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Breaking Big in Country: 5 new artists to hear now

From a Sturgill Simpson protégé to a rockin’ five-piece

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From an Americana star-in-the-making to a raucous rock outfit and a soulful U.K. crooner to a charming, pop-country auteur, these are the five artists busting out of Music City that you need to hear right now. 

LANco

The arena-rock leaning five-piece’s first break came back in 2013. Frontman and primary lyricist Brandon Lancaster — yep, that’s where the band’s quirky name comes from, it’s an abbreviation for Lancaster & Company — was working at the hot dog stand at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville when studio wiz Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town) passed by his station. “I shut down my register and approached him, just as a fan,” Lancaster recalls. By the end of the conversation, Joyce had told the singer to come over and play some music; a follow-up meeting saw the entire band performing in his studio. “After about the fourth song he stopped us and said, ‘Guys, I get this. I want to record it. It want to be a part of it.'”

And the breaks have just kept on coming: The band landed a record deal with Arista Nashville and their debut EP, produced by Joyce, dropped last spring. Lead single “Long Live Tonight” cracked the Top 40 on the country airplay charts, and now the strummy charmer “Greatest Love Story,” which earned placement in the Netflix comedy series The Ranch, has too. “We knew we had something big going on,” Lancaster says of “Story.” “Before we even recorded it, it started impacting people during our live shows. That was when we knew, ‘Okay, this song is hitting people on a certain level.'” 

Now, the group is readying for the release of their first full-length album. With the batch sent off for mixing, LANco is eyeing a fall 2017 release. Asked what guides their song selection for the LP, Lancaster’s answer is simple: Honesty. The singer says that it’s the most personal and real songs that have been the most rewarding to mix in their live sets. “I’ve been a music fan my whole life,” he explains. “[Before becoming a performer] I thought, there was a detachment between artist and fan. But what I realize now is that when these fans are singing these words back to me, they’re singing the words out of my journal. So, it’s like, ‘If you’re this into this song, then we have something in common — even though we’ve never met and we’re in a strange city, in a different time zone, we have something in common.”

“Greatest Love Story” is streaming above. LANco is currently on tour.

Tyler Childers

David McClister

Americana music has enjoyed a wonderful increase in its profile in recent years, thanks to breakout collections from ace songsmiths like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson, and this summer, Tyler Childers will find his name on that venerable list. The Kentucky-bred singer-songwriter will drop his debut LP, Purgatory, on Aug. 4.

The 26-year-old recruited Simpson, who also produced his own most recent solo LP, along with David Ferguson to produce the sprawling set, which tackles subjects well-known to the Appalachia native like the current drug crisis and evaporating blue collar jobs. The album also includes love missives penned for Childers’ new bride, Senora May. (“Lady May,” an album highlight, is streaming below.) “Sturgill heard what I was saying,” he explains. “Everyday we worked together, we kept an open line for discussion between Sturgill, [David] Ferguson [who also co-produced the collection], and myself…The respect they gave to me and my songs was a humbling experience.” 

Childers names Jack Kerouac, Ricky Skaggs, Drive-By Truckers, and Sunday mornings spent on the church pew, listening to gospel music, as the earliest influences in his craft, but there’s one more that reigns supreme: “Appalachia is a huge role in my sound,” he says, “because my role is to be an Appalachian. It isn’t an imaginary musing; it is a poetic retelling of 26 years clocking into the daily life. I know how coal tastes, and how warm it feels when [you] zip up the Carhartt it paid for. I know how cold it can be when coal leaves you. I’ve lost friends to prescription drugs. I’ve seen miners broke down like borrowed mules and old people taken advantage of by pillbilly doctors pushing painkillers. I’ve run hounds up hollers and dug root with my buddys. I was raised by mountain women who don’t take no s—, and I know how strong they love. I know how it feels to be looked down on for my accent, and how funny a notion it is to think someone can look down at you. I know when I’m done with a run, there’s no other life I’d rather be living than right here at home.” He adds: “Were I to write about anything anywhere on this earth…it would sound like an eastern Kentuckian wrote it.”

Purgatory will release Aug. 4; Childers is currently on tour. All dates are available here.

Jade Bird

Jade Bird

Jade Bird may not have grown up in this country — the 19-year-old was born in Hexham, England, and bounced between army bases in South Wales, Germany, and Chesterfield — but listening to her stellar new EP, Something American, which dropped last Friday, you’d never know it. Across the set’s five songs, she creates a compelling blend of folk, blues, and alt-country. “Country has a fantastic way of doing this and that’s why I really fell in love with it,” she says, explaining her attachment to the genre. “There’s also something about American artists in that they are so unapologetic in their storytelling and I love that, a kind of ‘warts and all’ way of writing.”

With early influences like Loretta Lynn, Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, and Johnny Cash, she’s also learned that these well-worn song structures are the best place to explore sorrow. After a musical competition at age 13 that begged an attendee to ask her why she’s so sad, she recalls, “I thought, ‘Hell, in country you can write the saddest song but play it quick and no one even notices!'”

Lead single “Cathedral,” streaming below, is completely irresistible, but another highlight comes in the form of her cover of Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face.” “I always felt his technique was so brutal and compelling,” Bird says of the choice. “I love the drone note and the melody following the vocal in blues — I slaved away trying to learn this for at least a year — so it made sense to do a little ode’ to this influence [here].” She adds, “Plus, it’s rare for a young girl to attempt a cover of this magnitude, and that of course, made me want to do it.”

Bird’s Something American is available on all streaming partners. This summer, the singer will make her U.S. performance debut with shows in New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles. Dates are available on her Facebook.

Walker Hayes

Kelly Sutton

Finding success in the music industry has not come easy for 37-year-old Alabama-native Walker Hayes. Just over a year ago, the genre-blending artist was working at Costco, stressing over how to support his six children. “There were a lot of downs,” he admits. And while there were definitely moments where quitting seemed like the right thing to do, he didn’t. Now, he’s got a single on country radio — the breezy “You Broke Up with Me,” streaming below — and an opening slot on Billy Currington’s summer tour. This fall he’ll join Thomas Rhett’s cross-country trek.

“I think it’s been a combination of things that have kept us at it through all the setbacks,” says Hayes. “Ignorance carried us at first…we didn’t know the odds so we didn’t fear them. Having kids was a beautiful distraction from the heartbreaks. We’re more than a little crazy…so that helped.” And it’s not just his own family that deserves thanks, he says. “One family, Craig and Laura Cooper, gave us a minivan when we were down to one car…Costco hired me quickly and I was able to work there and continue writing when things were at their hardest. So many little things, miraculous stories, and sweet people have pointed us to where we are today. [My wife] Laney believes in me way more than I do.”

Hayes is currently hard at work on an LP — last year he released two mixtapes, cheekily titled 8Tracks, Vol.1: Good S— and Vol. 2: Break the Internet — and he’s on the verge of sharing the video for “You Broke Up with Me.” “Brace yourself,” he warns, “there will be dancing.”

“You Broke Up with Me” is streaming above. Hayes is currently opening for Billy Currington on tour and this fall he will join Thomas Rhett’s trek. All dates are available on the singer’s website.

Levi Hummon

Austin Lord

Nashville-native Levi Hummon grew up in a musical home — his father is Marcus Hummon, a Grammy-winning songsmith whose penned cuts like “Bless the Broken Road” for the Rascal Flatts and “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks — but he wasn’t always going to enter into the family business. “I was drawn to painting and sculpture in high school and college,” he says. A failed relationship finally brought him to his guitar: “It took a broken heart and digging a guitar out of my dorm room closet before I really started falling in love with songwriting,” he recalls. “I eventually moved back home to Nashville [during my] sophomore year of college and gave it a real shot.”

It wasn’t long before he saw a return. He’s written songs with a number of Music Row’s A-List scribes, like Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne, and Trevor Rosen. Most recently, he contributed the cut “Red, White & You,” to Steven Tyler’s country outing, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. Last year, he released his self-titled EP via Scott Borchetta’s powerhouse label Big Machine and now he’s working on a new batch of breezy, pop-influenced tracks.

“Don’t Waste the Night,” which dropped at the end of April, is just the first of several planned releases for the year. The singer teases that he’s been hard at work in the studio with his producer, Jimmy Robbins (RaeLynn, Maggie Rose), and expects to put out “one or two” more tunes in 2017. “I really want to constantly push myself in making unique music, so experimenting is a huge part of that,” he says of his focus in those sessions. “I think I bring a lot of pop melodies to songs that are real, honest, and lyrically-driven. Country music is amazing because everyone’s finding their own unique voice and I just enjoy sharing mine.”  

“Don’t Waste the Night” is streaming above. Hummon has a few tour dates announced for 2017 on his website, but he expects to be sharing more soon.