Maren Morris, Jon Pardi & More Shine During New Faces Show at Country Radio Seminar

Maren Morris performs in 2017
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Maren Morris

The New Faces Show brought this year’s Country Radio Seminar to a close Friday night (Feb. 24) at the Nashville Omni. And while the evening served as a deserved coronation of Columbia’s Maren Morris for the incredible year she continues to enjoy, the format might very well have given rise to the next soul-toned singer in the format, as well as one of the most traditionally-minded male artists since Alan Jackson came along.

First up for the evening was Dot’s Drake White. The Alabama native wasted no time showcasing his blue-eyed soul stylings to the industry crowd, with a set that included “Heartbeat,” “It Feels Good,” and his breakthrough record “Livin’ the Dream.” Perhaps he got his best reaction of the night on his current single “Makin’ Me Look Good Again.” White was definitely on his game from the opening line of the song, which gave him a showcase for his incredible vocal approach. Radio programmers might be very receptive to the new single, which could very well be the romantic ballad performance of the year. White has been around the block before, and his experience showed with a performance that seemingly made himself hard to follow.

That being said, Warner Brothers’ William Michael Morgan turned in a performance that was short on pyrotechnics, but long on traditional sounds. Morgan has been compared favorably to artists such as Jackson and George Strait, and his slot showed those influences. His Mississippi drawl made such tracks as “Missing,” “Vinyl,” and his number one smash “I Met A Girl” instant favorites among the crowd. One song to keep an ear out for in the future from Morgan is the tear-jerking ballad “I Know Who He Is,” which was written by Casey Beathard. Just as White possibly represents the future of a more soulful sound of the format, Morgan’s success should come as a relief to those who are wondering about the more down-home sounds of the format.

Also getting a good response was Wheelhouse’s Granger Smith. A longtime fan favorite in the Texas market, the singer has seen his stock rise with hits such as “Backroad Song” and “If The Boot Fits.” Perhaps the most emotional of all the evening’s performers, Smith gave an energetic set that ended with an appearance of his comedic alter-ego, Earl Dibbles, Jr. Many who have followed Smith for years were in on the character change, but some might have been in the dark.
Capitol’s Jon Pardi is known for his rowdy and energetic style, and his performance definitely brought a solid reaction from the crowd. Hits such as “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt On My Boots” elicited a loud response, with maybe his best performance coming on the honky-tonker “She Ain’t In It,” from his California Sunrise album.
Of course, all eyes were on Morris, who closed the evening’s festivities. She opened with the pulsating rhythms of her hit “80’s Mercedes,” before segueing into her new single, “I Could Use A Love Song.” Morris thanked radio for their support before delivering a knockout performance of her Grammy-winning “My Church.” She closed out the night -- and the CRS year -- with the undeniable swagger of “Rich.”

If you’ve wondered whether Morris’ success is due to the undeniable machine of Sony -- don’t wonder. She is that damn good, and has the stage confidence of an artist who has been entertaining for 20 to 30 years. Whether the night proves as beneficial to her as it could be to White or Morgan remains to be seen, but she entered the night in the drivers’ seat, and kept her footing on an even keel.


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