Artists to Watch in 2008 (Part 4 of 5): New Faces
Will country music see a breakout artist, the likes of Taylor Swift, in 2008? Will the indie revolution continue?
Your 2008 New Faces of Country Music are…
Marcel Chagnon (Lyric Street)
From: Grosse Pointe, MI
Factoid: Marcel is engaged to long-time girlfriend and fellow country singer Jessica Andrews.
Not exactly a “new” face, I’m almost certain that Marcel will be unfamiliar to at least 99% of our readers. The enigmatic singer-songwriter re-launches, following 2003′s commercially unsuccessful You, Me and the Windshield, with a new single called “I Love This Song” due in the first quarter of ’08. Like labelmate Sarah Buxton, Marcel is an established songwriter, having penned “Nothin’ to Lose” for Josh Gracin. Also like Buxton, however, Marcel’s voice sounds so significantly different from the rest of the format that it is almost jarring in comparison. Contrast aside, the fact remains that he is an excellent and distinctive singer, and I can’t help but wish that Lyric Street would lead with the phenomenal song “One Big Church” as opposed to the quirky “I Love This Song”–a track which covers much the same ground as previous debut “Country Rock Star,” and which will probably fare about as well (which is not well at all). Still, if Marcel’s new project is half as good as his previous, it’s worth pre-ordering.
Star De Azlan (Curb Records)
Factoid: De Azlan used to be in a mariachi band.
De Azlan launched in 2007 with the starkly traditional “She’s Pretty,” an excellent song with an embracing vocal performance that is still lingering on the charts and managing to pick up a few spins here and there, including some support from WGGR-Ft. Myers and KKGO-Los Angeles. This gorgeous twenty-two year old has some major chops, and she may be the most vocally convincing of the current batch of female neotraditionalists.
Jypsi (Arista Nashville)
Factoid: Jypsi used to be known by the name Silk ‘n Saddle.
Jypsi is supposed to represent “truth in music” according to its label, Artista. Truth? If we’re talking about truth…this whole package is just too weird. Do you know what Jypsi’s promo pix say to me? They say things like “We got our outfits on clearance at the vintage thrift store,” and “It’s costume night at Sizzler–come in dressed up and get a free milkshake!”. Truth? Supremely un-country voices aside, this is hokey, cheesy, and completely pointless.
Katie Armiger (Cold River Records/Nine North)
From: Houston, TX
Factoid: The 16 year old Armiger won the junior division of Houston radio station WKKBQ-93′s “Houston’s Best Country Singer” contest.
Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. Cold River has been pushing Armiger like nobody’s business over the past few weeks. The label was banking on the effectiveness of a radio tour in support of “17 in Abeline” (a single it has already abandoned). Other attempts to stir up buzz include a series of full-page ads in various trade magazines which have been declaring her a “Phenom” and raving about “That voice!”. The problem? That voice is…not so phenomenal. Like most young vocalists, Armiger sounds fine when she’s belting power notes, but her lack of vocal maturity becomes apparent whenever a song calls for a more dialed-back approach. Aside from the single, the vocals on the songs on Armiger’s MySpace page are sometimes borderline unbearable, and her songwriting is not half as good as fellow teen songstress Taylor Swift. So despite Cold River’s claims that “Her star is on the rise,” I have a feeling that this project is about to come crashing down.
Dean Brody (Broken Bow)
From: “The edge of the Canadian Rocky Mountains”
Factoid: Brody was a punter for a semi-pro football team.
Cited by his label as a “prolific singer-songwriter,” Brody’s voice boasts a rich, understated character. But like Broken Bow’s Lila McCann, I’m just not sure what the selling points are here; how does Brody position himself against all the other new male artists vying for our attention? If BB is smart, they will release “That’s What Brothers Are For,” a fantastic and deeply poignant song. Otherwise, I have a feeling Brody goes three-and-out.
Carmen Rasmusen (Loften Creek)
From: Bountiful, Utah
Factoid: Rasmusen finished sixth on American Idol’s second season.
Yet another Idol castoff making a play at country, Rasmusen might be the one person in the world who is not aided by weeks of national exposure. From her look to her sound to her milk-it-for-all-it’s-worth attitude (check out her new book “Staying in Tune”), everything about this young woman reeks of pop. That’s how she represented herself during Idol and after Idol, and I’m not sure that’s an image she’s going to be able to shake.
Laura Bryna (Equity Records)
From: Mount Airy, Maryland
Factoid: Bryna is a graduate of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.
Call me heartless, but call me honest: Bryna’s debut single, “Make a Wish”–the video for which played continuously on 35 screens at the Luxor and Excalibur hotels (Las Vegas) through December ’07–is completely predictable, disturbingly saccharine, and way too heavy-handed to be effectively emotionally stirring. Likewise, her debut album, Trying To Be Me, launches on Jan. 14th behind a massive marketing campaign that seems to be overtly playing up an uber-sexy image that I’m not sure meshes with the exquisitely vanilla sound of her music.
Shauna Faegan (Category 5)
From: Coco Beach, FL
Factoid: Faegan’s myspace page features an American flag, a daily Bible Verse, and a link to a Christian dating website.
Faegan is one of the better pure vocalists in ’08′s batch of new faces. But here’s the rub: Can Category 5 make a serious push for any artist at this point? Travis Tritt’s Randy Jackson-produced album The Storm has failed to produce anything significant, and three artists have been dropped from the label in only two years of existence. Add on top that the fact that founder Raymond Termini is under investigation by the State of Connecticut, and that the label’s website hasn’t been updated since November, and things do not look promising. Still not convinced? How about this: Shauna’s top MySpace song is incorrectly labeled as “to good for to long”–as opposed to “Too Good For Too Long,” and her artist bio, one of the most grammatically abhorrent things I’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of encountering, is a rambling and almost entirely unreadable mess that it is presented in all italics and which incorrectly spells Joe Diffie’s name as “Joe Diffy”. Forgive me if I don’t put a lot of faith in a label that presents its artists so unprofessionally and makes such amateur (and easily correctable) mistakes.
Jeremy McComb (Parallel Records)
From: Somewhere on the Idaho/Washington border
Factoid: McComb used to be Larry the Cable Guy’s road manager.
McComb may have worked for a funnyman, but he is a very serious artist. Upcoming single “This Town Needs a Bar” is a starkly country record with a strong Americana influence, and there are hints of Brother Bruce Robison present in his voice. Hey, is Parallel Records really going to be able to get this guy on the radio? Everything in the universe points to no. And the truth is, even if debut album My Side Of Town were on a major label, McComb’s music would probably still be considered too progressive. But if you like a little edge with your country, give McComb a shot in ’08.
Justin Moore (Valory Music Co.)
Factoid: Was supposed to record in October ’07, but was apparently shifted from Big Machine to Valory, and as of Jan. is still in the studio.
Remember where you heard this name first. When I first started researching Justin Moore for this series, his MySpace page boasted a total of around 300 page views. A week later it had over 600. A second profile, seemingly unofficial, features what sounds like a demo of a song called “I Could Kick Your Ass,” which Moore co-wrote. It is kick ass, and with a sound like his Moore could very well step up and fill the rough-and-tumble cowboy role missing from the current format. Make no mistake–young, southern males (cowboy or not) are going to flip over this song. Moore will be introduced at CRS, and is already set to join Trace Adkins on tour in early ’08.
Shannon Walker (DM Nashville/Nine North)
Factoid: DM Nashville’s parent company, DM Records, is responsible for classics including Tag Team’s “Whoop! There it Is!” and Los Del Mar’s “Macarena”.
Walker’s music taps into some genuinely emotional undercurrents, but his lyrics are incomprehensibly heavy handed. Debut single “That’s Why God Made Me,” which goes for adds on Feb. 11, has a chorus that takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to unwind into a sentiment so sappy that I swear it made my stomach hurt. I like Shannon Walker, especially for his enthusiasm. But his songwriting is disappointing, because the ideas are so good, but are executed to such a high degree of mediocrity. Some of these lines are just cringe-worthy, like when he sings, “If you support your family he’s gonna have a job/If you took him to church, your grandkids will know God,” in “His Father’s Son”.
Bluefield (Curb Records)
Factoid: Jennifer Hicks was the last female booted during Nashville Star’s second season.
No one can argue with the talent of Rick Ferrell and Jennifer Hicks, the folksy Curb duo known as Bluefield. Launch single “Butterfly” is sonically, lyrically and melodically beautiful. And my greatest wish for country radio is that it will eventually embrace this kind of engaging, progressive country. But as much as I love this act, I just don’t think we’re there yet, and Curb would be smartest to turn this into an Americana pitch.
Stephen Cochran (Quarterback Records)
Factoid: Cochran broke his back while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.
Quarterback is making a mainstream play with Cochran, hoping that his background–he grew up in Music City, where his father was a struggling songwriter–will lend an air of credibility to his debut self-titled project. Likewise, Cochran’s artist bio boasts about his respect for the genre’s roots, and his desire to record a holistically country record. It’s a nice gesture, but at the end of the day Cochran is a big man with a small voice.
Crystal Shawanda (RCA Nashville)
From: Wikwemikong Reserve; Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Factoid: Shawanda is a full-blooded Ojibway Indian.
A fiery singer with a voice full of power and grit, Shawanda is a seasoned veteran of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Producer Scott Hendricks has signed on to produce CS’s ’08 album, and I like her chances. There’s just something exceptionally genuine about Shawanda’s voice; unlike so many new faces that come and go in country music, Shawanda sounds exclusively country–contemporary, yes, and perhaps leaning a little to the southern rock side of the genre, but without even the faintest hint of Pop. And country radio has shown over and over that it will embrace a more country sound, so long as both the artist and the artist’s material are excellent. Both of those points are true in this case. This is an intriguing signing, and I applaud RCA Nashville for stepping up and taking a chance on singer with a unique personality, voice, name, and look.
Phil Stacey (Lyric Street)
From: Harlan County, Kentucky
Factoid: Stacey finished sixth on American Idol’s sixth season.
Photo courtesy votefortheworst.com.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s final installment of our 2008 Preview–my “Critic’s Picks” for 2008.
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