New artists are, according to an old adage, the lifeblood of the music industry, but the digital age has brought a transfusion to the very process that rolls artists out.
Where labels once discovered, developed and marketed acts, the current model often requires that the performers develop both their craft and an audience before they find their way onto a record-company roster. Thus, the seven artists that will launch their first album or EP for a prominent imprint during the first six months of 2019 have invariably created some kind of history on their own. That includes building an audience through heavy touring and/or producing EPs for self-release.
The creative class rolling out between January and June shows just how much the genre's marketing formula and content is changing. EMI Nashville artist Jon Langston is releasing tracks one at a time rather than in a collectable bundle. Broken Bow artist BLANCO unites the country/hip-hop trend in a next-level blend. And three of the entries incorporate foreign roots: Twinnie, a singer/actor from the United Kingdom; Canadian singer/songwriter Aaron Goodvin; and King Calaway, a six-man ensemble with two European-bred members.
Here's a look at the seven acts breaking out during the first half of 2019 with the equivalent of their first album or EP for a prominent country label:
• BLANCO (Broken Bow) — "Speechless" may be a Dan + Shay hit, but it's also a word that BBR Music Group executive vp Jon Loba uses to describe Blanco Brown, whose authentic hybrid sound is self-defined as "trailer trap" — part trailer park, part trap music. After splitting his childhood between the urban 'hood and summers in the country, he is able to seamlessly knit multiple genres together, blending Tracy Lawrence, T-Pain, "Dixieland Delight" and The Beach Boys in a series of yet-to-be-released tracks. Real artists don't just break rules; sometimes they rewrite them.
• Aaron Goodvin (Reviver) — The winner of the Canadian Country Music Association's songwriter of the year award, Goodvin placed songs with Luke Bryan, Jon Pardi and Cole Swindell on his way to a deal with Warner Music Canada. His voice has a grainy tinge, applied to a mix of hooky uptempo songs and revealing ballads. Raised in Alberta, 420 kilometers from the High Valley boys, he spent much of 2018 in Nashville working on his U.S. debut, which will be released as part of a global rollout on Feb. 8.
• Sam Grow (Average Joes) — With three self-released EPs under his belt, the Maryland-bred Grow is an experienced music maker with his first full country album due in the spring. Having played a reported 200 live dates in 2018, he's a hard-working band leader with a smoky vocal tone who counts Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Willie Nelson among his influences. Still, there's a slight Daughtry undercurrent to his first Average Joes single, "History Repeats Itself," due in late January.
• Lauren Jenkins (Big Machine) — Two years after issuing her inaugural EP, Jenkins lobs her first album, No Saint, into the market on March 15 with a voice that employs multiple personalities. Her lower resonance is haunting and spooky, while her upper register is biting and forceful. Quietly introduced on a 2014 Nashville album paying tribute to Mötley Crüe, her talents extend beyond the microphone: She wrote, co-produced and starred in a forthcoming short film, Running Out of Road.
• King Calaway (Broken Bow) — As country music becomes increasingly global, King Calaway is a natural evolution, a six-piece band with roots that extend from Minnesota to Delaware to Scotland to Gibraltar. Its debut EP, rife with thick harmonies, poppy energy and likely a cover of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," has a target date of Jan. 25. Produced by Ross Copperman (Dierks Bentley, Brett Eldredge), the band's drummer has some key country heritage: Chris Deaton's father is CMA Awards producer Robert Deaton.
• Jon Langston (EMI) — Langston is rolling out tracks in a Sam Hunt fashion: There's no official major-label EP, though he has already digitally released five songs and expects to have perhaps three more in circulation by June. The previously self-released artist has toured aggressively in the Southeast, building an audience before manager Kerri Edwards' KP Entertainment (Bryan, Swindell) picked him up. Langston's delivery combines swagger and immediacy over a production that's clearly geared for modern country radio.
• Twinnie (BMG) — The photo on her website has a distinct Shania Twain vibe, as does the pop-leaning hooks in her sometimes-danceable tunes, particularly the loping "Type of Girl." Hailing from York in northeast England (you just know someone is going to label her "the Duchess of York"), Twinnie Lee Moore earned attention in the U.K. soap Hollyoaks and played the Country Music Association's C2C Festival in 2017. Her first U.S. EP is expected Feb. 1.