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Wide Open Country’s Artists to Watch: September 2018

Lindsey Grace Whiddon
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 September 2018.

Cody Sparks Band

Back in 2016, Texas singer-songwriter Cody Sparks released Sinners and the Saved, a promising debut album filled with rural small town sketches that ventured out in the Great American West. He recently followed up with 4th of July, a strong four-song EP that sees Sparks hone in and make his mark as a songwriter. Sparks, who was raised in the small Texas Panhandle town of Perryton (Ryan Culwell is another native), it’s clear that that his narratives have been highly influenced by life out on the plains. That’s namely come with a sense and appreciation of space. Sparks and company recorded 4th of July with Timothy Allen (lead guitar for Shane Smith & The Saints) and Jon Terpstra, a budding producer-engineer tag team down in Austin. With plenty of frontier fiddle and sharp-cutting guitar often setting the scene, Sparks digs deep with gritty vocals and gut wrenching lyrics.

“Fourth of July” may sound as though it’s going to be a barn-burning party-starter, but Sparks delivers a slow-paced heartbreaker that plays out like one side of a final phone call. There’s a drunken sway to it that feels like the quietest final hours of a late night. It’s dim lit like a lone front porch light for one last cigarette before bed. Still, it’s “13 Folds” that’s Sparks’ best efforts. Much like a West Texas “Dress Blues,” Sparks pays tribute to Marine Lance Cpl. Seth Huston, a Perryton native and friend who was killed while station in Iraq in 2004. Lines like “Time moves on but time moves slow” show that wounds heal slowly. It’s as sobering and reflective a moment found in 2018. Sparks, who’s father is a pastor, has tinges of old world hymnal ambience that permeates his delivery. At other times, there’s western frontier edge and grit. It feels like an escape towards the coarse and rugged West that leans close to Shane Smith & The Saints, early Ryan Bingham and Red Shahan.  — Thomas Mooney

Jeff Mamett

If your definition of traditional country includes Guy Clark-style songwriting and the throwback showmanship of George Strait, go out of your way to hear Jeff Mamett’s sophomore album Carry Me Back. As a lyricist, he paints vivid worlds—“We lived on love and pennies, way down on Poorhouse Road”—and makes them more colorful with flourishes of Western flair (“Dark Spanish Eyes,” “An Outlaw’s Song”) and John Prine-level wordplay (“Jiggle in Her Wiggle,” “Bing Bang Boom”).

For the follow-up to 2015’s Here’s Your Hat…, the singer-songwriter called in some high-profile reinforcements. Childhood friend and Trace Adkins steel guitar player Wayne Addleman produced the album, with additional accompaniment via fellow Adkins side men Brian Wooten, Brent Wilson and John Richardson.

Throughout the 12-song collection, Mamett honors honky tonk heroes, from Ernest Tubb after he stopped singing like Jimmie Rodgers to today’s Americana underdogs. — Bobby Moore

Ben Fisher

September often coincides with the Jewish new year, a week-long observance that begins with Rosh Hoshanah (this year, that’s sundown on Sept. 9) and ends with Yom Kippur (sundown on September 19th.) Rosh Hoshanah is a joyful time where we reflect upon the eternal and cyclical nature of life (represented by a round challah) and eagerly anticipate the potential of the dawning of the new year. In the Jewish tradition, it’s typical to spend the week between the two holidays paying back debts — both financially and in the form of apologizing to anyone we wronged in the previous year. Yom Kippur is more somber, a day of fasting and atonement. It’s fitting, then, that Ben Fisher’s new album Does the Land Remember Me? will be released on the Friday before.

Fisher has lived in Israel, documenting the tensions between the Palestine and Israel for The Jerusalem Post. Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip have become a particularly tricky topic for American Jews like Fisher and myself, but Fisher uses this album to give humanity to many different people impacted by the events of 1948 and after. Beyond Fisher’s musical accomplishments with this album, it’s a blueprint for how to tell a complex story where the voices of some are often muted in favor of others. — Rachel Cholst

Emily Hackett

Since moving to Nashville from Atlanta, Ga., Emily Hackett has made a name for herself opening for the likes of Lady Antebellum and Luke Bryan. But it was only a matter of time before the singer stepped into the spotlight on her own. And when it comes to proper introductions, it doesn’t get better than Hackett’s “Good Intentions,” a soulful anthem for works in progress and anyone who’s ever given up on an ambitious New Year’s resolution. “Gonna get skinny this year and I’ll swear that I’ll stop cursin’,” Hackett sings on the track. “Gonna stop drinkin’ this beer, try to keep the lines from blurring.” It’s a surefire a radio hit if there’s any justice. Like Maren Morris’ breakout hit “My Church,” it’s a bold and honest declaration from a much-needed voice. — Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Rising Appalachia

It seems downright odd to call Rising Appalachia an “Artist To Watch,” given they’ve made a point to be quite visible in their message and activism since their early days recording in an Atlanta basement — all the way back in 2005. Even now, they’re in the midst of a European tour named after their new single, “Resilient.” But that being said, there’s a palpable excitement around not just the message they’re spreading, but the music through which they’re doing. Formed by sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, Rising Appalachia mixes beautiful roots and folks instrumentation with folk-pop leanings gorgeous smoky vocals. In many ways, their music is entrancing. There’s a real cool, new-school mellow twist applied to their notably old-timey sound.
One of the coolest things about the duo is their consistent work to make a change where they can. Case in point: their “Slow Music Movement,” which focuses on sustainable touring practices among artists and festivals alike. Part of the goal is for them to shift the paradigm from glitz and glam of entertainment to a much more “public service”-based concept. Where artists serve as cultural catalysts and agents for activism and change. They also work to reduce waste at their shows, engage community outreach initiatives and source farm-to-table food. In other words, they’re not just incredibly talented — they’re incredibly thoughtful. — Jeremy Burchard

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Wide Open Country’s Artists to Watch: September 2018