Brent Anderson (Sea Gayle/Arista)
The Mississippi native has been working in Nashville for quite a few years now. Gifted with a unique voice that instantly sets him apart, Brent’s debut single “Amy’s Song” is a clever mixture of his own lyric with the chorus of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”. It’s a smart introduction as it gets a familiar song in the minds of fans and also helps Brent tell his story. Brent was signed to Sea Gayle’s publishing arm before being signed as an artist and working with Frank Rogers on his debut album. Look for the album to come out in late spring/early summer.
The Farm (Elektra Nashville)
This trio features talented individual artists who were all at one point solo artists. Krista Marie had a solo deal with Broken Bow Records, Damien Horne worked and toured with country, rock and R&B artists along with being a muzik mafia member while Nick Hoffman has toured with Kenny Chesney as his fiddle and guitar playing sideman while also writing and working on a solo deal. Together they met to write a song in a typical Nashville session and from that very moment, something organic and unique was formed. That unique sound became The Farm and that first song written? They’re debut single “Home Sweet Home.”
Canaan Smith (Mercury Nashville)
We were lucky enough to see Canaan perform “We Got Us” acoustically at the Ryman in early 2011 and that instantly had him on our radar for artists to watch. We had expected him to break out in 2011 at some point but with Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina storming in via Idol, we think the label smartly chose to wait until 2012 to break him out. “We Got Us” certainly showcases a smooth, pop/country vocal style that’s reminiscent of Keith Urban and Zac Brown but that’s a strength and not a weakness.
Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow Records)
This newcomer is arriving at the right time for Broken Bow Records. Not only does the label have a superstar in Jason Aldean, but they’ve also managed to somewhat breakthrough traditionalist James Wesley with a pair of singles while sister label Stoney Creek Records broke Thompson Square through and recently signed Randy Houser. This is a label house with immense talent and Dustin Lynch is further proof. His debut single “Cowboys And Angels” showcases Dustin’s strong baritone vocal. His voice doesn’t immediately sound like anything currently on country radio but it’s familiar enough to feel like a warm leather jacket. Other great songs like “Way Back When” showcase Dustin’s talents even further.
Tyler Farr (BNA Records)
The Missouri native worked his way up through Nashville’s famed Honky Tonk Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and eventually became friends with Rhett Akins and started writing with many of the best writers in Nashville. Later, he started touring with Colt Ford and eventually toured in early 2011 with Jerrod Niemann and Lee Brice on the Higher Education Tour. “Hot Mess” is his debut single and it showcases his southern charm wrapped up in a radio-ready sound and that, combined with the stuff mentioned above, has us thinking nothing but good things for Tyler Farr.
Jana Kramer (Elektra Nashville)
Jana Kramer is a talented 28 year old actress who has been on “One Tree Hill” since 2009 and also had starring arcs on shows like “Entourage,” “90210” and “Friday Night Lights” before securing a country deal with the Warner Nashville label’s Elektra division in early 2011. Her debut single “Why You Wanna” immediately positions the newcomer as one of the stronger female vocalists and while she’s obviously photogenic, her vocals are really strong and uniquely her own. It’s a tough task to break through as a female artist but Jana has the talent and team behind her to do it.
DJ Miller (Evergreen Records)
DJ Miller has been releasing singles for a few years now and while they were decent entries, “Between Sundays” is the Indiana Native’s biggest chance at success yet. He’s a traditionalist a la Chris Young in that he is clearly a country artist. “Between Sundays” also has a strong melody and lyric that keeps the song grounded in country music. It’s a relatable song about a hard-working man who tries hard to be good and honest.
Kristen Kelly (RCA Nashville)
This newcomer is no stranger to Texas Music scene. With some hits on the Texas Music Chart to her credit, Kristen broke out with “Placekeeper,” her debut independent album. The album featured strong stuff like “I Remember When” and “Total Loss” and “Best of Me” and immediately showcased a singer ready to break through with an interesting take on rootsy country music with a style that’s not unlike that of Sunny Sweeny or Lori McKenna.
Wade Bowen (Sea Gayle/BNA)
Wade Bowen’s been a star in the Texas Music scene for nearly a decade now and what’s surprising is that the right opportunity to cross into mainstream Nashville hasn’t hit before now. What’s interesting here is that Wade has had the more ‘marketable’ sound of his fellow Red Dirt/Texas Music artists and with the style of the genre more fitting of his rootsy rock sound like Eli Young Band, the time is now ripe for him to break through in a big way. He’s most certainly the most experienced artist on this list but that experience should do him well as he breaks through with Brad Paisley’s Sea Gayle label, the very same label who broke Jerrod Niemann with Sony Nashville’s Arista brand.
Thomas Rhett (Big Machine Label Group)
The son of former MCA/Decca artist Rhett Akins, who is now one of the top songwriters in Nashville with hits with The Peach Pickers and other songs like “Honey Bee” to his credit, Thomas Rhett recently signed with the Big Machine Label Group and will be releasing a single at some point in the coming months. With a writing ability that recalls his father but is definitely his own thing, Thomas Rhett has a strong voice and recently scored cuts on albums by artists like Jason Aldean (“I Ain’t Ready To Quit”) and Carter Hamric.
The Henningsens (RCA Nashville)
This family trio has been working behind the scenes for quite a while now before being signed to Sony Nashville in late 2011. The group has been working with The Band Perry for quite a while now and wrote “You Lie” and “All Your Life” with the band along with writing a few other tracks on that Platinum disc. Consisting of Brian, his son Aaron and daughter Clara, the band is extremely tight with pristine harmonies backing Clara’s soaring vocal. There hasn’t been a single announced yet but look for one to come out soon and for an album to follow after that song hits the market.
JJ Lawhorn (Average Joes Entertainment)
JJ Lawhorn is a 17 year old singer from rural Virginia who happens to live the lifestyle many country signers sing about. He was discovered via YouTube by producer Jeremy Stover and signed to a publishing deal before signing with Average Joes Entertainment in the fall of 2011. The singer’s debut single “Sittin’ on a Tailgate” certainly showcases his voice well and it’s easy to see his rural country roots in his voice. Look for a debut album in early-to-mid 2012. Look for the video soon!
Andy Gibson (DMP/R&J Records)
Andy co-wrote “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” one of 2011’s biggest hits and saw it win multiple vocal event awards for Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson and by the end of 2011, Andy’s single “Wanna Make You Love Me" is currently sitting near the Top 40 of the Billboard and Mediabase radio charts and the photogenic singer/songwriter (who didn't actually write the single) instantly showcases why he's on our list this year with one single. Look for his debut album to come in late winter/early spring.
The Staves (Atlantic Records)
This sibling trio from the UK mixes the roots of The Civil Wars with the authentic and ethereal vocal styling of Adele. In fact, imagine them as an amalgam of both and you have The Staves who are – conveniently – setting to go out on tour with The Civil Wars in the USA in early 2012 before they release their debut album, which was co-produced by Glyn and Ethan Johns, later in the year. The father and son production duo are working as co-producers for the first time on this project and both have produced records separately for bands like Ryan Adams, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Ray LaMontagne and Kings of Leon among many, many others.
JT Hodges (Show Dog Universal)
JT’s debut single “Hunt You Down” was released in 2011 and it immediately made us stand-up and notice the song. Radio did too as it hit the Top 40 before succumbing to the fall/winter season and a plethora of superstar releases. JT’s next single “Goodbyes Made You Mine” is an even better song, with a kick-ass melodic tempo, that shows off a different side to the charming and good-looking singer.
Well, there you have it folks, our selections for The Ones To Watch for 2012. We pared down a larger list of artists to come up with our list of new or newish artists to pay attention to. Feel free to share your own ‘ones to watch’ in the comment section.