Turn off the Top 40 country station and listen for these up-and-coming talents.
Canadian country artist Whitney Rose (pictured above) capitalized on a golden opportunity and moved 4,000 miles in January 2016. An invitation to perform weekly at the famed Continental Club in Austin, Texas, allowed Rose to ply her neo-traditional craft in the Live Music Capital of the World.
Rose’s stellar 2015 album, Heartbreaker of the Year, had already garnered raves for its traditional styles and raucous urgency. After moving to Austin, Rose found a crack band to back her up, plenty of gigs, and more good times in her new surroundings than she’d dreamed possible.
“Austin is such a musical town, and there’s so much musical history,” she says. “That’s really lit a fire under me.”
With South Texas Suite, Rose makes clear how she feels about her adopted home state, where she’s “fallen in love with watching people dance.” Recorded in Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Studios, the album offers up jaunty conjunto flavor, waltzing dreaminess, and a nice bit of brazen boot stomping in the span of only six tunes.
Given her fresh outlook on musical life in the South, it’s of little surprise Rose sees the new release as “a good old-fashioned love letter and thank-you note to Texas.” www.whitneyrosemusic.com
In 2014, Paul Cauthen found himself without a band. He and David Beck, his partner in the buzzed about Texas-based group Sons of Fathers, had called it quits after four years and two fantastic records. Packed clubs across the country and critical praise couldn’t keep the harmonizing duo on the same stage. Though the baritone-voiced Cauthen was the one who pulled the trigger on Sons of Fathers, he had a tough time as he mourned his old band. He coped the only way he knew how.
“I just kept on writing,” Cauthen says. “And doing anything I could to keep my head out of the gutter. And then I tried to really find myself as an individual singer.”
Cauthen’s solo debut LP, My Gospel (Lightning Rod Records) displays the kind of emotional heft and stylistic bravery found when an artist boldly pushes all of his chips to the middle of the table. It’s an intensely personal collection that serves as an autobiographical concept record.
“It’s my truth,” he says. “It’s where I was, how I was brought up, and who I am. By the end of the album, I want people to know me.” www.paulcauthenmusic.com
Tracy Bone, from the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, has long been an artist boldly attuned to the struggles Native American people face. Gripping songs such as “Woman of Red” delve into the often tragic experiences of her people. Near that song’s end, Bone dedicates it “to all the survivors of the residential and boarding school plague that swept across our nation.” She’s also serious about her role as a Native country artist.
“A lot of people haven’t had the opportunity to hear music from our people outside of drums and rattles,” Bone said in a 2014 interview with Mic.com. “But what people will actually hear from most top Native American country singers are stories highlighting struggle, honesty and integrity.”
After the release of a gorgeous new song, “So Good,” Bone began a crowd-funding campaign to aid the release of her third full-length record. According to the note she wrote for supporters, Bone’s set on continuing up a path of growth and self-discovery.
“This new collection of experiences through song is the first I can honestly say that I’ve written without my people-pleasing, doubts, and fear of judgment.” www.reverbnation.com/tracybone
Modern country music can seem homogenous if you don’t look beneath its party-centric surface. But the tunes of Jonny Fritz can cure the onset of bro-country boredom. The only thing predictable about Fritz is the excellence of his songs. It’s also no shock that the artist formerly known as Jonny Corndawg admits he’s been “goofing off quite a lot” recently.
Before the release of his latest album, Sweet Creep, Fritz has had a hip replaced after running a few marathons, rabble-roused in India, and even frequented amateur wrestling matches inside the lobby of the infamous Nashville motel Stadium Inn. That rundown property served as inspiration for his delicately quirky song named after the motel.
“It’s an amazing place, but it’s a real dump,” he says. “I wanted to document the place before they tear it down.”
Sweet Creep was recorded on a Los Angeles hilltop inside a $50 tent from Home Depot. Over three days, Fritz and some rock-star friends, including producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket, made a one-of-a-kind album rooted in traditional country storytelling. With all eccentricities aside, Fritz gets a kick out of how things have turned out.
“Is this my life?” he asks with a chuckle. “I’m a pretty lucky dude.” www.jonnyfritz.com
Nashville is a town where far more dreams die than flourish. Thousands of dreamers move to Music City every year with demos in hand and guitars over their shoulders. Yet, the reality has lived up to the dream for Kallie North and Jessy Wilson, the duo behind Muddy Magnolias. North expressed herself through photography well before her husband brought home a new guitar for her, and Wilson performed with stars such as Alicia Keys and John Legend before she immersed herself in country music. Each moved to Nashville “on separate journeys,” North says, but it wasn’t long before they came together.
With a blend of soul, roots, blues, and country, Muddy Magnolias’ debut album, Broken People, is a revelation and proof of the “instant chemistry” the two developed upon meeting in Nashville in 2013. The fact that a farmer’s wife from Mississippi and a Brooklyn-raised R&B songwriter who had never attempted a country song met and became instantly close is as compelling as it was serendipitous.
“I believe there’s a time, a place, and a purpose for everything,” Wilson says. “There have been so many signs showing me there’s some sort of ever-present force connecting the dots for us.” www.muddymagnolias.com
From the January 2017 issue.