Those who know me already know that I have a very eclectic playlist. My daily music spans country, rock, metal, rap and more. You name it…I listen to it!
However, today, I’m going to focus on a handful of country music artists that need to be on your playlist.
Some of these folks may already be in regular rotation on the radio. Some may have seen some airplay over the past couple years, and are now missing from everyday rotation. Others may be coming to a station near you in 2017.
The key thing here is that these artists are either unknown, or in my opinion, underplayed. Hopefully, that will change in the year to come!
These artists are listed in alphabetical order, but I hope that you’ll have the opportunity to scroll through each of them as they all deserve attention. I’ve been sure to include at least one of their videos so you can get a sample without having to click through link after link to hear them.
Without further ado, let’s get started:
A Thousand Horses
If you want to try to describe A Thousand Horses to someone who hasn’t seen or heard them play, just imagine if Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and The Black Crowes had a baby together. Yes, not the greatest visual. However, I’m not sure how else to describe them.
A Thousand Horses has their own look, their own sound, and a stage presence that captivates their audience from the first note. The entire band gives 110% every time they hit the stage, but they also take the time to engage with their fans. There is nothing else like A Thousand Horses on the radio today and that’s a damn shame! To put it bluntly: A Thousand Horses is what country music needs right here…and right now.
Sure, A Thousand Horses may not yet have the pedigree of any of the aforementioned bands just yet, but give it time. I have a feeling that we’ll be hearing from these guys for many years to come. Having been on tour with the likes of Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett, Darius Rucker and more, these guys are getting exposure in front of tens of thousands of concert goers every night, and I see a headlining stadium tour of their own in the coming years.
For a little background, the band consists of four core members (but there are a bunch more):
Michael Hobby – Lead Vocal
Bill Satcher – Lead Guitar
Zach Brown – Guitar and Vocal
Graham Deloach – Bass and Vocal
While the mixed Southern Rock/Country genre is not new, it’s refreshing to hear these days. From songs like “Sunday Morning”, co-written with Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes and arguably the best track on the album, to “Landslide”, a favorite of mine which grasps the spirit of the working man (and often leads off their live show) A Thousand Horses demonstrates that they can do it all, and not miss a beat from Track 1 to 13.
“Tennessee Whiskey” showcases the band’s Southern roots as it shows emotional heartbreak in the form of a conversation with none other than the iconic drink. Yep. It plays just like it sounds. “Trailer Trashed” brings out the redneck side of the band, “Southernality” gets back to their southern roots and “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial”, the band’s second single, tells the story of singer Michael Hobby looking for a second chance in a relationship gone wrong.
Here’s the video for “Southernality”:
But most people will know the band from their #1 hit, “Smoke”, which has made A Thousand Horses a household name. Great vocals. Great rhythm. It’s certainly catchy and, like I have said over and over again, this is the type of song, and band, that country radio needs right now!
Brandy Clark , while not the biggest name in country music today, is certainly a superstar in my books.
Clark hails from Morton, Washington, a logging town of less than 1,000 people, located in the shadow of Mount St. Helens. Growing up, she was influenced by a variety of country music artists including Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. She first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and made her singing debut in school musicals. When she entered her first year of college, she started to get more serious about music, taking guitar lessons and joining a band along with her mother and a friend. As a teenager, she discovered the music business program at Belmont University, so she enrolled and moved to Nashville in 1998. After graduation, Clark landed a job with Leadership Music, which led to her eventual publishing deal.
Clark excels at her storytelling through her music. She is far and away one of the greatest songwriters I have ever had the pleasure of listening to and her live performances only extenuate her talent. You might not be aware of this, but she’s written for a number of artists including: The Band Perry (Better Dig Two) and Miranda Lambert (Mama’s Broken Heart).
Clark has a new album out, “Big Day in a Small Town“, which tells the stories of the football star, the father, the homecoming queen and the hairdresser. Why? Because those are the stories and people that Clark grew up knowing in her “small town”.
Artists like Brandy Clark are what country music needs. I can’t stress her songwriting talents enough. I could never do justice. Don’t believe me? Go take a listen. I guarantee you’ll be hooked right away.Here’s a sample of what Clark is all about with “Girl Next Door”:
Casey James is a singer and guitarist from Fort Worth, Texas, who was the third-place finalist on the ninth season of American Idol and is an independent recording artist. Before American Idol, he played with his band, The Casey James Band, consisting of James, his brother, Billy Cole (bass), and Jacy McCann (drums). They recorded four songs, including the first song that James ever wrote, “Freezing,” back in 2002.
But James musical career started well before The Casey James Band. He started playing the guitar at 13 and within a year was playing on stage. James has played acoustic sets with his mother, and blues with his older brother. At the age of 21, he was in a serious motorcycle accident that nearly ended his life. He was told by his doctor that he would no longer be able to play guitar, a medical prediction that proved untrue.
He released his eponymous album in March 2012 from which three singles, “Let’s Don’t Call It a Night”, “Crying on a Suitcase”, and “The Good Life” were released. In 2014, he released the single “Fall Apart” (see below). While he is currently an independent artist, James is currently working towards releasing a new record and his fans are certainly waiting for news on that!
Although Cash Creek is a relatively new band on the country music scene, it’s members have enjoyed long histories and friendships together. Each member has carved out their own niche in the music industry as entertainers, road and session musicians, producers, and songwriters.
The list of artists that the members of Cash Creek has worked with is nothing short of impressive. That list includes the likes of Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Trace Adkins, Alabama, Hank Williams, Jr., John Michael Montgomery, Josh Turner, David Lee Murphy and many more. Needless to say, the band knows what it takes to be successful.
OK. I just have to throw this out there. I’m originally from the town of Petaluma, located in Northern California. Much of my family still lives there. So my mom now lives in Hidden Valley Lake (California) and every time I drive up to her house, I have to go through Napa, Angwin and Pope Valley, which is basically a quick stop between the Napa Valley and the Lake Berryessa. So do you want to take a guess where Cash Creek is from? You got it. Pope Valley. Small world, right?
Anyways, I digress. When they formed Cash Creek, they band members knew they wanted to create a sound that would reflect a common vision, and maintain a cohesiveness that would be instantly recognizable, regardless of the song. After taking a listen to their compilation of music, I can definitely say: mission accomplished!
Cash Creek is a unique blending of vocals and guitars, with a little bit of fiddle and mandolin thrown in. Why not, right. The songs and production are of such a high-caliber, it’s hard to believe these guys are self-produced. With their distinctive sound, and especially the catchy hooks, you’re going to want to listen to Cash Creek over and over again.
Here is a taste of their latest “She Got Me”:
Also check out “Even Angels Have Bad Day”:
Drew Baldridge is a singer songwriter at heart. According to some background research I’ve done, he grew up playing basketball and baseball, but would perform the National Anthem at all his games. As a teenager, he joined a quartet at church singing bass while his father sang tenor. Later on, he played acoustic gigs at a nearby bar on Saturday nights. Not a bad way to break into the business.
In 2013, Baldridge signed with THiS Music, joining the company of a number of the most prominent and prolific songwriters in Nashville. Soon after, he released his debut EP, All Good and singles “BYOB” and “She’s Taken” apparently became radio staples across the Midwest. Living on the West Coast, I had yet to be exposed to him.
Known as much as a performer as a singer, Baldridge brings an energy-packed show to every performance. Doesn’t matter if he’s opening, or the headliner. He’ll always give you 100%. No less. Over the past few years, Baldridge has shared the stage with artists such as Alabama, Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch, Jerrod Niemann, Phil Vassar, Lee Brice, Eric Paslay, Parmalee and Josh Turner among others.
Baldridge released his full-length debut album titled Dirt on Us earlier this year and features 13 tracks, 11 of which Baldridge co-wrote. If you’re a fan already, you might recognize a few of the songs from his previous EPs.
In the mood for a little dancing? Enjoy a little “Dance With Ya”:
Halfway to Hazard
Chad Warrix and David Tolliver, better known as the group Halfway to Hazard, can only be described with the same words I’ve used here on my blog for years, “a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.” Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s two of my favorite things when it comes to music. And they live up to that descriptor. From what I’ve seen, the group holds nothing back in their music. In fact, if they were in NASCAR, I’d say that they put the pedal to the metal and don’t look back until they cross the finish line.
Their debut single, “Daisy“, was a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts way back in 2007. That same year, the band toured as the opening act on Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul Tour. In 2008, they went on tour with McGraw and a youngster by the name of Jason Aldean. They were also nominated by the Academy of Country Music (ACM) for the Duo of the Year award. Not a bad two year stretch, right?
Sadly, in January of 2010, the duo went on an extended hiatus. After some ups and downs over the next few years, Tolliver and Warrix decided to officially reunite Halfway to Hazard in late 2014…and I for one am glad they did!
Released earlier this year, the song from Halfway to Hazard that I’m absolutely hooked on is “American Outlaw”. Check it out:
High Valley is a Canadian country music duo from Blumenort, Alberta, a small community near La Crete. The band originally began as a trio of brothers, but Bryan Rempel dropped out in 2014 to focus on his family.
High Valley’s album Broken Borders was named Album of the Year at the 2007 GMA Canada Covenant Awards, while the song “Back to You” was awarded Country Song of the Year. High Valley’s second album, High Valley, was released in Canada and the United States on September 14, 2010. In 2011 the band won five GMA Canada Covenant Awards, including Artist of the Year and Group of the Year. Their third album, Love Is a Long Road, was released on June 12, 2012.
In October 2015, High Valley signed to Atlantic Records Nashville. Shortly after that, the single “Make You Mine” was released here in the United States to country radio and debuted at number 56 on the U.S. Country chart. The band has just released their fifth studio album, Dear Life, through Atlantic Records and Warner Music Nashville and it is certainly one to take a listen to.
Check out “Make You Mine”:
Jackie Lee was only six years old when he stepped into a professional recording studio to cut songs with famed country songwriter, musician and producer Carson Chamberlain (Keith Whitley/ Easton Corbin). Lee’s father was a devoted fan of traditional country music, while his mother enjoyed pop hits from the 1980s. As a youngster, he found himself influenced by everyone from Bob Seger to Justin Timberlake.
After high school, Lee headed to Nashville, and at the age of 19, he signed a recording contract with Republic Nashville. However the deal with Republic ended without the artist releasing anything for the label, and Lee was looking for another chance. He heard a demo of a song called “She Does,” and was curious about the tune until he was told Kenny Chesney had plans to record it. Chesney eventually passed on the tune, which worked out in Lee’s favor when he landed a new record deal with the independent Nashville label Broken Bow. Lee and his team decided “She Does” was the perfect song for his recording debut, and when his version was released in the fall of 2014, it soon landed on the Billboard Country Airplay charts.
His new single, “Getting Over You”, is just hitting country radio and made quite an impression on the audience. Make sure to keep an eye out for it and start requesting it right away. This song has what it takes to quickly climb the charts.
Take a listen:
At the age of fifteen, Jacob Davis picked up a guitar and started singing in his Shreveport, Louisiana bedroom. But it wasn’t until an open mic night during his junior year of college that he would ever perform on a stage.
Sounds like the kind of story that leads to a successful country music career, right?
What first got me interested in Davis, other than the positive feedback I received from his legion of fans, is his apparent love for 90’s country music. Let me tell you this, I was raised on country music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and have a particular love for the music of the 90’s (and not just country music). This is the time period where I was in Junior High, High School and College. Music was a major part of my life, and I’m glad that this decade proved inspirational to others.
So here’s what I really like about Davis: it’s all about his music.
The first song I heard was “Down to Earth”. Good melody. Catchy lyrics. Simple. But then I read a little deeper into the meaning of the song and of course it’s a song about the birth of his daughter. Naturally, I had to listen. Having two daughters of my own, I know the feelings he’s expressing. Nailed it!
Another song I enjoyed was “Sooner than Later”. After hearing a couple of ballads, I loved the upbeat nature of the song. The lyrics also stood out. “She’s laying warm against my skin.” “She’s gonna love too hot…and burn too fast.” Who can’t relate to that.
“Something to Remember You By” is another one that caught my attention. With lyrics such as “I look around anytime, anyplace, they’ll always be something to remember you by” how can you not relate to that. Check it out:
One other song to throw out there is “See You Around”. Just for another example:
James Wesley grew up in Mound Valley, a community of only 200 people in Southeastern Kansas. He first discovered country music via his grandmother’s record collection, which included heaping helpings of classic crooners such as Marty Robbins, George Jones and Ray Price. His mother was the first to notice Wesley’s own talent for singing when she overheard him belting out his favorite songs behind his bedroom door. By his late teens he was singing in local nightclubs and beginning to think about making music his life.
I can certainly say that i’m glad he made this decision.
Wesley signed with Broken Bow Records back in 2009 and quickly exploded onto the country music scene with his debut breakout single “Jackson Hole.” To date he has had two Top 25 singles, including “Didn’t I” and one of my personal favorites “Real”, making his voice a staple on country radio. If you’ve ever seen Wesley in concert, then you know that he sings directly to real people about real things that profoundly affect real lives. From his small-town upbringing to his blue-collar work ethic, Wesley has a deep understanding of what country listeners want to hear.
Wesley is a traditionalist which I find rare in country music these days. He’s also passionate about his music…and his fans. He writes his own songs and he plays his heart out each and every time he takes the stage. During his recent shows I caught in California, Wesley mixed his own music with the sounds of Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash. I’ll admit, anytime you can absolutely NAIL “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Family Tradition”, you’re doing something right!
I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet James via Twitter (@jameswesley1) a while back and have had a number of conversations with him over the past few years. You don’t realize that sometimes, just sometimes, artists are exactly the same in-person as they appear online. Wesley truly is one of these people. He doesn’t pull punches. He’s as friendly in-person as he is on Twitter and really makes every effort to get to know each and every one of his fans. I wish more artists would follow his lead.
If you want one example of what Wesley is all about, then take a listen to “Thank a Farmer” and tell me you don’t want to support this guy:
Formerly known as Lancaster & Company, Sony Music Nashville signed LANco to the label group’s Arista Nashville. The band, consisting of Brandon Lancaster, Tripp Howell, Eric Steedly, Jared Hampton and Chandler Baldwin, released their debut EP on Spotify, featuring the tracks “American Love Story”, “Trouble Maker“, “Long Live Tonight” and “We Do“. You should definitely check it out when you have a few minutes. You won’t regret it. You can find it on iTunes and Amazon.
I actually discovered these guys on a Saturday night back in September of 2015, when I was on a business trip to Atlanta. So I’m checking out the town and I stumble across a venue called Smith’s Olde Bar. Without any plans that evening, I decided to check things out when I heard a familiar tune, “Sweet Caroline”. I’m glad I walked in. Although I only caught a couple songs that night, it gave me an idea of who the band is and what they’re all about. I was very excited to catch them again a few months later, late last year in San Jose. Here’s a clip from the San Jose show covering Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance”:
I’ve got to admit, while I loved the energy and crowd interaction of both the Atlanta and San Jose shows, one of my favorite songs they played both nights was the ballad “American Love Story“. This song is your small town love story that many of us can relate to.
Take a listen to “Long Live Tonight”:
McKenzies Mill features two brothers from North Carolina, now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded by Justin and Ryan Harris, and backed by the a few of the best musicians around, McKenzies Mill brings its audience what has been described as “Southern Fried Rock & Roll.”
While you might not be familiar with McKenzies Mill (yet), the duo is in no way a newcomer to the music scene. They’ve been featured at NASCAR’s Speed Street Fest in Charlotte, North Carolina, and at BayFest in Mobile, Alabama. They’ve also been featured alongside artists such as Brad Paisley and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
In terms of music, McKenzies Mill has released two albums, “One Hell of a Ride” and a self-titled album, “McKenzies Mill”. In 2014, they were named a Band to Watch by CMA Close-Up magazine back and the duo also won Bud Light’s National Battle of the Bands back in 2012.
In addition, last September, the duo released two new singles, “Middle of Nowhere” & “Willie”. Here’s a clip:
I first came across Big Machine Label Group recording artist Ryan Follese (that’s “fall-uh-ZAY”) a few weeks ago when I heard the folks at KRTY promoting that he would be opening for both Cassadee Pope and the Eli Young Band in San Jose.
Follese co-wrote each of the six tracks on his self-titled debut solo EP, including “Put A Label On It,” which hit country radio earlier this month as his first official single. Additionally, SiriusXM kickstarted the launch this summer, selecting Follese as their “Highway Find” and spinning his summer vacation anthem “Float Your Boat.” Selling more than 40,000 downloads to date, and amassing nearly 2 million streams, the Ryan Follese EP was recorded with producers Dann Huff and Cameron Montgomery in Nashville. While the aforementioned songs might have received the notoriety to date, don’t miss other great tracks such as “Wilder“, “One Thing Right” and “Lose a Little Sleep“. “Wilder” might be my favorite of the bunch.
Here’s a tidbit on Follese that you may, or may not be aware of: he originally hit it big on the pop scene. During his successful run fronting the band Hot Chelle Rae, Follese co-wrote their #1 hit “Tonight, Tonight” and toured around the globe, featuring arena dates with none other than Taylor Swift. What really stands out for me is how Follese has seamlessly transitioned from pop-rock to country music. I’ve seen a number of artists go the other direction, and a few that have tried to join the country ranks, but I have a feeling that we’ll look back in a few years and realize that Follese made the right decision.
Anyways, here’s Follese’s first single, “Put a Label on It”. Enjoy:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Steve Moakler moved to Nashville back in 2006, honing his craft in a town where the best singers and songwriters go to find their country music dreams. After performing hundreds of live, local performances, Moakler placed a series of songs with several country artists, including Dierks Bentley, Kellie Pickler and Jake Owen. He also released three independent albums, including 2011’s Watching Time Run, which Moakler funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
Did you know that Moakler co-wrote Bentley‘s hit single, “Riser,” with Travis Meadows? Yep. What I love about this song, and frankly, every song I’ve heard of his, is that he pours his heart and soul into his music. You can tell that we he plays, he’s playing from the heart. Each and every song tells a story, and that’s something that’s missing in country music today. Moakler isn’t up in your face. Rather, he takes the time to draw you in with lyrical poetry and brings it home with smooth, flawless guitar playing that gets your toes tapping along with the beat.
Moakler’s “Suitcase” was crafted with writers including Luke Laird, Barry Dean and Thomas Rhett. In my opinion, the song deserves more radio airplay than it’s currently seeing. A few stations have been great in getting this song out there, now the word just needs to be spread even more because it’s a hit in waiting.
Back when Cody Cooper met George Birge in their Austin, Texas middle school, he inspired him to express himself through music. Good thing because this took them down a path that affected both of their lives.
Later, the duo, now known as Waterloo Revival, began sampling tunes during Nashville songwriter showcases, adopting the town as their new home. They soon caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, President and CEO of Big Machine Label Group, and signed a deal with Big Machine Records just one week later.
While “Hit the Road” and “Bad for You” have found a place on country radio, and have received a positive response from programmers, critics and listeners, Waterloo Revival has a few additional songs that could certainly find their way on the radio.
The band’s six song EP, Front Row, came out earlier this year and is available now on iTunes and contains a number of the songs listed above. If you like what you’ve heard (and read), be sure to go pick it up right away.