Country music fans might argue their favorite artists have a penchant for storytelling that cuts straight to the heart. Many of the Grammy-winning greats have penned or performed songs about real people, facing real issues, in a very honest and relatable way. Superstars like Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and country-turned-pop-crossover Taylor Swift all started somewhere, with that first hit song that resonated with listeners and fanned their musical flame.
Who are the new, up-and-coming country artists currently on track to tell some compelling musical stories and forge fast connections with their fans in the year ahead? We’ve put together a list of rising country artists to watch in 2019 below.
Rising through the ranks with raw, vulnerable lyrics and a warm, indie-country vocal sound, Liddy Clark has opened for Scotty McCreery, Joe Nichols and even received a personal invitation (at just 14) to sing at the legendary Loretta Lynn’s ranch.
She released her captivating debut EP Testing the Waters last summer. She delves into lost love with aching clarity in “Holding Her Hand.” Her remake of “I Hope You Dance” with her cousin Drew Womack is fresh and uplifting. Her vulnerable, honest track “Painted By Numbers” ultimately encourages listeners to embrace their own body image and love themselves as they are.
Clark also penned an emotionally-charged response to the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida, where she grew up. She debuted the song, “Shot Down (Stand Up) at the Wear Orange: Healing Through Harmony concert honoring those whose lives have been affected by gun violence and garnered a widespread positive reaction.
In 2017, Clark performed at the iHeart Country Music Summit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where she was honored to receive advice from Garth Brooks. She was recently picked to be an iHeartRadio Digital Artist of the Month and hit the stage at the iHeartRadio Live Sessions in New York.
Like many aspiring singer-songwriters of his generation, Jordan Rager gained exposure and a loyal following by performing covers on YouTube. He caught the attention of Justin Moore, who invited Rager to open for him on his Off the Beaten Path tour in 2014.
The Georgia native singer-songwriter released his charming 2016 debut single “Southern Boy,” which was a collab with Jason Aldean and the title track of his debut EP under Broken Bow Records. The track hit No. 37 on the U.S. Country Airplay chart. Rager’s easy, boy-next-door persona reflects strongly in the lyrics of his songs, in which he maintains a conviction to be “an honest writer and artist.” He counts country icons George Strait and Alan Jackson among his role models.
Now teamed with Riser House Records, Rager hopes to be lyrically transparent with songs he’s written but has also opened himself up to the idea of recording songs written by others. He played CMA Fest this summer and performed the southern rock-tinged single “One of the Good Ones,” which was co-written by Ross Ellis, Chris Stevens, and James McNair. The track is presumably the lead single on Rager’s highly-anticipated upcoming EP.
Jenna Paulette aptly describes her brand of country as “New West.” Part cowgirl, part modern woman, the Dallas native songstress drives an F-150 truck she inherited from her grandfather. She grew up in a hard-working ranching family and that strong work ethic translated to a fierce pursuit of her musical passion.
Jenna Paulette is candid about the fact that she’s striving to marry the old with the new in her songs. Above all, she’s aiming to create songs others can relate to, which also embody her Western roots. Her debut single “Coolest Girl in the World” serves up a perfect example.
She describes her latest track, “F-150,” in a statement saying, “It’s an undertone of pop and an overtone of cowgirl. That’s what works for me, and people have started to respond because they can relate. The goal of music is relatability -- to bring people together based on common experience, to put into words what they cannot express, emotionally. My vehicle for that is what I represent, the ‘modern cowgirl.’”
Citing Dixie Chicks, LeAnn Rimes, and Kenny Chesney among her musical influences, Jenna Paulette has already carved a unique path in the country landscape. She’s opened for Zac Brown Band, Joe Nichols and High Valley. She’s also a regular at Nashville’s Listening Room Café. Her songs are grounded in steel pedal and lyrics that yield a sassy, sly kind of fun – as in how she compares the way a man loves a woman to the way he loves his F-150 truck. Her upcoming EP is due out in 2019 and we can’t wait to hear what she does next.
Travis Denning grew up in Georgia listening to everything from country to pop to heavy metal ala AC/DC. He started doing local gigs at 16 and built an enthusiastic grass roots following. He moved to Music City in 2014 and soon after signed a publishing deal. Armed with cuts he wrote for Justin Moore, Chase Rice, Jason Aldean and more, Denning eventually landed a deal with Universal Music Group in 2017.
His debut single “David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs” is a coming-of-age song about a college kid reaping the risky benefits of getting away with using a fake ID. It notably charted in the Top 40 on Billboard’s Country and Country Airplay charts.
Denning boasts a distinct country-rock vibe and displays deep love of country and the free-flyin’ flag in his latest single “Red, White and Blue.” One thing you won’t ever see his boots do “is step on the red, white and blue.” He’s currently working on his highly-anticipated debut album.
Denning has opened for Alan Jackson, Cole Swindell, Moore and Rice and is a featured member of The Grand Ole Opry’s 2019 Opry “NextStage” class. He’ll play an upcoming showcase-style concert for “NextStage” at Ole Red Nashville on Jan. 8. He’s also touring with LANCO on the Hallelujah nights tour. He’ll rock the stage with the likes of Sam Hunt, Luke Combs, Lauren Alaina and more at the Off the Rails Country Music Fest in Frisco, Texas on May 5. (Tickets)
Northern California native singer-songwriter Tyler Rich began listening to country music at eight-years-old and was gifted a guitar at 14. He dropped his debut EP Valerie in 2015. A move to Nashville spawned a record deal with Big Machine Records imprint Valory Music Company.
This past summer, Rich was a featured artist on BBVA Music Sessions. He talked about the importance of connecting with fans at a venue like the Skyline Beer Garden in an AXS interview saying, “There’s more real and organic to me than getting the opportunity to connect with fans up close and personal.”
Rich is immensely skilled at penning raw, vulnerable songs like fan favorite 11:11 that’s teeming with regret over lost love and his highly-relatable single “The Difference,” about being in love with someone that’s always been just a friend and finding the courage to tell them the truth. Both tracks hail from Rich’s eponymous second EP, which dropped in September. The latter track charted in the Top 40 on the U.S. Country and Country Airplay charts.
Rich is branching out, playing venues all over the country alongside huge artists like Dustin Lynch, Dan + Shay, Cole Swindell, Justin Moore and more. He started opening for Brett Young in 2018. As a CMT Listen Up Artist in 2018, the year ahead is heating up nicely for Tyler Rich.