A new year brings with it a renewed sense of hope, promise and resolve, both personally and professionally. 2019 could be the year for any number of up-and-coming artists -- but The Boot staff is placing bets on these men, women and groups.
The Boot's 2019 Artists to Watch are a diverse group: Some lean to the poppy side of country; others are as traditional-sounding as they come. They all, though, have cultivated a style and sound that is all their own, and they're demanding fans' attention.
Some of these acts, readers may know: Maybe you've heard an artist's debut single on the radio or in a playlist; perhaps you're seen one of them live in a small venue, or as an opening act on a superstar's tour. That's how we found them, too -- that and listening to industry and online buzz -- and we're hoping you're ready to learn more about them. And if you're unfamiliar with any of these acts, we're ready to help you discover a new favorite.
We'll be introducing our 2019 Artists to Watch through early February. Keep an eye on this space to get to know them -- and get ready to hear plenty from them throughout 2019.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
It’s kind of strange to say you need to keep an eye out for Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, because they haven’t been hiding. Over the last 10 years, they’ve put out their own original music, backed the inimitable Neil Young and even appeared as Jackson Maine’s band in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. Following the 2017 release of their highly-acclaimed self-titled record and 2018's Forget About Georgia EP (which includes an unforgettable cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”), though, we think it’s time to admit what the world should already know: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real are here, and they’re only going to get bigger and bigger. When we say Nelson and company are artists to watch this year, we mean it. -- CA
The sense of sudden loss and slow recovery in Ben Danaher’s workman-like songs come from a real place. His red dirt opus, 2018's Still Feel Lucky, addresses the passings of his murdered brother and cancer patient father with such introspective songs as “My Father’s Blood.” Despite his tragic backstory, Danaher still offers hope in much of his work, including title track, “Still Feel Lucky,” and the gospel-tinged “Over That Mountain.” By addressing the ups and downs of the human condition, Danaher tells universal tales while turning the lens on his own life. -- BM
One of the newest stars of rocking country music comes from quite the family of entertainers: Dillion Carmichael’s lineage of pickers and singers includes his mom’s famous brothers, Eddie Montgomery (of Montgomery Gentry) and John Michael Montgomery. While his uncles are showmen with an ear for the mainstream, Carmichael’s chosen path blends Southern rock and honky-tonk traditions with lyrics inspired by a childhood spent in Kentucky and an ongoing quest to claim his own piece of the road. Consider his 2018 debut album, Hell on an Angel, featuring the introspective “Made to Be a Country Boy” and the motivational “It’s Simple,” the first chapter of an ongoing, past-honoring travelogue. -- BM
Like Jamey Johnson, Brandy Clark and songwriting pal Lori McKenna, Heather Morgan wrote hits for country music superstars before earning her due as a solo artist. Her work as a songwriter-for-hire includes roles in crafting Brett Eldredge’s “Beat of the Music,” Maren Morris’ “Bummin’ Cigarettes” and Dierks Bentley’s “Stranger to Myself.” On her 2018 debut album, Borrowed Heart, Morgan sounds strong yet vulnerable while singing “Paper,” the McKenna duet “Arms of a Lion” and other blunt tales of heartbreak. Her songs about lost love aren’t all total downers, however: The fast-driving “Highway Robbery” and “Your Hurricane” sound big and bold enough to wow the stadium crowds used to hearing others sing Morgan’s songs. -- BM
Colorado native Ingrid Andress has already built an impressive songwriting career, having penned tracks with the likes of Sam Hunt, Bebe Rexha and Alicia Keys. Andress’ disarming authenticity -- and, sometimes, angst -- courses through her music, making her forthcoming 2019 solo debut one to hear, especially for listeners who like a little grit with their country. Andress’ family traveled often as she was growing up, and her early songs were shaped by the constantly changing landscape that surrounded her. She sharpened her songwriting skills as a student at Boston's Berklee College of Music, and was recently named a 2019 CMT Next Women of Country class member. -- CL
Dee White is only 20 years old, but his music sounds just as vintage country as the real stuff. The Alabamian sings longingly of Southern life, love and loss, his lustrous voice wrapping around melodies like those of John Denver. White's debut EP, 2018's Southern Gentleman, was produced by none other than vintage king Dan Auerbach and released through his label, Easy Eye Sound, and Warner Music Nashville. The project is a showcase of White's '70s country sound -- even featuring vocal harmonies from Alison Krauss -- and his golden voice over pedal steel swells and fiddle flares makes for something as irresistible as it is classic. -- OL
Tenille Townes has already turned heads with her single “Somebody’s Daughter,” which imagines the life story of a homeless woman asking for change on a street corner. Inspired by the real-life memory of a woman Townes saw while sitting in a car at a stoplight with her mother, the song spotlights the singer-songwriter’s powers of evocation and imaginative storytelling, a talent listeners are sure to hear much more of in 2019. Townes has a studio project -- produced by Jay Joyce -- slotted for release early in the year; she is also serving as an opening act on Dierks Bentley’s 2019 Burning Man Tour. -- CL
Based in Austin, Texas, Carson McHone has skillfully honed her voice and her craft in one of the country's finest music scenes. After years of scrapping out in the bars and honky-tonks, McHone's star is finally on the rise, thanks in no small part to her sharp-tongued, story-driven songwriting. With its vintage-inspired, old-timey vocals and classic country sensibilities, McHone's 2018 full-length debut album, Carousel, is a stunning showcase of her edgy approach to the good ol' days of country tunes, one that should be on any traditionalist's listening rotation. -- AM
London-based singer-songwriter Jade Bird first made noise in the U.S. during a stint opening for Brent Cobb. Since then, the buzz about her has grown to a fever pitch, thanks to her expressive and emotive voice -- think Brandi Carlile, but with a poppier tone -- and songs such as "Something American," an aching track about romantic loss and painful memories. Bird is following up her first EP, 2017's Something American, with a self-titled debut full-length on April 19. -- AZ
By the time Ross Ellis was 15, he had already started a band called Wayside with his cousin and some friends. Throughout high school and college, the group grew its following in Ellis' native Louisiana and the nearby state of Mississippi -- but post-college graduation, the musical hopeful moved to Nashville, becoming roommates with fellow songwriters Jameson Rodgers and Hunter Phelps. Playing writers' rounds and co-writing in between part-time jobs landed him a contract with Big Deal Music, and, in 2018, Tim McGraw cut his song "Neon Church." Satellite radio listeners may be familiar with his songs "Home for the Weekend," "Ghosts" and "Barefoot Dancer." -- CC
Hailing from Music City, the five-piece band Birdtalker began when married couple Zack and Dani Green decided to try their hands at writing songs, and invited some friends to join in along the way. The group boasts bold, round vocals and delicate harmonies, all wrapped in a sparkling package reminiscent of early-2010s indie folk, with the spirit of a back-porch acoustic jam. Their songs muse on universal truths and quandaries all while evoking a feeling of being right at home. Birdtalker released their debut album, One, in the summer of 2018 via Sensibility Music, then made appearances at AmericanaFest that September -- and in 2019, we only expect more. -- OL
The Wandering Hearts
London-based quartet the Wandering Hearts had a big 2018, what with making their debut U.S. appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, earning a slot at Marty Stuart's Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium and releasing their debut album, Wild Silence. However, the co-ed group and its Americana-pop sounds, which are driven by lilting harmonies and rollicking instrumentation, are poised to make even bigger waves in 2019. Among other things, a deluxe version of Wild Silence, containing eight bonus tracks, is due out Jan. 25. -- AZ
The name Hardy might not ring any bells for you just yet, but you’ve already heard some of his talent in hits such as Florida Georgia Line’s “Simple” and Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down” -- yup, he wrote 'em. Hardy (full name: Michael Hardy) is a well-established songwriter with a degree in the craft, and his upbringing in small-town Mississippi shines through his relatable backwoods lyrics and catchy melodies. Hardy’s gritty sound and unabashed country charm has earned him a spot on Wallen’s 2019 If I Know Me Tour, and we’re betting that’s just one of the places you’ll be seeing his name in the near future. -- LS
Jason Hawk Harris
It’s not unusual for talented young artists to discover that their parents’ favorite music deserves further consideration; after all, plenty of Americana comes from metal or punk musicians with a quarter-life interest in Hank Williams, Roy Orbison or Jim Croce. For Jason Hawk Harris, his path to singer-songwriter success begins with Ludwig Van Beethoven, not Camper Van Beethoven. Classical training and composing pre-date Harris’ self-styled “meta-apocalyptic country / Americana grief-grass” sound, making him a traditional songwriter in the truest sense. Despite his highfalutin beginnings, Harris’ raw emotion and blunt honesty permeate his 2017 EP, Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips. His highly anticipated debut album with Bloodshot Records arrives sometime this year. -- BM
The Brother Brothers
The Brother Brothers, comprised of identical twins Adam and David Moss, mix soulful harmonies with acoustic folk sounds to produce their own unique musical experience. The Illinois natives released their debut album, Some People I Know, in 2018; the record includes their popular song "Frankie," which draws on David's experiences while bartending in Brooklyn and seeing the impact that corporate greed played on that community. Following the October release of their album, the Brother Brothers launched an extensive tour beginning in December and will remain on the road in the first half of 2019. -- CC
Molly Tuttle is already well known for her musical versatility and virtuosity. Among other accolades, she won the title of Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards, and made history in 2017 when she became the first woman ever to take home the title of Guitar Player of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards. However, in 2019, fans will have a chance to better get to know Tuttle as a songwriter and solo act: The Americana and bluegrass artist has plans to release her debut full-length album, which she says will showcase the music she’s written since moving to Nashville, a compilation of both co-writes and tracks she has penned alone. With industry recognition and an assured sense of musical style under her belt, Tuttle is poised to cement herself as an important artist in the Americana canon. -- CL
Kelleigh Bannen’s searing “Happy Birthday” is just the latest release in a career built on authenticity, storytelling and forging a path of your own. Another recently released track from the country singer is “The Joneses,” which further explores the importance of not worrying too much about what everyone else is doing and instead focusing on living your own life. On a personal level, that’s a skill that Bannen developed out of necessity: The singer grew up in Nashville, surrounded by others pursuing careers in the music business. In addition to her musical career, she also has a podcast called This Nashville Life, which takes an insider’s look at the music business. Her expertise will draw listeners in, but Bannen’s true gift is her ability to cut to the core of a song, proving, again and again, both the expertise and the heart behind her love of music. -- CL
Nashville native Mitchell Tenpenny was raised in the world of country music, in part thanks to his grandmother, Donna Hilley, who worked in the industry. Before hitting the airwaves as an artist himself, Tenpenny wrote songs for others, including penning Granger Smith's "If the Boot Fits." Further proving his writing prowess, Tenpenny co-wrote all 11 songs on his debut album, Telling All My Secrets, which was released on Dec. 14. Off of that release comes Tenpenny's debut single, "Drunk Me," which rose to the top spot on the country charts. -- CC
Joshua Ray Walker
Texas up-and-comer Joshua Ray Walker is the definition of an old soul. Having started his life as a musician by gigging with touring bands in high school, Walker has seen a lot in his 28 years, and that hard-earned wisdom shines through his evocative lyrics. On Jan. 25, Walker will release his debut full-length album, Wish You Were Here, and it's destined to be one of the year's finest records thanks to tracks such as "Canyon" and "Working Girl," both of which are stunning examples of the way that Walker blends lyrics and melodies into tunes that will make you think, laugh and cry — or all three at once. -- AM
Whether sparsely produced and acoustic on her first EP, 2016’s Orphan Offering, or supercharged on her forthcoming full-length, the Dan Auerbach-produced Walk Through Fire, British singer-songwriter Yola is on the frontlines of soulful storytelling prowess. With roots in rock (she previously performed with British trip-hop group Massive Attack) as well as in folk, soul and country, Yola effortlessly blends genres and generations in the studio, with a wide range of collaborators that include bluegrass up-and-comer Molly Tuttle, Johnny Cash’s bassist Dave Roe, FAME Studios session player Dan Penn and many others. Her songs share a complex narrative of personal pain and triumph, exploring her experiences of coming up through an impoverished childhood and navigating her music and her world as a black woman. The music is an amalgamation of genres and styles, but the results are deceptively simple, united under her powerful vocals and intricate lyrical expertise. -- CL