In rounding up artists deserving of wider attention, I asked some of ND photographers to chime in on who they thought fit the bill regardless of how long they've been out there on the road and in the studio. So, in addition to two of my own, here are what Todd Gunsher, Chad Cochran, Chris Griffy, Mark J. Smith, and Brenda Rosser, have selected. And be sure to take Brenda's advice: "Show up for the openers."
While many took note when Jack White recruited her for his all-female backup band on the Lazaretto tour in 2014 (she also did vocals on the album), Lillie Mae (then only 23) was already a pro from playing in her family band for 20 years. A stunning debut album, Forever and Then Some, followed this past April, and she's been promoting the heck out of it, including knockout performances on Colbert, Conan, and CBS Saturday Morning live from Third Man Records' famous Blue Room. I urge you to catch up with Lillie Mae. She's currently touring, and in September will pull off the near impossible task of appearing at both AmericanaFest and Bristol's Rhythm and Roots festival – during the same week, and on the same day a time or two. That's dedication and talent in overdrive from this fiddler/guitarist who's set to be the breakout artist at this year's AmericanaFest.
Birds of Chicago (by Todd Gunsher)
When asked to write a few words about an artist deserving of wider attention, I had to choose Birds of Chicago. After hearing from a friend of mine for a while that I need to see them, I finally had the chance this summer, and from the first song, I understood. JT Nero’s words and Allison Russell’s beautiful and powerful vocals are a perfect combination, and when they harmonize, magic. Pick up their latest album, Real Midnight, and go see them if you get the chance, they bring a lot sonic beauty into the world. As a side note, when I saw them, they were joined on lead guitar by Anthony da Costa, who in addition to being a formidable string wrangler, is a pretty good singer/songwriter in his own right. Check him out too!
Colter Wall (by Chad Cochran)
Colter Wall hails from Swift Current, Saskatchewan (about 100 miles north of the Montana border). Wall released his first record, Imaginary Appalachia, in 2015 and has been hitting the road persistently in support of his new self-titled release since it became available in May 2017. Wall's voice sounds aged beyond his young 22 years and his music will remind you of the country music of yesteryear. Riding critical acclaim from the likes of Steve Earle ("His songs are stunning. He’s been listening to the right stuff, and he gets it."), Wall promises to be someone to watch develop.
A photographer friend turned me on to Tristen, who is from Chicago but moved to Nashville, where she took off and drew notice in 2011 from NPR, which said she had mastered the "killer hook." In 2013, the Nashville Scene named CAVES best local album of the year, American Songwriter selected it as one of the year's 5o best, and Spin dubbed her "a synth pop siren." Earlier this year she released a well-received fourth album, Sneaker Waves, that features Jenny Lewis, with whom she has also played. While Lewis has been an influence, it's more in form than content. Live, she drops the pop persona for a more Americana authenticity while remaining a siren. Read ND's review of Sneaker Waves here.
River Whyless (by Chris Griffy)
I first caught River Whyless at Americanafest 2015. I remembered the name, but not much else about them. Either the current political climate has caused the band to up their game or I made a serious mistake two years ago, because in three performances at Bonnaroo 2017, River Whyless proved they're a young act to watch. Lyrically weighty, politically charged, and immensely talented, these guys and a gal are going places and I'm officially on the bandwagon.
Beaucoup Blue (by Mark J. Smith)
Beaucoup Blue is a father and son duo I caught when they opened for Sonny Landreth and Cindy Cashdollar. David Mowry, the dad, and Adrian Mowry, the son, are from Philly and really caught my attention. They play the blues, both traditional and original songs. Their songwriting, singing, and playing is excellent. Their album Elixir is a real treat and a great way to experience this bound-to-be-heard-from duo.
Darrin Bradbury (by Brenda Rosser)
I first heard Darrin Bradbury at the "Margo Price and Friends" set at last year's AmericanaFest. Being a lover of brainy songwriters, when I heard the the opening lines of "Life is Hard" – "Kerouac died with the TV on at his mother's house in Florida, his liver was yellow and his wallet was broke, he hated hippies and he loved the Pope" – I was immediately intrigued. I recently caught him again when he opened for Ray Wylie Hubbard. Bradbury's songs are little stories, about a woman at the bank, the occupants of the hotel room next door, or the painful addictive nature of true love. They are also folksy, salty, sometimes poignant, and often humorous. The saddest face of the evening was on the guy who walked in wearing his "Who the Hell is Sturgill Simpson" T-shirt, just as Bradbury's set was ending. Let that be a lesson: Show up for the openers.
Now, scroll though the photographs that we and other ND photographers have taken of these fine artists.