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A bumper crop of talented first-timers takes over the charts

On the radio these days, everything new is new again. After several years during which country produced very few new stars, the charts are suddenly filled with rising talents making a big splash with debut hits. In fact, newcomers account for about a quarter of country radio's current hits.

At the head of the pack is Texas' Tommy Shane Steiner. His first single, "What If She's An Angel," is a Top 5 smash, and his first album, Then Came The Night, debuted in the Top 10. "It's doing a whole lot better than expected," admits Tommy with a chuckle. "I never thought it was gonna be this big right at the beginning."

Sharing the Top 10 with Tommy is the Canadian group Emerson Drive, with their hit, "I Should Be Sleeping." "We're just happy to have a song on the air in the U.S.," exclaims lead singer Brad Mates. "I think it's a great start."

Also getting a great start recently are Kevin Denney with "That's Just Jessie" and Kellie Coffey with "When You Lie Next To Me," both enjoying Top 20 success on their first tries. Plus tunes from new singers like Brad Martin, Joe Nichols and Little Big Town are all having an impact.

Why are so many first-timers finding fans so quickly?

Kessie Marie of the Marie Sisters, enjoying their own debut hit with "Real Bad Mood," has a theory.

"A lot of the new artists are saying, 'We're going to break the mold and shake things up,'" she declares. "They're willing to take chances."

Anthony Smith, with his debut, "If That Ain't Country," now zipping up the charts, thinks the blockbuster success of the Dixie Chicks and the O Brother soundtrack opened doors for fresher music. "No disrespect to anyone, but I think it probably got a little stale there for a while," he notes. "There were a lot of acts that seemed alike."

That's not the case with the current crop of newcomers, both groups and single artists. From the smooth harmonies of the Hometown News duo to the full-band muscle of Pinmonkey and Sixwire -- and the powerful voices of Shannon Lawson and Gabbie Nolen -- there's a little something for everyone.

Brett James, who's watching his single "Chasin' Amy" climb the charts, figures what they all have in common is simply quality. "I love to see truly talented people making it, whether they've been doing it a year or 10 years," he declares.

"And I think there's a lot of real talent coming out right now."

-- Chris Neal