Class of 2001
These newcomers are ready for a place in the spotlight.
Watch out, Dixie Chicks and SHeDAISY! The three girls in 3 Of Hearts are itching to come knocking on your door - but first they have to finish their senior year of high school. Texas teens Deserea Wasdin, Blaire Stroud and Katie McNeill have been friends and singing partners since they were in the seventh grade. They sang at ball games, rodeos and Johnnie High's Country Music Revue - LeAnn Rimes' old stomping grounds in Arlington, Texas.
The group's big break came with a little help from FedEx. Katie's mom works for the company, and one day she asked a fellow driver to do her a favor by delivering the videotape of the girls to a radio promoter who happened to be on the driver's regular route. Nine months later, Deserea, Blaire and Katie were auditioning their upbeat harmonies all over Music Row.
Since signing with RCA Records, 3 Of Hearts performed at last year's Fan Fair and the girls are currently working with famed choreographer Toni Basil to hone their performance skills. Look for 3 Of Hearts' debut album in March.
Neal Coty is an emotional singer/songwriter. He's also a beauty-school dropout. Following high school he enrolled on the advice of a friend.
"This guy said, 'You'll get all the girls. And you can cut hair during the day and play music at night,' " recalls Neal. "I thought, 'That's it!' " But it wasn't meant to be. "I burned people's hair off," he says, laughing. "I was terrible at it."
Lucky for Neal, he was good at singing and songwriting. After the hair disasters, the Maryland native began playing open mic nights at local clubs and eventually snagged opening slots for Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kathy Mattea.
Neal's music was fueled by influences from his childhood. "I wanted to be Waylon Jennings, that Waylon/Willie wayfaring troubadour thing," he says.
Neal's Legacy, due in February on the Mercury label, is filled with Waylon-esque tales of love and loss. "This is the record I've always wanted to make," he says.
At the age of 18, Liz Byler has already secured a songwriting deal and appeared in more than 50 TV commercials. There will be one major addition to the resume when she releases her debut album for Giant Records in 2001.
The striking newcomer, who moved to Nashville with her family when she was two, has spent almost a lifetime in entertainment, performing in Opryland musical revues and touring with Lee Greenwood's show by age 12. Her recorded demos for music publishing companies led to a contract with Giant.
In 1999, Liz also landed a feature role in the film October Sky and taped a pilot for a proposed PAX TV series.
But her focus remains squarely on music. "I'm having so much fun," raves Liz with youthful buoyance. "I'm singing country, which is what I love, and writing with some of the greats."
-- Bob Paxman
Born between New Orleans' French Quarter and a Louisiana bayou, Lisa Angelle mixes country music with swampy funk to dish out a tasty musical gumbo. Her musical genes arrived honestly from a father who worked in radio and a singer/songwriter mother.
The talented beauty began recording at the tender age of eight, cutting a donut shop's jingle. Influenced by church music and the dynamics of Tina Turner and Chaka Khan, Lisa displays remarkable versatility and depth in her debut DreamWorks album. She also wrote and co-produced the project.
"Real life is twisted by contradictions and extremes," notes Lisa. "But there's such beauty and richness in the imperfections."
-- Gerry Wood
Jolie Edwards dreamed of country music stardom but set aside those dreams when she had her first baby. It was her husband, Marty, who kept that dream alive. "You are an incredible wife and mother," he told her, "but I think you'd be a happier wife and mother if you were singing."
He supported the words with action, by taking Jolie to Nashville. "We recorded a few songs and put a little package together," says Jolie.
That package landed Jolie a recording contract with DreamWorks Records. She assembled a band of top musicians and recorded an album, which is slated for release this spring. "I used to pray for a brother, and now I've got five!" exclaims the Omaha, Neb., native about her five male bandmates.
"They're the brothers I never had but always wanted - which is why we named the band Jolie & The Wanted."
The three members of Nickel Creek may be young - ranging from 19 to 23 - but they're also award-winning musicians. Sara Watkins won the Arizona State Fiddle Championship when she was 15. Her brother, Sean, was finalist in the National Flatpicking Guitar championship at 16 and Chris Thile has been nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association's Mandolinist of the Year award for the past four years.
That musicianship caught the ears of some serious fans. Their self-titled album on Sugar Hill Records was produced by Alison Krauss, and last year they toured with Lyle Lovett.
With their bluegrass/folk flavor, it's hard to put the San Diego-based group in a category. "But whatever our music is," says Chris, "we hope to be able to present it to our fans in a way that they can enjoy it as much as we do."
As Canadian Kortney Kayle prepares to make her entry onto the scene, she proves that the steady stream of talent from north of the border shows no sign of slowing.
Teenage Kortney plays guitar and piano and counts artists from Vince Gill to Sheryl Crow among her influences. Her still-untitled debut album will feature a couple of songs she co-wrote.
Kortney's parents encouraged her to make the move from her hometown of Ayr, Ontario, to Nashville where she caught the attention of Lyric Street Records execs.
"I'm still in a state of disbelief at how fast everything has fallen into place," Kortney exclaims. "I know it doesn't always happen this easily. Perhaps it's just the right combination of fate and ambition."
-- Chris Neal
Billy Yates was operating from the heart of Music Row years ago - as a hair stylist. He snipped and clipped at Nashville's Hair Pavilion from 1987 to 1992, when he finally landed a songwriting deal.
Since then, Billy has penned classics for George Jones, specifically "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair" and "Choices," as well as with cuts for Sara Evans, Ricochet and others.
Though he found success as a songwriter, Billy nearly left Nashville when it looked like his dream of becoming a solo artist was fading. But noted producer Garth Fundis gave him a pep talk that changed his life.
"I went home and told my wife that we were going to stay and fight and make this work," he recalls.
Within weeks, Billy had a record contract in hand and his debut album for Columbia, Shadows, is due in March. The unique sound of Shadows, appropriately co-produced by Fundis, combines contemporary with traditional.
-- B. P.