The first album is a rite of passage, and five country artists — including Jordan Davis, Morgan Evans and Ashley McBryde — are expected to launch that inaugural project on U.S. soil in the first six months of 2018, providing an extra sense of their work for fans who’ve heard their initial singles but not found the deep cuts to date.
It’s one of the crucial challenges for a new act, one that both LANCO and Devin Dawson get to experience this week. LANCO’s Hallelujah Nights and Dawson’s Dark Horse are both due Jan. 19, backing their first hit singles, “Greatest Love Story” and “All On Me,” respectively, but also providing roughly 40 minutes more music that allows consumers to get a wider feel for their artistry.
“That’s what I’m excited for, for people come to the shows having listened to the record and experienced these songs on their own,” says Dawson. “There’s something different when you play a song for somebody for the first time. You can only really have them zone in on one or two or three things. Most people are lyric people, some people are groove people, some people are melody people, but when you’ve experienced the song already on your own, you hear the things you want to hear and you can go back and listen again [for something else].”
The path to a first full album has changed over time. Typically, one or two tracks made their way to radio stations before an entire project was found in stores. But with the recent shift toward streaming — and with the decreased attention on albums — labels have increasingly opted to issue one or more EPs as a building block on the way to that inaugural LP.
At least four acts will lob their first EP into the market between now and June 30: Wheelhouse duo Walker McGuire, EMI singer/songwriter Brandon Lay, new Riser House/Columbia Nashville signee Mitchell Tenpenny and Average Joes traditionalist Devin Burris.
Meanwhile, here’s a look at the five acts expected to take that important step during the first half of 2018 with the album that sets the tone for their American story:
• Jordan Davis (MCA Nashville) — Debut “Singles You Up” established Davis’ commercial tendencies with its hooky chorus and tough-edged production vaulting it to No. 24 on Hot Country Songs, but there’s more to the Shreveport, La., native than sleek surface sounds. The lyrical specificity in “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot” and “Leaving New Orleans” point to his storytelling abilities, and his conversational phrasing owes a debt to 1970s folk/pop figure Jim Croce. With former Boys Like Girls guitarist Paul DiGiovanni handling production, Davis is able to keep one foot in popular music’s past with the other planted firmly in 2018. Home State is due March 23.
• Devin Dawson (Atlantic/WEA) — “All on Me,” positioned at No. 13 on Country Airplay, put Dawson’s reassuring message and vocal presence in the public consciousness at an opportune time, countering the agitated vibes of the national discourse. With producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town) overseeing his efforts, Dawson’s introductory country album, Dark Horse, leans on the progressive side with pop-flavored melodies and the occasional artsy touch. He fronted a rock band in California on his way up, and that influence can be heard in his phrasing on “Dip” and “Placebo” — and in the alt-tinged flavor of the title track.
• Morgan Evans (Warner Music Nashville) — Comparisons to Keith Urban are unavoidable, since Evans is a fellow Aussie with a similar vocal range and a spouse — in this case, Kelsea Ballerini — who’s also in the public eye. Evans uses an Ed Sheeran-like loop pedal to good effect, backing ultra-melodic songs and an amiable personality onstage, while his recordings — produced by Chris DeStefano (Chase Rice, Brett Eldredge) — deftly mix a familiar guitar foundation with exploratory sonics. While he has one album out Down Under, first U.S. single “Kiss Somebody” (No. 55, Country Airplay) hints at the complex emotions and the overall positivity at work in his material.
• LANCO (Arista Nashville) — With the recent No. 1 single “Greatest Love Story” under its belt, LANCO is poised to make waves with the Jan. 19 release of its debut album, Hallelujah Nights. With drummer Tripp Howell leading the percussive charge, its tracks dance and pulse with quasi-anthemic tendencies behind Brandon Lancaster‘s relatable, every-man vocals. The band weaves playful gang vocals into several titles — particularly the good-timin’ “Trouble Maker” — helping them generate audience involvement in their live shows. For the next few weeks, those dates include the opening slot on Chris Young‘s -current Losing Sleep Tour.
• Ashley McBryde (Atlantic/WEA) — Listeners with more than a decade of history in country will hear a familiarity in McBryde’s “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”: a vocal huskiness and raw vulnerability similar to Tammy Cochran, whose “Angels in Waiting” was one of the most emotional releases of 2001. But there’s an uncommon ferocity to McBryde, too — a natural, Arkansas-bred Southernality and a fair amount of sarcasm and acerbic venom, demonstrated in such YouTubed song titles as “I Hate Your New Girlfriend,” “I Ain’t Crazy (But I Can Be If I Have To)” and “You Got Fat, I Got Famous.”