Each year we pull a group of newcomers or recently arrived singers and discuss who we think will make a mark on the upcoming year. Past artists included in our Ones To Watch lists (which started in 2009) include Love and Theft, Jerrod Niemann, David Nail, The Band Perry, Thompson Square, Thomas Rhett, Jana Kramer, Dustin Lynch, Easton Corbin and Hunter Hayes. Last year, Kacey Musgraves, Parmalee, Chase Rice and Florida Georgia Line were on the list (FGL Was a ‘bonus’ addition) but it might’ve been our ‘worst’ year to date as we picked some indie-leaning artists more than perhaps ever before. This year’s list promises to include at least one hitmaker but we do again take some chances on the ones to watch. We hope you enjoy the list below as much as we enjoyed creating it. And remember to check back here to see how we do/did for 2014.
Natalie Stovall & The Drive (HitShop Records)
An award-winning touring band with over 8 years together, the band recently released their debut EP through new label HitShop Records. The EP (which is distributed by Warner Music Nashville) showcases the entire band but make no mistake, this is Natalie Stovall’s show. As good as the band is, it is Stovall who is the superstar, particularly when watching her play her fiddle and engage with an audience, something she’s showcased with the band’s over 200 tour dates every year. “Baby Come On With It” and “Bones” are just two of the band’s great tunes and their performance of “Devil Went Down To Georgia” live is a show-stopper and perhaps the best version of the tune outside of Charlie Daniels Band’s original.
Leah Turner (Columbia Nashville)
Leah Turner is in the Top 40 of Country Radio with her debut single “Take The Keys” and she is part of a strong new wave of talented female singer/songwriters and vocalists along with Cassadee Pope, Maggie Rose, and Danielle Bradbery (among others) who can and should be able to break the ‘glass ceiling’ for females at Country radio. “Take The Keys” is but one of a handful of strong tracks from Leah’s upcoming Columbia Nashville album.
Watch the "Take The Keys" video here
Chasin’ Crazy (RPM Entertainment)
Just signed to RPM Entertainment, Chasin’ Crazy is a talented five piece ‘boy band’ that also happens to play all of their instruments. The band has released a video showcasing their musical chops and youthful sound. The harmonies are strong, the production equally good and now may the easiest time for such a band to become popular as Country Music (as it currently sounds) is more popular with the 12-24 set than perhaps it’s ever been. Look for a debut single (maybe “All Kinds Of Crazy”) to debut soon.
Blackjack Billy (Bigger Picture)
Another band with a sound all their own, Blackjack Billy is a group which banded together after writing a few songs together. The band features indie artists who have released work solo, particularly lead vocalist Rob Blackledge. The band’s first single “The Booze Cruise” sold a couple hundred thousand tracks independently before they hooked up with rising label Bigger Picture and released their second single “Get Some” to radio in late fall. Look for the group to release an album at some point in 2014.
Danielle Bradbery (Republic Records/Big Machine)
Already scoring with audiences with Top 20 and rising debut single “The Heart Of Dixie,” Danielle Bradbery has went from unknown in 2012 to winner of NBC’s “The Voice” program in early 2013 to releasing Danielle Bradbery in the late fall of 2013. The album showcases the 17 year old’s strong way of connecting with the lyrics and her natural twangin’ ability. Her next single “My Day” was selected by NBC to be the theme song for the Sochi Winter Olympics in early 2014. She joins a few other rising female artists who have the ability to break through and help even out the Country radio playlists for female artists. The album has plenty of hits in addition to the two mentioned.
Dan+Shay (Warner Bros.)
2013 ended with this new Warner Music Nashville duo scoring a Top 30 hit with “19 You + Me.” The only single we’ve heard from the duo to date, it’s strong song structure and the duo’s tight harmonies (which do recall Rascal Flatts if we’re being honest) showcase what’s great about vocal duos. The harmony they create suggests to us that the young duo can break-out in 2014 with a string of similarly strong tracks.
Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)
Cole Swindell is ALSO signed to Warner Nashville and he’s just announced his debut album release for February 2014. The writer of songs on multiple artist’s albums (Chris Young, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, etc.), Cole also wrote the Top 20 hit “Outta My Head” for Craig Campbell. Swindell’s breakout hit has been “Chillin’ It,” a familiar sounding song that suggests Luke Bryan was right to include Swindell as part of his touring entourage for the past few years as Swindell cultivated his songwriting skill. His debut album promises to feature multiple potential hits.
Brothers Osborne (EMI Records Nashville)
Another act that has toured all over the place prior to signing with EMI Records Nashville, The Maryland-born duo helps prove that Country music has a pull on artists from all over the country. The brothers have written cuts for other artists prior to releasing “Let’s Go There,” their Top 40 debut single. They’re currently working on their debut album for the label and it likely will be released later in 2014. If you get a chance to see John and TJ live, do yourself a favor and do it as they’re a fantastic live band.
Dallas Smith (Republic Nashville)
The former frontman for Canadian rock band Default, Dallas Smith has made the transition to Country music a seamless one with an award-winning album released in Canada prior to signing with Big Loud Mountain and Republic Nashville for the release of his USA debut. He’s been out on tour with Florida Georgia Line all fall and his debut single “Tippin’ Point” has sold well while entering rotation on SiriusXM’s “The Highway,” where it’s one of the year’s biggest new artist hits. Look for Dallas to release his debut album around the summer of 2014.
Sam Hunt (Independent)
One of the co-writers of Kenny Chesney's #1 hit "Come Over," Keith Urban’s “Cop Car" and Billy Currington's "We Are Tonight," Sam Hunt has garnered some major label buzz (he's expected to announce his new label partner early in the year). Hunt gained attention for his music by following a decidedly hiphop approach by releasing mixtapes for free on his own website. Also one of the stable of Highway Finds getting airplay with “Raised On It” on SiriusXM’s Country music channel, Hunt has an interesting mishmash of Rock, Pop and Country that works in the current genre environment. He may 'speak' the verses of "Raised On It" (it's not rap, not even close) but he is a strong singer a la OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and could very well be Country Music's answer for Tedder (a popular artist who continues to write with/for other artists).
Listen to "Raised On It" here!
This Carolina-based band has worked with Jeffrey Steele for their latest album and have had some success on the Music Row charts. They’re garnering some record label interest and have had multiple talks about having Starting Over picked up for national distribution. Waylon Owings is the front man of the group and he possesses a strong vocal which will likely draw comparisons to both Jason ALdean and Brantley Gilbert. The band is definitely on the rock side of modern Country’s ledger but they’re also more ‘country’ than perhaps some others garnering huge radio airplay.
Lucy Hale (DMG/Bigger Picture)
It was probably with much surprise that the Pretty Little Liars star announced her signing to new DMG Records/Bigger Picture for the release of her upcoming Country music album. The surprise should be lessened when one looks into her history and sees that she’s been singing longer than she’s been acting and having been part of a band when she was in her teenage years (she is in her early 20s now). That band was a byproduct of American Juniors tv program and was signed to a major label. Hale is a natural country singer and “You Sound Good To Me” is the singer’s debut single to be sent to country radio in early 2014 with an album to follow later in the year.
Austin Webb (StreamSound Records)
Austin Webb started 2013 with a single called "It's All Good" and it was a strong showcase of the Greenville, SC native's smooth and souful voice. While it failed to hit the Top 40, the song did set up Austin Webb as an artist on Country Radio's radar. And then, by the time 2013 ended, he was in the Top 40 with "Slip On By," One of the year's best singles (it made our list). This leads us to think that Austin Webb will be one of 2014's year's biggest newcomers and thus certainly one to watch in 2014!