Country Newbies: RaeLynn, Brett Young and 6 More Artists to Watch in 2017
Debut albums are on the way from a handful of new(ish) country acts.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of hopeful country artists show up in Nashville every year, seeking that elusive opportunity to slip their names onto the tongues of an increasing fan base.
While it’s easier than ever to record and self-release music, successful acts still need a team in the trenches day-to-day. And nothing shows a team’s commitment to a new act more than the willingness to launch an album into the marketplace, especially in the current era, when sales of that configuration are a mere fraction of the album’s peak years.
Thus, artists such as Brett Young, RaeLynn and Luke Combs are in a positive place in their budding careers as they begin 2017 with a full album on the way, signifying either an already-growing public interest or a conviction from a label that, in fact, the artist has enough potential to justify the risk.
It’s not an easy road for any act. To succeed, a new artist has to compete against the likes of established performers such as Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Zac Brown Band, all of which mastered a similarly daunting journey when they were starting out.
Any newbie seeking inspiration need look no further than Chris Stapleton. After years of work in bluegrass and rock bands, he finally released his first solo album in 2015. Since then, he has piled up five Country Music Association Awards piled up five Country Music Association Awards, won two Grammys and topped five of Billboard’s 2016 year-end country charts.
“It’s encouraging,” says Young of Stapleton’s success. “They call Nashville a 10-year town, but you have to become aware of the fact that it might be 20 years for one person [to break through] and it might be three for another. The fact of the matter is, if music is something that you want to do, you need to stick with it with the idea that you’re going to do it until it works. For somebody like him, with all that talent, to have had that long of a journey and watch it pay off is really cool.”
Release schedules in the current era are fluid, to say the least. But here’s an overview of the artists who might well have full albums on the way during the first half of 2017:
• Ruthie Collins (Curb) — After moving to Nashville in 2006, Collins landed on CMT’s Can You Duet in 2008, but the focus in recent years has been on a solo career, fueled by a voice that bears the rural imprint of her upstate New York heritage. Songs such as “Heartstrong” (from a self-titled 2014 EP) and “Dear Dolly” suggest she’s a fighter unlikely to back down from adversity.
• Luke Combs (River House/Columbia) — Labeled a Highway Find and given plenty of exposure on SiriusXM, Combs jumped to Sony Music Nashville after initially signing a radio-promotion deal with Thirty Tigers. “Hurricane,” at No. 41 on the Country Airplay chart, exemplifies his skill-set. He writes subtly smart songs and sings them with distinct conviction. Combs released three EPs prior to his forthcoming debut album, which was self-funded before signing.
• Natalie Hemby (GetWrucke Productions) — Already established as a songwriter behind Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” and Lady Antebellum’s “Downtown,” Hemby co-wrote a big chunk of Miranda Lambert’s ambitious The Weight of These Wings. Her own album, Puxico, named for her Missouri birthplace, benefits from a voice of clarity and a classy melodicism. Producer Mike Wrucke (Lambert, Eli Young Band) frames it all with intriguing, but uncluttered, arrangements.
• Ryan Kinder (Warner Music Nashville) — Kinder owns one of the most interesting voices in the genre, a soul-edged resonance that’s accompanied by unique enunciations that make him instantly identifiable. He’s also an ace guitarist, apparent in the solo on new single “Close.” WMN has been grooming Kinder slowly since signing him after Bigger Picture folded. Early response gives some hope that this is the single that breaks through.
• The Last Bandoleros (Warner Music Nashville) — Blending Tex-Mex with ’80s pop and country influences, the group has become a favorite of Sting, touring and playing with the Englishman and automatically establishing a level of cred for its playful, infectious harmonies. The songs are upbeat and rocking — even if mainstream radio can’t wrap its head around it, the music is perfectly suited for the live circuit.
• RaeLynn (Warner Music Nashville) — A former contestant on NBC’s The Voice, RaeLynn has had her patience tested in the five years since then. She earned a top 10 single with 2014’s “God Made Girls,” accompanied by an EP, but left Big Machine without releasing an album. WMN reintroduced her with “Love Triangle” (No. 32, Country Airplay), a heartbreaker that shows she has learned to control the Tammy Wynette-like catch in her voice. First album WildHorse is expected June 30.
• Michael Tyler (Reviver) — A co-writer of Dierks Bentley’s “Somewhere on a Beach,” Tyler signed to Reviver as the label was establishing LoCash’s first bona fide hit. Produced by Michael Knox (Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins), his initial singles “Crazy Last Night” and “They Can’t See” demonstrate a knack for hooks and a boy-next-door vocal quality that fits into both party songs and youthful ballads.
• Brett Young (BMLG) — The California-born former athlete rode his first single, “Sleep Without You,” to No. 2 on the Country Airplay chart, infusing the track with a rangy voice that uses both a grainy lower tone and a nasal higher resonance. Sophomore single “In Case You Didn’t Know” embraces a sensitivity that has been key in his showcases. BMLG issues his first major-label album on Feb. 10.