This is an impressive list, if I do say so myself. The quality here is enough to incline listeners of any genre, assuming that you are not an adolescent. I label these artists as “alt-country” in the literal sense: alternative to mainstream country radio.
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
In 2013, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern was probably the most acclaimed and talked-about release from a country/Americana artist outside of Nashville’s mainstream. Next month, his follow-up album will be released: Something More Than Free. The expectations are high, not normally a good thing for an artist. But I am hopeful. Isbell has the maturity to make significant, long-term contributions to the genre. Below is a recent performance on Letterman, who frequently showcased authentic country on his show. Jason is accompanied by his very lovely and very pregnant wife, Amanda Shires:
Chris Stapleton, Traveller
This will be on the “best of 2015” lists for many music critics. I guarantee it. What Sturgill Simpson did in 2014, Chris Stapleton will do in 2015. He has already established an impressive reputation in Nashville, writing songs for mainstream artists who are not worthy of his talent. His debut album, Traveller, was released last month. As if his lyrics and musicianship were not enough, he also has an incredible voice. Here is his performance on Letterman:
His wife, Morgane, frequently accompanies him on stage.
Logan Brill, Shuteye
At 24 years old, Logan Brill is wise beyond her years — mature songwriting, thoughtful lyrics, and a good sense for what makes a song special. Her debut album was released two years ago, recognized by That Nashville Sound as one of the best albums of the year. Her sophomore release, Shuteye, is even better. It was released this week, and you can stream it on Spotify. Each song is unique in regard to what influences she brings to the table. Overall, she reminds me of Holly Williams, my favorite singer-songwriter of the last ten years. Here is the third track from Shuteye, “The Woman On Your Mind” (with David Nail):
Sam Outlaw, Angeleno
Sam Outlaw is 32 years old and part of the Southern California country scene. His debut album is due next Tuesday, June 9. The A&E section of The Wall Street Journal has the “exclusive premier” of the album. It’s good — very, very good — with some great diversity and intelligent musicianship. The best song title: “Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me to a Bar).” Oh, yes! Here is the video for the lead track:
You should also watch “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink (And Fall in Love),” from his EP last year. It’s adorable.
Jamie Lin Wilson, Holidays & Wedding Rings
The review at Saving Country Music says it well: “This is a songwriter’s album in the traditional Texas sense, meaning the music and approach first and foremost focuses on exposing the truth of the lyric. Everything else falls into place behind that. It’s a country record, but one that doesn’t go out of its way to justify its country-ness; it worries more about telling the story.” Her solo debut, Holidays & Wedding Rings, was released a couple weeks ago. Here is “Just Like Heartache”:
Will Hoge, Small Town Dreams
Released in April, Small Town Dreams is Will Hoge’s ninth album and his second for Cumberland Records, an indie label in Nashville. Hoge is a native Tennessean, and he has spent years in Nashville — writing for other artists and for his own records. I saw him in concert here in Charlotte a couple months ago, and he is fantastic. His style is very similar to the thriving Texas music scene, which is basically a continuation of 90’s country. Here is the lead single, “Middle of America”: