Every year we give y’all a list of rising stars we believe are well worth your time and we’ve had a remarkable track record in the past with previous lists including the likes of Jerrod Niemann, Thompson Square, the Band Perry, Dustin Lynch, Kacey Musgraves, Florida Georgia Line, Chase Rice, Parmalee, Hunter Hayes, David Nail and Thomas Rhett among them. Last year, which was a little ‘rough’ by our standards because four of the featured artists either were on labels that closed or lost their record deals but we DID tell you about Sam Hunt, Dan+Shay, Cole Swindell and Danielle Bradbury. Canadian country star Dallas Smith is also one still on the rise as is Austin Webb and Brothers Osborne, both acts which hit the Top 40 for the first time in 2014.
This year’s list is as eclectic as in years past with an Americana/roots-based act mixed in with mainstream-leaning artists and indie newcomers along with completely new talents.
Old Dominion (ReeSmack/Thirty Tigers)
Old Dominion may be new as a band but you’ve definitely heard their songs if you’ve listened to country radio at all in the past few years. Band members have written hits for Ones to Watch graduates like Tyler Farr, The Band Perry and icons like Dierks Bentley, Craig Morgan and Luke Bryan, to name but a few of their credits. Their own songs like SiriusXM hits “Shut Me Up," “Break Up With Him,” “Dirt On A Road” and future hit “Wrong Turns” suggest a band with a wide range of talent and one that should certainly be on your radar. They may be the genre’s next big band once the right label partner comes along and works with the band. Until then, they're scheduled to tour with Kenny Chesney this summer, becoming a rare indie act to do so. This is a playbook that previously played out for Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice and Clare Dunn, the next artist on our 2015 list.
Clare Dunn (UMG Nashville)
She’s released successful independent singles prior to signing with UMG Nashville. One of those singles, “Get Out” became the highest-peaking independent single from a female artist in over 10 years. That kind of buzz brought the talented Colorado native to the attention of UMG Nashville. The Belmont University graduate knows how hard work pays off as she drove harvest trucks through Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska during every academic break to pay for her tuition to the prestigious university. While working on her album, Dunn Has worked with songwriters like Troy Verges, busbee, Liz Rose, Brice Long, Will Hoge, Hillary Lindsey, Blair Dayly, Chris Lindsey and more to craft the music for her upcoming debut album with UMG. In addition to her vocal ability, Dunn is also a fantastic guitarist.
Christian Lopez Band (Blaster Records)
The folksy singer/songwriter has formed a great band around himself and is working with top producer Dave Cobb for his upcoming full-length debut album. Signed to the same label that’s also home to Montgomery Gentry, Jack Ingram and Chuck Wicks, the Christian Lopez Band has a unique sound for this list but they’re young and ready to take Americana and Roots music in new, inspired directions and their self-titled EP (out now) showcases the potential for greatness that is held within the hard-touringband.
Maddie & Tae (Dot Records)
This one may be cheating a bit since Maddie Marlow and Tay Dye have scored a #1 hit with their very first single and have already released one EP to country radio. “Girl In A Country Song” has made the duo the first new female group or duo to top the charts since 2006’s The Wreckers (“Leave The Pieces”) to have a #1 hit with their first single. The Duo is also the first Dot Records artist to have a single and a #1 single. They’ve released a well-received EP which likely contains the follow-up single (We suggest the sassy “Sierra”) and they’re hard at work recording the full-length debut album set to bow sometime in 2015.
Steven Lee Olsen (Columbia Nashville)
With a unique and powerful vocal style, Canadian Steven Lee Olsen looks ready to break out with his USA debut single “Raised By A Good Time.” A songwriter with top-notch credits in both the country and pop fields, Steven Lee Olsen showcases his unique style with the light yet entertaining “Good Time.” The song was a late 2014 “#1 most added” single and only suggests what we can expect when he gets around to releasing his debut EP and/or album in 2015.
Josh Abbott Band (Atlantic Nashville)
Well-known throughout the Texas and Oklahoma regions thanks to a handful of quickly-selling EPs, The Josh Abbott Band’s national debut single for Atlantic Records is “Hangin’ Around.” The ear worm may be slightly different than anything the band recorded prior but that’s kinda the whole point with trying to grow nationally. While this may mean the sound is slightly different, the band’s use of fiddles and acoustic-based instruments lends a traditional-based sound while also being wholly themselves sonically.
Jackie Lee (Broken Bow Records)
The talented young singer has made the rounds in Nashville the past few years and after a short stay with the BMLG, Lee signed with Broken Bow (not unlike the path taken by Dustin Lynch). In addition to a voice that is traditional-leaning, Jackie Lee has what the music business calls the “entire package” as he is undeniably handsome and has a mega-watt personality and smile (not unlike Luke Bryan). With the right songs (sadly not first single “She Does,”) Lee will be a breakout singer. Working with Broken Bow (who have one of the best A&R teams in Nashville) and producer Carson Chamberlain (who makes some of country music’s best-sounding records), Lee is certain to break out in 2015.
Levi Hummon (The Valory Music Co.)
[caption id="attachment_28523" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Pictured (L-R): Back Row – Iconic Entertainment’s Brian O’Neil, BMLG’s Malcolm Mimms, Allison Jones, Andrew Kautz &
Iconic Entertainment’s Ally Rodriguez
Front Row – BMLG’s Scott Borchetta, Levi Hummon & Iconic Entertainment’s Fletcher Foster[/caption]
The son of Grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, Levi Hummon also is one of the few country music artists with an Academy Award nomination, for his theme song to the Desmond Child documentary “Make It Love.” He comes by his talent naturally and while the Hummons originally wanted to work as a duo, it probably made more sense for Levi to be a solo artist since father (who was once signed to Columbia Nashville) would make them a family duo and the last one of those that lasted any length of time was The Judds. Levi’s talent as a vocalist is as unique as his father while he also carries on the Hummon gift for dynamic melodies and lyrical compassion (his mother Becca founded the Nashville charity business Thistle Farms).
Mickey Guyton (Capitol Nashville)
This talented vocalist quietly dropped the stunning Unbreakable EP to iTunes early this year and closed out the year with “Better Than You Left Me,” the song poised to be her major label single debut. She’s been long-gestating in the UMG Nashville roster, having performed to a standing ovation to radio programmers at Country Radio Seminar (last unknown to get that? Kacey Musgraves). She’s poised to join a wave of female artists making a difference and getting traction at radio.
Olivia Lane (Big Spark Music Group)
She may be on an indie label but the young singer/songwriter is a talented artist. Her first single “Steal Me Away” has been making the rounds at country radio and has charted on a few charts (and we expect that to continue) while her upcoming EP showcases all the talent of a young Sara Evans and the talented ears of a la Trisha Yearwood with her choice of songs (whether she wrote them or not). Working with producer Ilya Toshinskiy, Olivia Lane has a collection of songs that are traditional yet fresh enough to catch the ears of young and older fans alike, a rare talent these days.
Chase Bryant (RedBow Records)
Bryant’s career got off to a flying star with his debut single “Take It On Back” instantly becoming a hit (and still rising in the Top 15 as of early December 2014) and that’s helped the talented 21 year old break out. With a fresh look that’s sure to have girls swooning, Bryant comes off as a very strong vocalist with a distinctive point of view
Mo Pitney (Curb Records)
If there’s anyone who is going to bring traditional country music back to the mainstream, it’ll be this young Tennesseean. Blending a gift for songwriting that recalls Alan Jackson with a vocal gift that recalls Gene Watson and Ronnie Dunn, Pitney has everything going for him except for the fact that nobody currently on the radio sounds quite like him. His music is a music that sounds as equally at home in 1975 as it would in 1985 and 1995 and, yes, 2015. His lead single “Country” certainly proves that Country music can touch hearts and minds nationwide,
Bonus Artist To Watch:
Aaron Watson (Big Label/Thirty Tigers)
While he’s 15 years and about to be a dozen albums into his career, Aaron Watson hasn’t exactly been a household name nationwide. That should change in 2015 with the release of the very fine new album The Underdog. Working with Keith Stegall as his co-producer, Aaron has crafted a 14 track album that positions him as a potential traditionalist replacement at radio for Alan Jackson and George Strait (or at least take their place between their album cycles). “That Look” is a smash hit and other songs on the project like “Wildfire,” “The Underdog” and “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys” are potential classics.