Discussion: Playin’ Favorites

Sure, we want all of our little country music-singing babies to grow up strong and healthy and produce great material. Because we love all of them equally, right? Right.

But admit it: you’ve got a favorite kid. There’s a new or emerging artist out there right now who really piques your interest, who brings something just a little extra-special to the table.

If you ask me, the pool of rising country music talent hasn’t been this solid in years. Now, I personally don’t think that most of the artists who fall under that “rising” classification seem to be making great music right out of the gate – see Blake’s excellent Darius Rucker review for a recent example – but the potential present in some of these acts is pretty exciting, no?

And potential is what we’re rewarding here. For my money, no act out there has got more of it (artistically speaking) than Joey & Rory, the husband-and-wife duo who rose to reality-T.V. semi-stardom on CMT’s Can You Duet (which I never watched) before signing with Sugar Hill. They’ve only released one single so far – the frisky “Cheater, Cheater” – but there’s some clear songwriting talent here, plus a unique sound and an endearing back story. And they just seem so darn real. Like the sort of people I might meet standing in line somewhere or sitting on the subway. Seriously, check out their (admittedly cheesy) submission video to Can You Duet and try telling me you’re not sort of in love with them, too:

Now, your turn. Who is your favorite rising country music act, and why? It can be someone completely new or someone who’s sort of making a belated commercial splash (à la James Otto), and don’t be afraid to get all Americana/Texas/fringey/independent on us if you want. If their profile is on the incline, they’re good. And…go!


  1. I love, love, love their record and love what they represent. Here’s my review of the CD and here’s a preview of one of the tracks from the CD.

    As for other new artists, The Lost Tra…er I mean Lady A and think they have the potential to be huge stars and they have some great songs in them yet. Jamey Johnson is an obvious one too.

  2. Okay, call me sappy, but that was such a cute video! Joey and Rory were completely endearing on Can You Duet, by far my favorite duo. I don’t know if they have a commercial future, but I wish them luck.

  3. My favorite new country artists are Lady Antebellum, Chuck Wicks, and Julianne Hough.

    Lady Antebellum, to me, have the potential to be huge! Their debut album is one of my favorites of the year. Their live shows are great and I think they’re ready to perform with the big stars of country. Plus, they are the coolest people I’ve ever met!! I think they should steal the New Artist award away from Rodney Atkins at this year’s CMA awards.

    Like Lady A, Chuck Wicks’ debut album has been one of my favorites. I downloaded the album from iTunes a week after it was released and I never listened to it until after I saw him on the Paisley Party tour in May and I loved it. All the songs are great, though they could be stronger, but I think with a few more good songs, he’ll be big.

    I’ve loved Julianne ever since she was on Dancing with the Stars. When I heard she was recording a country album, it immediately went onto my ‘must-have list.’ Once it was released, I bought it and I knew the songs two days after it was released. Like Chuck, I think with a few more good songs and a couple of radio hits, this girl could have a long career.

    I’ve also enjoyed the debut albums of Luke Bryan and Ashton Shepard.

  4. Then I must be sappy too, Lynn. I loved that video. Joey + Rory is who I would pick as well. I’m excited about their more traditional sound. In light of Bomshel’s recording, J+R have shown, with “Cheater Cheater”, that they can bring a potentially mediocre song to life. If I had only heard the other version, I never would have paid attention to the song in the first place (No offense to Bomshel or their fans).

    And of course, I am also rooting for Ashton Shepherd, though I’m getting nervous about her chances at this point, since the buzz surrounding her has died down.

  5. I have been a fan of Ashley Monroe for several years, and was actually able to lay my hands on a copy of her unreleased CD from itunes and have listened to her songs on myspace, and have to say that I wish this girl would be given the airtime, etc. that she deserves. For a person so young, she seems to have amazing songwriting ability and a voice that just amazes me. I hope that someone will give her a contract and let her be heard by others, but I am not sure if that will happen in the current format.

    I also have to say that I like Ashton Shepard, Lady A and Jamey Johnson.

  6. I resoundingly second Ashley Monroe. Luckily, I was able to grab a digital copy of her album before it was too late as well. Maybe you’re the one who alerted me to it being on Amazon at The9513? At any rate, I love the album and really wish she’d break through. I guess I didn’t mention her because I’ve lost hope that it’s happening any time soon. While I’m pulling for J+R, I’d love to see Monroe make it even more, since I have an entire wonderful album from her by which to judge.

  7. ok all my favorites have already been mentioned: ashton, lady A , chuck wicks, luke bryan, julianne hough, but one hasn’t: crystal shawanda. There are others that im watching, but i wouldnt call them my favorites yet…darius rucker for example

  8. That woman is h-o-t. :)

    I think my two “c’mon kid” choices are Ashley Monroe and Carter’s Chord. I’d also like to see how far Lady A can go, and how they can subtly change themselves to get there.

  9. Marc,

    I received a promo copy of Carter’s Chord’s album the other day, but I’m confused about when it’s actually going to be released onto CD. Initially, the release date was set for today, but I guess the date has been changed to an unknown time now. People will just have to be happy with the digital release for now.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the album. It’s less traditional than I typically prefer, but the songs have great melodies and their family harmony is something I can’t get enough of.

  10. Danielle Peck, Ashton Shepherd and Amy Dalley are solid talents that will probably never get a chance in Nashville. Amy has been around for quite a while…dang that CURB Records for not going to bat for this lady!

    Ashton Shepherd is the pick of the crop…her glorious twang is infectious.

  11. Leeann, I think that was me about Amazon, and we are one the few lucky ones to have Ashley’s CD – I have been thinking about getting the Carter’s Chord CD and the more I hear about them the more I think I am going to have to get it.

    I always enjoy hearing about new artists because I love broadening my music tastes.

  12. I’ve previewed a little of the Joey & Rory (thanks, Matt), but will hold off judgment until I hear more.

    Ashton Shepherd, with a little seasoning, has great potential. She writes from a very unique place. The same goes for Crystal Shawanda. Her album was quite good, and I think her future releases will show a better understanding of who she is as an artist.

    Jamey Johnson deserves a long, plentiful career. Writing, singing, whatever, whenever.

    Dan, I’m not quite as sold on the new crop of country talent just yet. We had a real purple patch (term of the day!) with Dierks, Gretchen, Sugarland, Carrie, Miranda, Little Big Town and Josh Turner in a 2-3 year stretch. These artists will still be relevant (with the probable exception of Gretchen) twenty years from now. The last couple years have not been as profitable, but quite a few of the fringe acts do show a lot of promise.

  13. Blake, I think the big difference between now and a few years ago is that most of the more talented new acts are either not achieving great commercial success (i.e. Shepherd, Johnson, Monroe) or are making somewhat middling music in an attempt to do so (i.e. Rucker, Shawanda, Otto, if he counts).

    Personally, I think that has more to do with the current popular music climate than with them as artists. Every artist you mentioned had at least a platinum-selling debut album (or breakthrough album, for LBT). Now it’s a pretty big achievement if an album by anyone is able to sell gold. The hill has gotten a lot steeper for newbies; compromises are being made.

    On the other hand, I agree that the last several years up until now haven’t produced anyone I would pick to carry on the genre. I could do just fine without Kellie, Bucky, and Jason Aldean, and of course the jury is still sort of out on whether Taylor Swift will ever make music for the non-tween set.

  14. Eric Chruch. I wish Capitol would quit pushing back the relesase of his new album. I’ve heard some cuts off it and I think all of you will be pleasantly suprised.

  15. To the guy who talked about Amy Dalley and Curb,

    She had 6! singles released to country radio over the course of 3 years. Should Curb have released a record with them, probably but none of them got higher than 25. I do think that they will release a digital album on her if she ever gets a hit on her own, since the label is probably one of the most ‘careful’ in terms of releasing records on their artists.

    As for Eric Church, Capitol isn’t going to release an album without a moderate top 40 hit. It’s as simple as that, particularly given the current sales climate.

  16. Joanna Cotten!!!!
    So good she was mentioned! I heard her album for the first time on this weekend, and I just can’t stop listening! She’s amazing.

    I also like Ashton Shepherd a lot, and Ashley Monroe, Lady A…

    I think Jessica Harp, from The Wreckers, are great, and she will be releasing her album soon (I hope). I think it can be a success too.

  17. @ Blake. “We had a real purple patch (term of the day!) with Dierks, Gretchen, Sugarland, Carrie, Miranda, Little Big Town and Josh Turner in a 2-3 year stretch. These artists will still be relevant (with the probable exception of Gretchen) twenty years from now.”

    That statement kind of surprised me. I’m just curious what you mean by relevant.

  18. I dont normally agree with vp, but I also like Heidi but didnt really consider her a new artist, as she has been around for several years, but in a way she can be considered a new artist as she is on her own.

  19. Leeann, Yeah I’m not to sure when it comes out now. Amazon suggests a “no release date has been set”. How helpful!

    I have a.. err.. uuhh.. advanced.. copy of the .. err. digital album. I think I like them because it’s a slightly more “traditional” or “country” version of SHeDAISY. That’s a bad comparison.. but there isn’t much else out there I can think of while swamped at work that has such harmonies.

  20. I think it’s counterproductive to use the term “fringy” to describe authentic country music, simply because it isn’t being pushed by the powers that be. A lot of music may be on the “fringe” commercially, but musically it’s much closer to country music’s center, and to label it “fringy” despite that, is to concede that the commercialists get to define what country music is, and then all is lost.

    that being said, Mike Stinson and Amber Digby.

    Mike’s voice is definitely unique and I love it but I can see it being an acquired taste, but his songs are straight up-and-down, undeniable, country masterpieces. His records sound damn good too.

    and Amber Digby is probably the best girl country singer out there today. I honestly don’t know how someone could really like country, and not like Amber Digby

  21. Libby,

    By relevant, I mean that their music will still important in the formation of the genre, even if their commercial success has subsided by that point. Those acts, among others, will be cornerstones of the genre like Alan, Garth, Vince, Reba and Patty in the ’90s. Their music and their artistry will endure despite the trends of the times.

  22. I haven’t been able to get excited about any newcomer for a very long time, with the exception of Amber Digby. And I agree with Hollerin’ Ben about allowing the commercialists to define what country is. The term has been totally co-opted by people who neither know nor care about the history of country music. I honestly don’t know why most of the stuff that gets played on mainstream country radio is marketed as country. Why is Taylor Swift considered to be part of the same genre as Loretta Lynn?

  23. I agree with many already mentioned, especially Ashton Shepherd.

    My most pleasant of discoveries over the past few months has been Rebekka Paige

    I was first drawn to This young Canadian singer /songwriter when I heard her and her bands wonderful version of “Unbreakable Heart” from myspace.com/rebekkapaige

    Going against my normal preference for new songs, for me, “Unbreakable heart” is the standout track on the CD. Many of the other tracks are much more “country pop”. Of these I particularly enjoy “Girls Like Fast Cars too”.

  24. Ben,

    I really only used the word “fringey” to make the point that this post was open for mention of artists from all corners of the country music tent. Maybe I should have thrown in the word “independent” or something, too. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that less commercially prominent acts like Digby and Stinson aren’t “authentic country,” or that more commercially prominent acts inherently are, or any of that.

    I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t looked into Stinson yet, so I’m going to do that today. As for Digby – I’ve been a fan of the songwriting, but I’m not quite sold on her singing yet. We shall see.

  25. Matt, I know the digital version has been out. I was talking about the hard copy. I was sent a hard copy the other day, which seems to mean that hard copies exist but aren’t being officially released yet. Some people still resist digital albums, so an album likely won’t do as well if it ‘s only released that way. I suppose a digital only release usually doesn’t bode well for an actual release for an album.

  26. I like the comparison between SheDaisy and Carter’s Chord. I never really thought of it until Marc mentioned it…I like both of those acts. I was a huge SheDaisy fan when they first came out. Now, I’m starting to get into Charter’s Chord more and more.

  27. I’ll admit, I’m also not a big fan of any of mainstream country’s newest artists. Although I like some pop-country, I’m really not much of a pop fan, and that’s what I’m hearing – in vocals, production and songwriting.

    Most of my favorite new artists aren’t remotely new to anyone other than me. The more I listen to the radio/check out CMT, the more I look elsewhere (the blogs!) for recommendations. I’ll have to give Amber Digby another listen.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with Hollerin’ Ben’s first comment. Thank goodness for those artists who keep going despite the lack of mainstream support. I’m grateful that the internet has made them more accessible to everyone.

  28. There’s a number that have already been mentioned that I’m excited about (Jamey Johnson, Ashton Shepherd, Joey + Rory), but I’d like to throw in a few more: Sunny Sweeney, Drew Kennedy, Corb Lund, David Serby, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle and The Wrights. Just don’t ask me to pick a favorite. It’s…too…hard…

  29. Where is my brain?! How could I have forgotten Justin Townes Earl?Even if he never has commercial success, I hope he still finds ways to put out albums.

    Ben, good point, though I knew what Dan meant there. Don’t holler, but I haven’t been able to get into your suggestions. I haven’t written them off though. I usually know when it’ll never happen for me and I’m not there yet with them.

  30. That’s it, Ben. I’m finally going to check out Mike Stinson.

    Everyone I would have thought to mention in this thread has already been mentioned repeatedly, so no fresh response to Dan’s original question from me.

  31. I know he didn’t mean anything against the music by the fringe thing, but I think it’s important to remind ourselves that clear channel doesn’t get to define country music. There is an attitude that country music is a “radio format” rather than a “music tradition”. We need to be vigilant against accepting that attitude.

    “Ben, good point, though I knew what Dan meant there. Don’t holler, but I haven’t been able to get into your suggestions.”

    WHAT?!?!?!?!?! ARRGHHHHHHH!!!!!

    seriously though, it’s cool. Stinson hit me like a revelation, but I know a few people who had to warm up to him. He has a new record coming out this fall that Jesse Dayton is producing and I’m hoping that works to finally introduce him to a larger audience.

    I’m surprised you guys aren’t feeling Amber Digby though, super country songs, super country singing, what’s not to like?

    I’ll add a few more LA guys to my list of “artists who excite me”, David Serby (as Brody mentioned) has a unique “blues rock” sort of country, and I think his songs keep getting better and better.

    Dave Gleason is like, well, honky tonk music incarnate. the dude has amazing guitar chops and is really setting the bar for b-bender playing, really really solid country phrasing in his vocals, and on top of that writes damn good country songs. He ventures into the whole alt-country thing from time to time, as well at the hippy grateful dead thing, which I like but I know isn’t for everyone, but as an overall talent he’s hard to beat.

    Thirdly, Jaimi Shuey is a singer songwriter here in L.A. who has really impressed me. I think her song “The Wrong Girl” is one of the best new country songs I’ve heard in years.


  32. Okay. Okay. I’ll finally give the Wrights a real chance! I just didn’t like the song that they wrote for Alan Jackson, “If Love Was A River” or something to that affect. However, a lot of you guys that I respect keep mentioning them. So, I’ll put that song out of my head and give them an unbiased chance.

  33. “I know he didn’t mean anything against the music by the fringe thing”

    Seriously, just so we’re clear, I wasn’t even classifying traditionalist acts like the ones you’re suggesting as “fringe.” To me, “fringe” would be someone like Neko Case or Jenny Lewis whose music blends elements of country tradition with other genres of music. I was speaking in purely musical terms in the post, and I threw out “fringe” as just one (musical, not commercial) classification of country music that I thought would illustrate my point: that this post is all-inclusive. I’m definitely a big-tent person, but I certainly agree that country music has certain traditional sounds which must be upheld for it to be accurately called “country” and that it is much more than a radio format.

  34. Leeann, check out the Wrights self-titled EP first (and then tell me you don’t love them ;).

    Hollerin’ Ben, I’m loving some of your suggestions – artists I can see live! I’m headed up to The Mint to finally see Hayes Carll next month (who is in the UK and Italy right now for those of you over there). LA’s a wee bit of a trek, but I know it well. Now only if we can get some of those Texas boys to come west…

  35. I like the Lost Trailers first single, Holler Back quite a bit, although I’ll have to reserve judgment for the future, seeing as how their album supposedly isn’t very good.

    I’m not falling head over heals for Ashton Shepherd, but I’m liking Sounds So Good so far.

    It’s a shame I haven’t heard Eric Church more often, because I feel like I could like him if radio gave him a chance. I was shocked when Sinners Like Me came on the radio the other day.

    Lady A. hasn’t done anything to blow me away yet, but I like them a little anyway. I see potential.

    Jaydee Bixby won second place on Canadian Idol last year, and although his first single Old Fashioned Girl wasn’t brilliant, it showed the charm of a vocalist who could turn out some good material. I’m looking forward to more.

  36. Ha, Dan! Neko Case and the BE Good Tanyas are exactly what I thought of when you said “fringe.” I definitely didn’t think you were meaning true traditionalists. What do I win?

    Lynn, as promised I’ve checked out The Wrights and I’m completely sold. The three albums that I’ve found on Amazon are being downloaded as I type. Yup. There goes another $30! And I’m okay with it.

    By the way, they’re obviously not new, but I love Neko Case and The Be Good Tanyas.

  37. Since she made her incredible debut with BRAMBLE ROSE in 2002, I have been a strong advocate for Tift Merritt, a fine alternative country-rock singer/songwriter from North Carolina. Her songwriting on the three albums she’s released thus far (2004’s TAMBOURINE, and 2008’s ANOTHER COUNTRY are the other two) is very rootsy and imaginative; she’s got a great voice; and her sound shows the old-school 1970s country-rock influences of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

    Tift is definitely someone to watch out for in the near-future, if not on conventional country radio, then certainly somewhere else (IMHO).

  38. I have several favorite “kids”: Ashton Shepperd, James Otto, Jamey Johnson, Aaron Watson, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle, and Sarah Johns.

    But my absolute favorite is definitely Eric Churh. I think this guy has a lot of potential. There’s just something about him that’s I find very fascinating. I think he’s got loads of charm and his solid songwriting skills will only improve in the future. If only radio would give him a chance…

  39. “Some people still resist digital albums, so an album likely won’t do as well if it ’s only released that way.”

    Yeah, that would be me and the rest of The Old Fart Brigade! I absolutely love having a hard copy of the music I like. I’d leave ’em to my kids but they probably wouldn’t know how to play an actual CD. And it’s in my will to bury me with my turntable! :-o

    I do have a lot of playlists made on my computer though. I’ve got a run of Emily West playing as we speak. Not bad for a technologically challenged shrinking man! ;-)

  40. since i heard “when it rains” from eli young band for the first time, i’ve been hooked on the sound of these guys. i’m very curious to see how far they’ll go. lots of potential there.

    trailer choir’s “in my next five beers” is still among my favourite good-time songs of 2008. this trio is just good fun to listen to. humour with a twist. let’s see, whether the will be able release an album any time soon.

    listening to amber digby is as good as being looked up alone in a fully stacked cake-shop.

  41. I feel the same way about albums as I do with newspapers (especially since I used sell advertising for one). There’s a certain “experience” with having a hard copy, and I love how artists will recall their youth spent scanning the album or record liner notes for lyrics and info.

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