The 2015 New Faces Show, which closes the annual Country Radio Seminar, was held Friday night (Feb. 27) at the Nashville Convention Center. And one thing was apparent — this isn’t your father’s country music… or was it?
Even though each of the five radio-voted performers definitely has a current sounding vibe, each brought something to the musical table that was at least reminiscent of something from the history of the genre.
First up was MCA Nashville’s Sam Hunt. Much has been made of the Georgia native’s very unique sound, and the intro for his hit “Leave The Night On” brought this to light. However, the singer connected with the audience instantly.
Other highlights from Hunt’s set included his chart-topping follow-up, “Take Your Time,” and the brilliantly-written “Break Up in a Small Town.” Both songs at times feature a recitation approach, which brought to mind some of the late ’70s recordings of another MCA artist, Barbara Mandrell, on “Woman to Woman” and “Married But Not to Each Other.” (OK, comparing Hunt to Mandrell might be a stretch, but if you recall, those records featured a very R&B approach, which was different than what Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton were doing at the time.)
Next up was Warner Brothers’ Frankie Ballard. If there was an award for the best overall performance of the night, it would belong to the Michigan native. A CRS visitor for five years, Ballard made the most of his time in the New Faces spotlight, delivering a performance that was equal parts skill and swagger, even down to his Elvis Presley-ish leather top.
He performed his back-to-back number one hits “Helluva Life” and “Sunshine and Whiskey,” and reunited with an old friend — his guitar, which he hadn’t played on stage since an injury in Houston a couple of weeks ago. His performance was as confident and assured as any that CRS attendees would see during the night, bringing to mind the soulful bad-ass bravado of Kid Rock or Bob Seger. It was his moment, and he knocked it out of the park. With his instrumental skills, he also shows the Hank Williams, Jr. influence, which was a huge hit with the sold-out crowd.
Next up was Dot’s Maddie & Tae, who took to the stage with their chart-topping debut “Girl in a Country Song.” But as good as that was, the duo showed that they are much more. Their harmonies were as airtight as anything the format has seen since the Dixie Chicks, a talent they showcased on their current single “Fly,” as well as the spellbinding “After the Storm Blows Through,” which left programmers standing up with applause.
EMI Nashville’s Eric Paslay was next, and though Ballard may have delivered the set of the night, there was no question what the individual performance of the evening was. His current single, “She Don’t Love You,” was one of those moments that radio will be talking about for years to come. He also connected with those in the audience on his radio hits “Friday Night” and “Song About a Girl.” In true classic songwriter fashion, he writes the songs, with hits from Jake Owen, the Eli Young Band, and Love & Theft, but he also does a pretty fine job of singing them as well.
Closing out the night was Warner Brothers’ Cole Swindell. After the presentation of a video showing him being coached by friends such as Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line, the singer took to the stage and proved that he had learned those lessons — and then some. He delivered on an up-tempo set that included his breakthrough 2013 hit “Chillin’ It,” as well as his number one follow-up “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” and current single “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” which showed just what he can do on a song that is a little more traditional in nature.
All throughout, Swindell was enjoying every moment of closing the final CRS at the Nashville Convention Center, with a huge smile on his face. (It was announced earlier this week that in 2016, the event would move to The Omni in downtown Music City.) So even though the names might be changing a little, and the boundaries stretching a bit, the 2015 New Faces Show proved the format is in good hands — and voices.