Artists to Watch in 2008 (Part 5 of 5): Critic’s Picks
I can’t say I’m not a little sad that we’ve come to the close of my 2008 preview. I’ve been married to this project for the past couple of weeks, tirelessly making calls and working the research channels in order to bring you everything you need to know about country music’s new artists in ’08. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve probably developed carpal tunnel syndrome along the way. I’d like to thank the Academy, as well as Mom and Dad, and I wish for world peace in the new year.
So just what does it take to make it big in country music? There are a lot of people who have a lot of different answers to that question, but the truth is that none of us really knows for sure. Not exactly. Not to the extent that we can devise a formula that works every time. Even when an artist is talented, and the material is excellent, and the label is dedicated, and the stars align just perfectly, sometimes a single or an album will flop. And there isn’t always a logical explanation as to why.
So all we can do is look at mistakes artists and their teams have made in the past and apply those lessons learned to the artists working towards the future. If we’re careful, and we do our research, we can make some educated predictions. We can note certain pieces missing from the puzzle. We can point out little slip-ups and miscues that could potentially spell trouble. We can factor in mistakes–usually small but sometimes enormous–that arise along the path from discovery to creation to distribution and beyond.
But as we learned from New Hampshire this week, the pundits can be wrong.
So I can’t tell you for certain that the five artists below are going to go on and have huge, meaningful careers in country music. Hell, I can’t even tell you that they won’t be bankrupt in three years. What I can tell you is that they’ve done mostly everything right up to this point, that their music is substantive and artistically compelling, and that they bring something exciting and fresh to the scene.
These are my Critic’s Picks for 2008.
Lady Antebellum (Capitol): It’s a double-dish of standout vocalists for Lady Antebellum, a new Capitol Nashville trio featuring Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley trading off on lead duties, with guitarist Dave Haywood rounding out. Scott’s sultry alto delivery is compelling in its own right, but the real story is the gravitas emanating from Kelley’s soulful tenor; it’s a rich and unique voice with a colorful grit and quiet confidence…and that’s something country music hasn’t heard a lot of in recent years. Throw into the mix inventive songwriting and electric personal chemistry, and everything about this spells “winner”. Lady Antebellum sets itself apart from the rest of the pack of new country duos and bands by establishing a unique sound right out of the gate with debut single “Love Don’t Live Here,” which is impacting radio now. Both commercially viable and artistically satisfying, this trio is fresh, supremely talented, and poised to be one of the few new names we’ll remember when 2008 is said and done.
Minnie Murphy (Montage Music Group): Everyone in the music industry is looking for an artist with the X Factor. This is our Holy Grail. We’re looking for something more than the ability to just sing notes perfectly, someone whose music transcends craft and speaks to us in a guttural sense. The X Factor is what makes an artist appeal to us on a personal level–it’s that indistinguishable, unquantifiable property that some artists, no matter how talented, will never have. From others it simply overflows. Minnie Murphy is one of the others. Sassy and sultry, when she sings she bleeds emotion, and listening to her croon out a jazz-infused “Tennessee Tango” is nothing short of a stirring experience. This is an artist who deserves to be heard over the chatter and rumbling of the rest of 2008′s newcomers.
James Otto (RAYBAW/Warner Bros.): “Just Got Started Loving You,” which breaks into the Top 40 this week, is a big time, real deal, massive, ginormous, smash HIT. It’s the kind of song that will make even a MuzikMafia non-believer stand up and testify–hallelujah, amen, this is what contemporary country music is all about. Otto is a killer songwriter with a powerful voice and I’m going to predict–no, guarantee–that his upcoming album Sunset Man, produced by John Rich and the most talented of the Rascals Jay Demarcus, will land in the Top 10. There’s nothing not to love about this guy–side to side, front to back, James Otto will become a major player in ’08.
Jamie Lee Thurston (Country Thunder): “I ain’t out to reinvent the wheel,” Thurston declares in “I Just Wanna Do My Thing,” a high-powered up-tempo he co-penned with Little Texas songsmith Porter Howell. Thurston may not have a desire to change country music as we know it, but he certainly has the potential to help shape the relationship between radio and small indie labels like Country Thunder. JLT is by far the most polished, radio ready, and artistically-engaging mainstream independent artist set to make a push in 2008, and coming on the heels of “I Loved Her First,” Country Thunder has a chance to prove that being the little guy in the ring no longer means that your product is going to sound cheap or second-hand. “Fifteen Minutes” is a hit waiting to happen–sonically, it is just as good, or perhaps better, than its major label competition, and Thurston’s huge voice is as big-time as it gets.
Ashley Ray (Capitol): When I first saw Ashley Ray on stage at the Big State Festival in October ’07, I knew I was witnessing the beginning of something special. Ray took the stage at 11:45 on Sunday morning–a time when the festival grounds were still mostly empty. While most of Big State’s lesser-known artists struggled to maintain an audience, Ray pulled in a consistent stream of new faces throughout her set–and no one left (not a single person) until it was all over. An energetic performer, Ray’s greatest strength is her songwriting. Edgy and honest, hints of a rebellious attitude shine through in her lyrics, betraying the cuteness of her quasi-cheerleader looks. And that’s what I love the most about Ray–unlike the primp-and-polished female artists we so often see from Nashville, Ray is very much a realist, fully representing and embracing a series of contradictions that speak to the fact that she is not prefab, vanilla, or G-rated. She is human, and her music speaks to the modern human condition.
The 9513′s 2008 Preview Series:
Part 1: On Notice. For these artists, it’s do-or-die.
Part 2: The Comeback Kids. A handful of artists poised to return to prominence in ’08.
Part 3: Buzzworthy. The artists the industry is buzzing about.
Part 4: New Faces. Fifteen new faces vying for your attention in ’08.
Part 5: Critic’s Picks. Jim Malec picks the best-of-the best.
- Jack Hanford: For those who are interested, there is a new 90-minute documentary video about Tompall & the Glaser Brothers on DVD ...
- joe morris: how come nobody mentions his fan club which started 1950 and was called the " the penny pushers " which ...
- jane: I'm reading this article in 2013 and I've yet to hear anything from the album played on the radio.....
- Catwandy: I guess Matt C. is eating his well-deserved crow 'bout now. Critics....gotta love 'em , bless their little hearts.
- Ed McClendon: Saw the brothers in Greeley CO on the occasion of Tompall's 50th birthday. The show wasn't well promoted and there ...
- Roby Fox: I'm sure no one else will know, or even care about this little tidbit of trivia. "Keep Your Change" was ...
- kate wonders: Roni Stoneman is still on Hee Haw every Sunday night on RFD channel.
- Marsha Blades: Tommy, You were so kind to me during a tough time in my life and I don't think I ever ...
- Leona Jones: I seen Chris at the Grand Ole Opry last week.. First time I have heard of him.. He rocked the ...
- Sonicjar Music: Agree with Lucas, But one thing is certain, for a song to come to existence, so many things have to ...