballads and barroom weepers. -- Bobbie Jean Sawyer [Read more]
What she sounds like: Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline sitting at Tammy Wynette's kitchen table drinking cocktails.
Required listening: "Holy Moses," an impossibly fun, high heel stomping, rollicking rockabilly number for the scorned woman.
After moving from his home state of Michigan to attend Nashville's esteemed Belmont University, Ryan Hurd shifted his focus from sociology to songwriting. Since then, he's had songs cut by artists like Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts. In recent months, he's followed up his stellar solo 2015 EP Panorama with a collection of impressive singles. From the lighthearted "We Do Us" to sweet, laid-back "Hold You Back," each track seems to signal that 2017 will be his time to shine. -- Lorie Liebig [Read more]
What he sounds like: A grittier, twangier version of Jake Owen, with serious influences from traditional country greats like Hank and Waylon.
Required listening: "Love in a Bar", a fun and colorful story of finally finding love during a night out on the town.
The most lasting country artists always exude authenticity, and Mo Pitney has it in spades. Fans of classic era singers like Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley and even George Strait will instantly fall in love with Pitney's warm baritone and wholesomeness. After a long wait, the 23-year-old singer finally released his debut album this year. Behind This Guitar was well worth the wait, as it shows a young artist with a masterful sense of how to deliver a song. As center-of-the-line country is becoming more popular in the mainstream, we expect to see Pitney as one of next year's top young artists. -- Matt Alpert [Read more]
What he sounds like: A young Merle Haggard with a catalog of songs that any fan of George Strait will find appealing.
Required listening: "Boy & a Girl Thing," a wholesome, and hooky track that puts Pitney's rich voice front and center.
For years, Joshua Hedley has been making a name for himself as Nashville's right-hand man. Known as the "mayor of lower Broadway" by collaborators and comrades, Hedley is a fixture at Robert's Western World, where he plays for tips with his band the Hedliners. The multi-talented singer-songwriter has played fiddle with Justin Townes Earle, Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz. Now Music City's favorite son is breaking out on his own. -- Bobbie Jean Sawyer [Read more]
What he sounds like: Roy Orbison in a pearl snap shirt, Ray Price in a biker bar, your grandfather's record collection.
Required listening: "Don't Waste Your Tears," a gorgeous, haunting, bittersweet breakup song from his upcoming EP.
Midland seemingly came out of nowhere when their EP dropped in November. Although, the fellas in this country trio have been hard at work for a few years. Hailing from Dripping Springs, Texas, Midland aims to take the traditional country of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s and adapt it to the modern ear. Most intriguing is that they are a band in the traditional sense -- something you don't see much of within country music's star system. Midland takes several cues from the Eagles, bringing rich three-part harmonies and California swagger to their material. They're also signed to Big Machine Label Group, the label that reps both Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw. That means there's some extra gloss on the sound and image, but there's a heavy amount of firepower behind them. Keep your eyes on these guys in 2017. -- Matt Alpert [Read more]
What they sound like: Early 90's neo-trad country meets the Eagles.
Required listening: "Drinking Problem," a hook-driven country song that sounds just as home today as it would have with the class of '89.
For a singer-songwriter, it can sometimes take just one song to change your life. For 23-year-old Seth Ennis, that song is "Woke Up in Nashville," a ballad that speaks to anyone who is pining for the one that got away. Much like 2016's breakthrough artist Maren Morris, Ennis just inked a record deal after his independently released tune earned millions of streams on Spotify and snagged spins on satellite radio. With such a stellar lead single still gaining steam, the sky is seemingly the limit for this up and comer. -- Lorie Liebig [Read more]
What he sounds like: A mix of Hunter Hayes' youthful sound, the soul of Lee Brice and the swagger of Dierks Bentley.
Required listening: "Woke Up in Nashville", a reflective and pleading ballad to someone special he left behind.
A lot of folks in Texas have known about Cody Jinks for awhile now. His early 2015 album Adobe Sessions established him and his syrupy voice as one of Texas' most promising upcoming artists. His 2016 follow-up I'm Not The Devil cemented him as the real deal. And now, moving into 2017, Cody Jinks has the opportunity to really shine. He's already being called a "breakout artist" by D Magazine and one of Rolling Stone's "10 New Country Artists You Need To Know." Fans have obviously gotten the message as he sells out shows far from his Texas home in states like Ohio, California, Arizona, Washington and more. -- Jeremy Burchard [Read more]
What he sounds like: Powerful and deeply thoughtful outlaw country music.
Required listening: "Vampires," a phenomenal song that asks why we let others needlessly suck away our joy.