Billboard Magazine | January 12, 2023
An influential executive said that around eight years ago, and she had a point — there’s already so much music in circulation that most acts are swimming against the current in their attempts to achieve widespread recognition.
But the industry doesn’t always know what it needs until it shows up, either. And all of country’s star acts — people such as Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood or Chris Stapleton — were unknown new artists before the genre eventually discovered they were essential for its vitality.
Over a dozen newbies are hoping events in the next six months will help them become the exception, eventually emerging as household names after releasing their first country album or EP during the period. The contenders include two acts (Tyler Hubbard and Mike Gossin) issuing their first solo projects, after previously earning hits as members of Florida Georgia Line and Gloriana, respectively.
The list also features three duos: recent 8 Track Entertainment signees BoomTown Saints, longtime Warner Music Nashville project Walker County and Americana husband-and-wife team The War and Treaty, who are optimistic that their sound can translate to country.
Following is an overview of 14 acts whose first album or EP, either in the genre or at a label of consequence, are due during the first six months of 2023:
1 Nate Smith (Arista Nashville) His resolve was tested by the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif. — and everything he owned. But Smith maintains his best possession: a strong voice that grips a lyric with ferocity. With a gold single for “Whiskey on You” in his pocket, his self-titled debut album will arrive April 28.
2 BoomTown Saints (8 Track Entertainment/ADA/Warner Music Group)
Not to be confused with ’70s rockers The Boomtown Rats, Chris Ramos and Ben Chism frame distinctly country voices and harmonies with contemporary programming elements. Current single “All Trucks Go to Heaven” and next release “Dive Bar Heart” will likely appear on their first EP, tentatively targeted for an April release.
3 Jordana Bryant (Riser House)
Bryant was in a big hurry to get started on a music career. Having graduated high school a year early in June and parlayed TikTok success into a recording deal just a few months later at Riser House, she is primed to issue her first EP for the label in April.
4 Tyler Hubbard (EMI Nashville) Ever since he sang lead on Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” Hubbard has maintained one of the genre’s most identifiable voices. He mixes his country, hip-hop and Southern rock influences in 18 songs that sound a touch more raw than his FGL roots on his self-titled debut album, due Jan. 27.
5 Liddy Clark (Crimson Rose)
She definitely has “Potential” — as alluded to in the title of one of her early tracks. A graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music, Clark’s fragile, vulnerable tone has caught the fancy of 222,000 followers on TikTok. She applies her youthful sound to her debut album, Made Me, expected to arrive March 17.
6 Mike Gossin (Gossin Records)
The former member of Gloriana steps out on his own with a guy-next-door resonance and a set of pop-country songs that rifle through multiple shades of boy-meets-girl vulnerabilities. His first self-released EP, Coming Home, arrives this spring; one song, “Let’s Ride,” reunites him with former Gloriana bandmate Cheyenne Kimball.
7 Greylan James (Greylan James Music)
A writer on Kenny Chesney’s “Happy Does” and BRELAND’s “For What It’s Worth,” James’ sensitive, grainy drawl is an ideal transport for blue-collar romantic dramas. Expect a bundle of them on his debut album, due March 24 — including the cleverly titled “Southern Discomfort,” a bluesy unspooling of broken dreams.
8 Shane Profitt (Harpeth 60/Big Machine Label Group) The anthemic chorus of his first radio single, “How It Oughta Be,” hails “cold beer” and “Mama’s fried chicken,” emphasizing his country cred. A protégé of Chris Janson, the Tennessee-born Profitt released his first EP in August and has his Southern-soaked debut album prepped for early 2023.
9 Ella Langley (Columbia)
Langley’s twang fits snugly alongside Miranda Lambert and Lainey Wilson, and she delivers her material with an expressive clarity that honors every single phrase. Meanwhile, her songwriting is strong enough that she landed five cuts on Elle King’s imminent Come Get Your Wife. Langley’s first EP arrives in early 2023.
10 Brandon Ratcliff (Monument)
Most of Nashville’s music industry consists of relocated folks with small-town roots. The Louisiana-bred Ratcliff explores the complex dichotomy between those water-tower legacies and big-city dreams with his debut album, Tale of Two Towns, a folk-soul-pop-country pastiche that arrives Jan. 6. The artsy, melancholy title track is not to be missed.
11 Alana Springsteen (Columbia New York/Sony Music Nashville) The Virginia Beach, Va., native used her Oct. 18 Grand Ole Opry debut to announce her new record deal, which yielded Messing It Up — the first installment in a three-part album, Twenty Something — announced Jan. 5. Springsteen possesses a classic female voice packed with angst and determination.
12 Jordyn Shellhart (Warner Music Nashville)
Once signed in her early teens to Columbia, the grown-up Shellhart has a dreamy, gauzy tone, evident in her languid remake of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.” Now signed to WMN, the Wyoming native is plotting a May release for her debut album, made by smartly channeling her creativity during pandemic isolation.
13 Walker County (WMN)
Hailing from rural Sulphur Springs, Ind., the sibling duo of Ivy Dene and Sophie Dawn Walker has been developing on the WMN roster since 2014; it is set to announce its first EP in the coming weeks. The sisters, who play drums and guitar, embed ultra-country enunciations within well-crafted, two-part harmonies.
14 The War and Treaty (Mercury Nashville) Michael Trotter Jr. and his wife, Tanya, have been tearing through Americana circles for several years. But their rootsy vocals and chameleonic arrangements could help them develop a country base, too. Featured in stellar awards performances with Dierks Bentley and Brothers Osborne, the duo’s first country album should arrive before July.