Wide Open Country's Artists to Watch: May 2018

Kyle Goldberg/Alysse Gafkjen
Are you tired of hearing the same country artists on repeat when you listen to country radio? We are too, and that's why we're here to help you find the best and most underrated new artists in country music today. Each month, the Wide Open Country team selects an artist or group that they think will be the next big thing in country music. Here are our picks for the artists you need to know in May 2018.

Ben McKenzie

Stillwater's Ben McKenzie just may be Oklahoma's best secret. The gravel-voiced McKenzie has been haunting hole in the wall dive bars and songwriting circles for a few years now. In 2015, he released the promising EP Drive and is currently recording a full-length follow-up with legendary Red Dirt songwriter/producer Mike McClure. At only 25 years old, the young McKenzie writes well beyond his years. There's a gritty depth to his reflective lyrics. Like many of the Oklahoma songwriters before him, McKenzie captures the nuances of small town life with down on their luck character sketches.
Ever the wallflower, the former baseball player has a knack for stepping in the shoes of everyday blue-collar common folks. On songs like "The Bust," McKenzie paints the grim realities of a boom town gone belly up. He makes those crumbling walls come to life with a casual ease. He often balances a bleak romanticism with a wry sense of humor--often he's laughing to stop from tearing up. -- Thomas Mooney

Liz Brasher 

When it comes to Memphis-based singer, guitarist and songwriter Liz Brasher's Southern influences, no sacred or secular artist is off limits. The half-Dominican, half-Italian native of North Carolina grew up singing gospel hymns in Spanish. Since then, she's found other ways to make the music surrounding her suit her self-expressive needs. With a mighty voice that could front a soul ensemble or a mass choir, Brasher takes cues from everything from great blues pickers like Memphis Minnie to the more jazz-flavored cuts by Patsy Cline. 

Her new Outcast EP (Fat Possum Records) features two songs that've already made the rounds online-- the soulful statement of ambition "Body of Mine" and "Cold Baby," a love song that could've been a hit for Etta James or Amy Winehouse. -- Bobby Moore

Priscilla Renea

If you aren't blown away by the power, tone and wisdom behind every lyric sung by Priscilla Renea, you aren't listening. After working a songwriter for over a decade, penning dozens of hits for artists like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert ("Somethin' Bad"), Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson, Renea headed to Nashville to create her mind-blowing album Coloured. Dramatic, playful, honest and bold, the release is a refreshing blend of R&B and country that showcases Renae's storytelling talents.

Each song sounds like a journal entry that's delivered with honesty, depth and jaw-dropping vocal performances. She's a true talent with a perspective that the world of country music needs more than ever. -- Lorie Liebig

Elise Davis

Arkansas-native singer-songwriter Elise Davis started writing songs at just 12 years old. Perhaps that's why her songs of introspection and heartache hit so hard: she knows exactly what she wants to say and how to say it. Davis proved just that after moving to Nashville and releasing her knockout alt-country album The Token. Now she's back with a brand new album on the horizon. Her sophomore record Cactus drops this September. Davis has said the album follows a "heavy theme of feeling like a lone wolf, independent and sexually liberated."

The album's first single, "Don't Bring Me Flowers," is a smart, self-assured and dreamy look at desire and casual romance. It's the kind of sentiment country could use a lot more of and Davis is just the singer to share it. -- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

The Wandering Hearts

The Wandering Hearts hail from London, but they're doing folksy Americana as good as anybody kicking around the streets of East Nashville or Greenwich Village. The four-piece released their debut album Wild Silence in February 2018 and the burgeoning British Americana scene immediately took notice. Particularly their first single, "Wish I Could," released in early 2017 and carrying the kind of weighty folk pop sound found amongst contemporaries like The Civil Wars and The Lumineers.
And to go ahead and get the comparisons out of the way, yes, The Wandering Hearts could very well be the British folk pop answer to Little Big Town. They are, after all, two women and two men who can all hold their own on the microphone but find their strength in harmonies. The bearded Tim Prottey-Jones (who owns an uncanny Stapleton-esque growl) first met with Tara Wilcox at a show. They eventually met A.J. Dean and Chess Whiffin, and all four immediately clicked -- probably thanks to their mix of years in the U.K. scene and musical theater background. Now, The Wandering Hearts have the type of potential to take the U.S. by storm. -- Jeremy Burchard

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Wide Open Country's Artists to Watch: May 2018