2015 is coming to a close, so it is time to take stock of the past 12 months and prepare for the new year. More than anything, country music is opening back up to allow for even more diverse artistry to be accepted. This past year saw bro-country fade away, and it allowed for a far more romantic, R&B-flavored trend to emerge. Sam Hunt stepped up as the new male of country, while Kelsea Ballerini ended the emerging female drought. Too, ballads became bigger than ever, led by Little Big Town’s 7/8 waltz “Girl Crush” and newcomer Cam’s first-ever No. 1 radio hit “Burning House,” along with Jana Kramer’s sentimental “I Got the Boy” and even Carrie Underwood’s sweet “Heartbeat” track. While criticisms remain over country’s direction, what this does indicate is that the gatekeepers are willing to take a risk or two. That can only mean great things for tomorrow’s superstars.
Country Outfitter takes a stab at predicting the talent that is just on the cusp of hitting the big time in 2016. You’ll find below some truly outstanding female talent, along with one must-watch duo and a few soulful males.
1. Maren Morris
She has cuts on several A-list superstar records, like Tim McGraw’s “Last Turn Home” (on his Sundown Heaven Town album) and pop star Kelly Clarkson’s “Second Wind” (lifted from her latest release Piece by Piece). Morris is a marksman with her pen, and her self-titled EP, featuring her new single “My Church,” is an electric blanket of pop, rock and soul influences folded into a modern country project. Her voice, too, is powerful, raw and expansive.
2. Mo Pitney
In all sense of the term, he is a neo-traditionalist. His voice is deep and rich with Randy Travis-like tones. His songwriting, too, is detailed and comes from an incredibly personal place. Songs like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Boy and a Girl Thing” are some of the best tunes across all genres this year.
This lilting songbird didn’t garner the attention she deserved with her debut single “My Mistake,” but when she dropped the smoldering “Burning House,” she caught the attention of radio programmer Bobby Bones, who was the first to spin the song on air. iHeartMedia soon named her their On the Verge pick earlier this year, guaranteeing a Top 20 placement on the charts. But the reaction was overwhelming and the song soon gained traction. It hit No. 1 at radio this week and is now platinum-certified. Her debut album Untamed is chock full of intriguing and layered narratives of love, loss, heartache and empowerment. 2016 is her year.
4. Two Story Road
Comprised of Jamie Fraley, former backup singer to Carrie Underwood, and husband Brandon, former band leader to Danny Gokey, this pop-country duo are striking storytellers. They recently released their self-titled EP, which is packed with stories, including their first single “Arson,” a detailed recount of abuse and blazin’ revenge. Their voices glide together harmoniously, and they trade off lead vocalist duties rather well. They have the street cred, now it is time for radio to jump on board.
5. Kalie Shorr
She’s a Song Suffragette mainstay, and for good reason. Her songwriting is sharp and always heartfelt. Her new single “Fight Like a Girl” is expected to drop in January, and that only means one thing: her star is rising!
OK, yes, he’s a Hollywood star. He plays Will Lexington on ABC’s soapy drama “Nashville” quite well, but have you heard his original music? His brand new Pieces of You EP is stain-soaked with wisdom, charm and lush arrangements.
7. Ashley Clark
Formerly lead singer of Sons of Sylvia, Clark’s influences are decidedly more pop, but there’s a complexity there. His solo debut blends pounding EDM and rock textures, too, but his lyrics are organic.
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