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Before they became household names, today’s established stars had to start out as unknowns, looking for that one big break or the song that would distinguish them from the competition. Each new year welcomes a fresh class of hopefuls who long to make their marks in country music and stand alongside their heroes. After listening to an almost iTunes-filling amount of new music, the Country Weekly editorial staff singled out a lucky 13 who we think will turn your head in ’13. Like last year’s selections Dustin Lynch, Thomas Rhett and Jana Kramer, look for these artists to break through on the charts or perhaps join up with one of your favorites on tour. — THE COUNTRY WEEKLY EDITORIAL STAFF
It’s one thing to be a gifted writer, another to be a talented singer, and even another to be a dynamic performer. Combine them all with a personality and sense of humor that engages everyone in the room, and stardom has to be around the corner. Austin always knew he wanted to be a writer, but it took a bad breakup to actually get him to Nashville to pursue his lifelong passion. Her loss is country music’s gain. A budding poet at the age of 9, he set his words to music when he picked up a guitar at 16 and began channeling influences such as Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Joe Cocker, Otis Redding and Townes Van Zandt into songs. Austin released his upbeat debut single, “It’s All Good,” this month.
Of the current crop of Ones to Watch, few are singing with as much attitude as Maggie Rose. And it’s not orchestrated ’tude: Maggie comes across as genuine as the blues-based country music she’s performing. Her single “I Ain’t Your Mama” snaps with verve, and the accompanying video showcases a woman comfortably at home in her spots—or, more specifically, in the cheetah-print dress she sports in the sexy clip. It’s as if Maggie, who in 2011, while still known as Margaret Durante, released the pop-country song “Maybe Tonight,” has found her true self, one more focused on the organic nature of country and less on the slick studio production that often frames today’s releases. We’re expecting her to continue on that more genuine path when her album drops in March.
At 19 years old, Morgan Frazier looks like the perfect combination of sugar and spice, and the best part of it is, she sounds like it, too. And she should. She has been developing her talent since she started performing at the age of 5. She made her first album at 9, picked up the guitar and started writing at 10 and won her first Nashville songwriting competition at 12, beating out much older, more experienced writers. That caught the attention of all the right people and Morgan found herself in the writers’ room with Nashville’s best, including Dean Dillon (George Strait’s “The Chair”) and Paul Overstreet (Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen”). She’s now out promoting her first single, a humorous look at finding the perfect guy, “Yellow Brick Road.”
Don’t be fooled by Rachele Lynae’s small stature. Yes, the 24-year-old is petite, but her room-filling voice is anything but. While her debut release, “Party ’Til the Cows Come Home,” may have leaned toward the cliché in title, the way Rachele—a protégé of Jamie O’Neal—delivered the thumping anthem displayed a one-of-a-kind approach to country-rock. Sassy new single “Fishin’ for Something,” co-written by Rachele, furthers establishes the young singer as one of the new year’s heartiest voices, and one who could follow in the feisty footsteps of artists like Miranda Lambert or even Gretchen Wilson. Even more unique? She hails from Kodiak, Alaska, which we find pretty darn cool.
If resilience alone can propel a band to success, Parmalee is already on the path to greatness. In late 2010, while packing up after a show, the band’s drummer, Scott Thomas, was shot three times during an attempted car-jacking. He bled out and his heart stopped twice while he was being helicoptered to the trauma unit, but, after a 10-day coma and 35-day hospital stay, he recovered. And in early 2011, he was well enough to perform with brother Matt, cousin Barry Knox and pal Josh McSwain, and the group secured a record deal with Stoney Creek, proving that they have more than just resilience—they have talent, too. The boys burst onto the country scene with their debut party anthem, “Musta Had a Good Time,” and recently released their second single, “Carolina.”
Charlie has plenty of country and bluegrass in his blood, growing up in Mississippi and learning to play guitar and fiddle at an early age. In 2006, Charlie moved to Nashville and joined the band KingBilly, which featured some expert musicians and singers. He embarked on a solo career a few years later and landed a songwriting contract with one of Music Row’s top publishers. During the last few years, Charlie has picked up some valuable exposure opening shows for such major acts as Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert. Recently, Charlie added another feather to his cap when he landed a cut on Dierks Bentley’s Home album, “Heart of a Lonely Girl.” Charlie is set to release his debut album in 2013.
The Voice alum RaeLynn—a member of Blake Shelton’s team, she finished third—is as dead-set on success as she is on stealing an undeserving girl’s man in her precocious single “Boyfriend.” And with Blake squarely in her corner as a mentor, country’s spotlight could certainly shine on the 18-year-old, who reportedly runs everything she writes past Blake. What sets RaeLynn apart, however, isn’t her famous friends: it’s the Texas spitfire’s undeniable presence. She sings, gestures and even bats her eyes as if she were born to be a star. Look for RaeLynn’s debut album later this year.
Another entry in the “families do it better” list comes courtesy of High Valley, the sibling trio from remote La Crete, Alberta. Brothers Brad, Bryan and Curtis Rempel harmonize effortlessly on their U.S. debut single, “Love You for a Long Time,” a soaring, up-tempo ode to devotion released in conjunction with Phil Vassar’s Rodeowave Records. Long as trucks have tailgates, it begins, which it’s fair to say might be a pretty long time. The guys have a great track record in their native land, previously earning Album of the Year for Broken Borders at the 2007 GMA Canada Covenant Awards. A full-length U.S. album is on the way.
New family trio The Henningsens (father Brian, son Aaron and daughter Clara) started off 2013 in high fashion when their anthemic song “American Beautiful” scored the most Mediabase first-week radio adds for a debut single since Gretchen Wilson’s 2004 smash “Redneck Woman.” The song, penned by the trio with hit tunesmith Brett Beavers, lays out the Jack-and-Diane love story of a Sinatra junkie in a pair of jeans and a girl who holds her pants up with a Bible belt. “American Beautiful” is the title track from their upcoming debut album, produced by Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum). And though their name might not be familiar to you just yet, their music almost certainly is: The Henningsens penned a smash for a different family trio, The Band Perry’s “All Your Life.”
Loretta Lynn once warned her carousing man by saying, “Don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind.” Singer/songwriter Kelleigh Bannen borrows a page from Loretta’s book with her debut single, “Sorry on the Rocks,” in which she chastises a dude who only calls to apologize after he’s had a few too many. Kelleigh, a Nashville native, lists Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks and others among her influences, but her alto singing voice puts her in a class all by herself as country females go. Keep an eye out for more new music from Kelleigh this year, as all-star producer Paul Worley has been working on her debut album.
When JB Patterson held an audition for the band he wanted to start, only three people showed up—Gabe Guevara, Hayden McMullen and Chris Flores. But they were definitely the right three. The chemistry was virtually immediate and it didn’t take long before the foursome called JB and the Moonshine Band was booking shows all over East Texas. Soon after, they were covering the entire state, plus Oklahoma, Kansas and the rest of the Red Dirt region. They’re now lighting up the whole of the U.S. with their often tongue-in-cheek and occasionally tender songs, like current single “Kiss Me That Way.”
Rose, the daughter of singer/songwriter Billy Falcon, has been composing music and poetry since she was a youngster. Songwriting has provided Rose’s earliest success, as she’s co-penned “Give In to Me,” recorded by Faith Hill for the Country Strong movie soundtrack, along with “Friday Night,” which appears on Lady Antebellum’s Own the Night album. Fans got the chance to hear Rose’s music up close this past year when she performed as part of the 2012 Country Throwdown Tour, headlined by Gary Allan. Rose also recently appeared on the CW series Hart of Dixie, performing her new single, “You Stole My Heart.” That track is featured on Rose’s EP 19th Avenue (Volume 2), released Jan. 29. A full-scale album is also in the works. “I want my songs to be a friend to anyone listening,” says the 28-year-old.
Fans will likely remember Kacey as a contestant on the 2007 season of the TV talent competition Nashville Star. The 24-year-old Texas native has been singing and writing since she was a youngster, and those early lessons are beginning to pay dividends. Kacey released her acclaimed single “Merry Go ’Round” this past year and recently finished recording her major-label debut album, which she helped produce. Miranda Lambert is currently riding the charts with Kacey’s co-written effort “Mama’s Broken Heart.” Kacey has also picked up some valuable touring experience, opening shows for Willie Nelson and Lady Antebellum on the UK portion of the group’s tour. You’ll find Kacey this year on both Little Big Town’s Tornado Tour and Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Nation stadium tour.