After an injury derailed his Major League Baseball dreams, the ace songwriter began to pen some of country's most tender tunes.

By Madison Vain
June 06, 2017 at 11:07 AM EDT
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? Every week, EW introduces the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know Brett Young, an ace songwriter and breakout country singer. 

Listen If You Like: Clean, crisp, soul- and pop-inflected country; Maren Morris’ 2016 album Hero; Aerosmith’s soft side: Matt Nathanson

The Backstory: A former Ole Miss University baseball pitcher, Young began to hone his songwriting after an elbow injury put a halt to his Major League Baseball dreams. After self-releasing a couple EPs, the 36-year-old singer, who counts Boyz II Men, Gavin DeGraw and Tim McGraw as major influences, signed with Scott Borchetta’s powerhouse label Big Machine Label Group (home to Florida Georgia Line, Taylor Swift, and more) and dropped his self-titled debut album this February. That set spawned hits with album opener “Sleep Without You,” which cracked the top five on Billboard‘s country airplay chart last December, and the wistful “In Case You Didn’t Know,” which recently gave Young his first No. 1. “I think we all knew it was a special song when we wrote it,” Young tells EW, “but I don’t think any of us really thought it would do what it has.”

Why He Rules: Young’s record stays remarkably taut across its 12 understated tracks, all of which, save one, bear his name in the writing credits. “The handful of projects that I put out before I signed my deal taught me a lot of things about the process of making a record,” he says. “But the thing that really stands out as most important is song selection. In the past, I would always put out another album every time I had enough new music. With this album, we labored over song selection and made sure we picked songs that were going to connect with people and be easy to relate to.” It’s also strikingly confessional, like on the no-holds-barred love letter “Olivia Mae” or on “Back On The Wagon,” where Young describes his return to an unhealthy relationship. Young says staying frank guided the album’s creation. “I really wanted to make sure that I put a lot of myself into these songs so that fans were given a chance to get to know me when they listened,” he says. “Watching people sing these songs back to us at live shows means so much more knowing that they aren’t just connection to words but also to my genuine life experience. I think vulnerability is important in songwriting and I feel like show that.”

Next Up: Fresh off an opening stint for freshly minted superstar Thomas Rhett, Young will warm stages for Lady Antebellum this summer. “[They’re] absolutely the best at what they do,” he says. “I’m selfishly so excited to catch their show every night!”

Brett Young is streaming above. For Lady Antebellum’s tour dates, visit their website.