Photo: Little Jack Films, Alysse Gafkjen, Courtney Sultan, Bobby Cochran, Bethany Johanna
Country & Western's New Generation Is Defiantly Of The Moment: Meet Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Bella White & Others
A diverse and talented new generation of singer/songwriters are steeped in the genre's oldest stylings, but telling stories of a modern America struggling with its identity. GRAMMY.com explores what this movement says about country music — and America.
Seismic shifts in music — the kind that reverberate across the social landscape to reveal something essential about the moment, that challenge a dominant narrative, or herald the start of a new era — often rumble the ground for a while before the cultural gatekeepers start to feel it. When the shaking can no longer be ignored, the movement is recognized, and a consensus forms that something important is happening.
Follow Charley Crockett around for a few days and it's hard not to conclude that, well, something important is happening. The itinerant songwriter grew up shuttling between Texas and New Orleans, and calls his music "Gulf & Western" — crisp, hard, insightful songs that blend old country and folk, blues, Tejano, Texas swing, and Dixieland. Crockett is selling out shows everywhere he goes. And the audiences pouring in are from across the cultural spectrum.
"We're breaking through. I got young kids, old timers, s—tkickers, good 'ol boys, hippies, LGBTQ all right up in front," Crockett says after a sold out performance in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In one week in September, he opened for Willie Nelson in New York and played Farm Aid. Now he's headlining a coast-to-coast tour and a European run in support of his new album, The Man From Waco, which dropped Sept. 9.
When asked his thoughts on his surging popularity, Crockett says he hears the same two things all the time: "Number one thing they say is, 'I'd given up on country music until I found you.' Which is really sad to be honest. And two, they say, 'I didn't know that I could like country music.'"
Crockett is part of a diverse and talented new generation of singer/songwriters who are steeped in country music's oldest stylings and traditions, but telling stories of a modern America struggling with its identity. Their songs feel both timeless and strikingly original — defiantly of the moment.
Alongside Crockett, Colter Wall is the most widely known artist in this new cohort. The 27-year-old cattle rancher from Saskatchewan has nearly 2.5 million Spotify followers. His music appears on the popular ranching drama "Yellowstone" and on the playlists of Post Malone, Lucinda Williams, and Jason Momoa. All of his releases have been critically acclaimed for their exquisite songwriting, musicianship and old-soul depth. He is a living monument to the genre, making his way across the landscape and timeline before our eyes — and ears — leaving behind music that sounds both everything and nothing like what he recorded before. Two new singles, released Sept. 21, are the latest time capsules.
Other artists are breaking through too. West Virginia's Sierra Ferrell is an otherworldly vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist making a seductive blend of country, bluegrass, and jazz who came up busking on the streets of New Orleans and Seattle. Vincent Neil Emerson is a Texas artist heavily influenced by his tragic upbringing, his Choctaw-Apache heritage, and his early days playing honkytonks in Dallas' Deep Elem. At just 22, Bella White is a songwriting prodigy and emotional alchemist.
It's difficult to put a precise label on this music. By classic definitions, it is both country and western, so perhaps it's best to dust off the term used by Billboard in the late '40s and 1950s, when music from Texas, California and points in between nudged its way into a genre that up until then had been largely Southern. But as Craig Havighurst of MiddleTennessee's WMOT radio says, "Genres are marketing categories. Music organizes itself in communities." He's right.
This revival of traditional country and western music is made up of a community of artists and fans, and it's playing out alongside, and at times intermingled with, other communities supporting a parallel surge of new folk, bluegrass, and old-time mountain music.
So far, the revival has not been embraced by the mainstream country music establishment. Most people you talk to say it's "too country for country," an admission of how far the pop country sound has traveled from the genre's founding ingredients. But in the six years since Sturgill Simpson took the industry to task for "pumping formulaic cannon fodder bulls—t down rural America's throat," an entire ecosystem of independent labels and music platforms has sprung up to support the music, giving it a chance to reach broader audiences, and foster that sense of community.
Independent label LaHonda Records was started by Connie Collingsworth and Travis Blankenship in 2019–as the revival was beginning to coalesce–to put out Vincent Neil Emerson's first record, a collection of jewels that established labels wanted to release the "traditional way," which would have meant waiting a year or more. The two friends hoped their complementary skillsets and work ethic would be enough to do right by Emerson. The album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women, struck a chord and LaHonda has since established itself as one of the movement's centers of gravity. In just three years, the label has also released records by Colter Wall, Riddy Arman, and the Local Honeys.
The community has spawned a litany of supportive entities. Gems on VHS and Western AF are two digital channels posting performance videos by artists from this music community. Both sites see themselves as archivists, preservers of history and seed banks for future generations to draw from. In the meantime, they're acting as vessels for discovery and gathering places — a Grand Ole Opry for a new generation. W.B. Walker's Old Soul Radio Show and Kyle Coroneos' website Saving Country Music are playing similar roles, as is a vibrant festival circuit.
The timing of this revival is a story unto itself, and key to understanding why the resurgence is such an important cultural development. Country music first rose to commercial prominence during the Great Depression, when America was in transition, and crisis, and millions of people sought solace from the uncertainty by tuning their radio dials to the familiar music. In the late '60s and early '70s, when the nation was again sharply divided and in transition, the music circled back in a revival that got branded as "Outlaw Country."
While all music has the power to empathize and heal, this music has always been a barometer measuring the depths of America's shared anxieties, a leading indicator marking our hardest times, and a tonic to treat the pain.
"People find comfort in familiarity, in simplicity," says Dr. Lucy Bennett, an assistant professor of music, media, and culture at Cardiff University in the U.K. "They turn to the traditional, to things that evoke the past. Living in a technologically advanced society as we do, with so much misinformation and not knowing what to trust, there's a yearning for truth and authenticity. This music isn't faked. We can feel the sincerity."
Bennett notes that this current revival isn't a U.S.-only phenomenon — the music is popular across the Atlantic, too — though part of the music's appeal is its emphasis on place. Drawing on tradition, these artists are adept at telling emotionally resonant tales that are deeply rooted in their home regions. In these songs, we feel the connection — not just to their home, but to ours as well.
No one in this generation embodies that tradition better than Colter Wall. Back in 2016, when he was 21 and first garnering attention, he played at an installment of the Skyline Live series in Nashville, and earned a standing ovation from those in attendance, which included Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. After the show, Harris encountered Wall and asked him, in awe, "Where did you come from?" Those present weren't sure if she meant geographically, or something of a more ethereal, spiritual nature. A man of few words, Wall answered either interpretation of the inquiry by simply saying, "Canada."
Listening to Wall's catalog is to immerse yourself into the towns, ranches, traditions, history, and ethos of western Canada. It is to spend time at the Calgary Stampede, in Speedy Creek, Manitoba, with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, to tune your ear to Ian Tyson and the other great country and western artists of the region. It is to understand a different kind of love story.
Indeed, this revival has a decidedly Western tilt to it. Bella White grew up not far from Wall in Calgary. Riddy Arman is in Montana. Kassi Valazza was born in Arizona but is now part of the Portland music scene. Margo Cilker has roamed the rural parts of eastern Oregon and Washington, as have Seth Brewster and Kate Eisenhooth, the duo who make up Buffalo Kin.
"Yellowstone" Music Supervisor Andrea von Foerster believes the inherent sparseness of Western art is also a factor driving interest in this music. She and show creator Taylor Sheridan use music from this cohort in part because of its austerity. "We have very busy lives. Every instant feels overscheduled. This music is the opposite of what we're living," she says. "Our show has the same appeal. Most people don't get to live in these kinds of lazy landscapes and open spaces. It's a quiet in the storm. It's restorative. In times of turmoil, you don't look for bells and whistles, you want bare bones."
It could also be the astounding songsmanship that's drawing in these audiences. Sonically, and stylistically, there are wide variances between these artists. But one thing that unites them all is their songwriting command. Maybe it's what happens when an entire generation, on top of whatever personal trauma they had to endure, were forced to come of age through a string of civilization's brutal failures — 9/11, school shootings, the opioid crisis — but were given Townes van Zandt as an artistic influence. A thousand poets bloomed. When I ran the van Zandt hypothesis past Vincent Neil Emerson, he agreed: "Yeah, it would be like painters discovering a whole new set of new colors."
The truth is, the digital age makes it possible to draw upon just about anyone as an influence, and that's apparent with this cohort too. Despite their relative youth, there's a deep understanding of the country music's niche stylings, sounds and regionalisms. As a result, a new canon is being created alongside the old one, filled with extraordinary songs that are raw, sparse, honest, gut-wrenchingly sad, punchy, hopeful, bare, good-natured, and that feel as if they're rising up out of the ground, infused with something ancient and holy.
Rodney Crowell, a contemporary of Townes van Zandt and one of the Texas songwriters who helped drive the Outlaw revival, believes this new generation is going about it the right way. "They're sticking to their guns. It reminds me of what Guy Clark used to say: 'Focus on being an artist and the rest will take care of itself.'"
The word that most often comes up when talking to people about the appeal of this music is "authenticity," the great yearning of our time, and musically speaking, something fans aren't finding in mainstream country. Anthony Mason, senior culture correspondent for CBS News, and one of the establishment gatekeepers to first recognize this movement when he profiled Crockett back in April says, "There is something pure and genuine and accessible about the music. You can't help but respond."
For many music fans, it's the sad songs that provoke the most powerful response. After years of trying to understand why listening to sad music didn't make people even sadder — something psychologists call the "sadness paradox" — we now know that sad music can relieve a depressed mind. In this light, the music of this revival could be considered urgent care.
Fluent in the language of mental and emotional health, this generation has produced a litany of deeply resonant and sophisticated pain songs, where stories of addiction and grief, suicide, loss and longing are not masked with niceties or polite euphemisms.
When I complimented Bella White on her strength as a writer of pain songs, she laughed and said, "I only write pain songs." Just 22, she demonstrates a remarkable amount of wisdom in her first record. "People my age had to navigate scary things, and we got grown up fast." Her song "Just Like Leaving," for its preternatural self-awareness, is one of the revival's anthems. "Well maybe I just like hurting/Building up walls and then ripping them down with my own disposition." In these unsettling times, perhaps the most universally relatable insight in the song, or any song, comes when she sings, "The bars on my window didn't leave me safe at night."
There's a desperation in lines like that, and across songs such as Wall's "Sleeping on the Blacktop," Margo Cilker's "Kevin Johnson," songs that are more like cries for help, pleas to a world drained of its caring and empathy. At times the desperation shows up as contempt, moral disdain for a system that has failed them so often, like Crockett's "Are We Lonesome Yet," and Emerson's "Letters on the Marquee." If you believe songs can be allegories, listen to Colter's Wall translation of "Big Iron" and imagine the Arizona ranger as a modern-day insurgent, or social movement, sent to topple a power structure, deliver justice, and free people from their fears.
Yet also present in this music, alongside the heartache and rage, is a resilience, a weary confidence that a better, uncloudy, day is ahead. Vincent Neil Emerson's "The Bad Side of Luck" warrants its own consideration as a generational psalm, especially knowing Emerson's heartbreaking personal story, which included losing his father to suicide and a younger brother to a house fire. Listening to him narrate lines such as "I was ashamed to say that I am somebody's son" and "I wasted my time waiting for change" — it is impossible not to feel the weight of sorrow. Until he concludes, "But I came out clean, and there ain't too much I regret," and "Sometimes what you get, ain't the same as the things you expect, so I guess I'll keep fightin' on the bad side of luck till I'm dead."
Maybe that's why the audiences keep growing, why people who don't normally associate with each other are gathering together. It’s three chords and the truth for the volatile 21st century. The music allows us to linger in our pain, which beats being numb, and somehow, measure by measure, line by line, it eases the hurt. And it reminds us, and bolsters us, in spite of the anguish, to keep going.
"It's been a long time coming," Shooter Jennings said of this movement. "It's really inspiring and cool to see it working. We're not even at the peak yet." Shooter is in a unique position to assess its status. Not only is he a country music scion — the only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter — but as an artist he was part of the Red Dirt wave in early 2000s, a musical community helping keep the independent country scene alive during a time when, as he put it, "the landscape was pretty empty."
Today, among many other musical hats he wears, he's producing albums for this rising generation, including for Jaime Wyatt and Kelsey Waldon, and is confident in the direction they are headed. "The country music establishment is soon going to be tasked with a choice. Either get on board and open up the old format, or the old format is going to die. Because these artists don't need it," Jennings says.
Given the infrastructure that has been constructed around them, not to mention a social media and streaming environment that didn't exist in earlier eras, it seems entirely plausible that the movement will continue to grow organically. Earlier in September, Sierra Ferrell won Emerging Act of the Year from the Americana Music Association, a prize that went to Charley Crockett a year ago. All these artists are young and will keep honing their craft, and because of their achievements, more will be coming up behind them. A weary population will continue to need it.
But even with the momentum—and favorable conditions ahead—this generation is intent on defining its own success metrics. Crockett says he now gets calls from people in the business telling him that he can sell out stadiums.
"As if that's what I'm wanting to hear. It's absolutely not," he says. "There's a lot of people selling stadiums out right now that I don't think people are going to remember very much in 20-30 years. Willie Nelson was never the biggest country artist, never, not even at the height of 'Red Headed Stranger.' Bob Dylan was never selling out those stadiums. But all these years later, who are we talking about? Who are we remembering?"
Photo: Douglas Mason / Contributor via Getty Images
Watch Backstage Interviews At Newport Folk 2023: Turnpike Troubadours, Nickel Creek, M. Ward, Thee Sacred Souls & More
Another Newport Folk is in the books; its 2023 iteration was one of the great ones — featuring Aimee Mann, Lana Del Rey, Jason Isbell and more. Watch backstage interviews with some of its radiant artists below.
Another summer, another Newport Folk. The storied bastion of American roots music flourished once again, with three days of plucks, strums, harmonies and good cheer.
Lana Del Rey enjoyed her Newport debut, James Taylor made a surprise appearance (calling it "emergency folk music") and the Black Opry made waves — and GRAMMY.com was on the grounds for all of the excitement.
Backstage, a number of artists chatted about their experiences onstage, their love of the American roots community and more.
Watch all of the interviews below — and we'll see you at Newport Folk 2024!
Gregory Alan Isakov
Indigo de Souza
Thee Sacred Souls
Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage, Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Luisaviaroma, Scott Legato/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images, Don Arnold/WireImage, Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Atlantis Paradise Island, Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
15 Must-Hear Albums This July: Taylor Swift, Dominic Fike, Post Malone, NCT Dream & More
From the highly anticipated 'Barbie' soundtrack to a celebration of Joni Mitchell's iconic Newport Folk Festival return, check out 15 albums dropping this July.
The first half of 2023 is already behind us, but July gives us much to look forward to. The warm sun, tours and festivals abound, and a heap of exciting releases — from Colter Wall's country music to NCT DREAM's K-pop — will surely make this season even more special.
We start it off with Taylor Swift and her third re-recorded album, Speak Now (Taylor's Version) on July 7, the same day Pitbull returns with his twelfth studio album, Trackhouse. Post Malone will deliver his fourth LP, AUSTIN, and Blur returns with their first album in eight years. And for the classic music lovers, folk legend Joni Mitchell will release At Newport — a recording of her first live performance since 2015 — and rock maven Stevie Nicks will drop her Complete Studio Albums & Rarities box set.
To welcome the latter half of a year filled with great music so far, GRAMMY.com offers a guide to the 15 must-hear albums dropping July 2023.
Taylor Swift, Speak Now (Taylor's Version)
Release date: July 7
Taylor Swift fans are used to gathering clues and solving puzzles about the singer's intricate, ever-expanding discography. Therefore, in her hometown of Nashville concert last May, when she announced that Speak Now (Taylor's Version) would come out on July 7, it was not much of a surprise to the audience, but rather a gratifying confirmation that they had followed the right steps.
"It's my love language with you. I plot. I scheme. I plan. And then I get to tell you about it," Swift told them after breaking the news. "I think, rather than me speaking about it ... I'd rather just show you," she added, before performing an acoustic version of Speak Now's single, "Sparks Fly."
Shortly after, she took it to Instagram to share that "the songs that came from this time in my life were marked by their brutal honesty, unfiltered diaristic confessions and wild wistfulness. I love this album because it tells a tale of growing up, flailing, flying and crashing … and living to speak about it."
Speak Now (Taylor's Version) is Swift's third re-recorded album, following 2021's Red (Taylor's Version). It will feature 22 tracks, including six unreleased "From the Vault" songs and features with Paramore's Hayley Williams and Fall Out Boy. "Since Speak Now was all about my songwriting, I decided to go to the artists who I feel influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist at that time and ask them to sing on the album," she shared on Twitter. Swift is currently touring the U.S. with her acclaimed The Eras Tour, which will hit Latin America, Asia, Australia, UK, and Europe through August 2024.
ANOHNI and the Johnsons, My Back Was a Bridge For You To Cross
Release date: July 7
"I want the record to be useful," said ANOHNI about her upcoming sixth studio album, My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross. The English singer says she learned with her previous LP, 2016's HOPELESSNESS, that she "can provide a soundtrack that might fortify people in their work, in their activism, in their dreaming and decision-making," therefore aiming to make use of her talents to further help and inspire people.
Through 10 tracks that blend American soul, British folk, and experimental music, ANOHNI weaves her storytelling on inequality, alienation, privilege, and several other themes. According to a statement, the creative process was "painstaking, yet also inspired, joyful, and intimate, a renewal and a renaming of her response to the world as she sees it."
My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross "demonstrates music's unique capacity to bring harmony to competing, sometimes contradictory, elements" — qualities that can be observed in the album's contemplative pre-releases "It Must Change" and "Sliver Of Ice."
Release date: July 7
GRAMMY-winning singer/rapper Pitbull has recently broadened his reach into an unexpected field: stock cars. Together with Trackhouse Entertainment Group founder Justin Marks, he formed Trackhouse Racing in 2021, an organization and team that participates in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Now, to unite both passions, the Miami-born singer is releasing Trackhouse, his twelfth studio album and first release since 2019's Libertad 548. "In no way, shape, or form is this some kind of publicity stunt," said Mr. Worldwide of the upcoming album during a teleconference in April. "This is real. This is all about our stories coming together, and that's why the fans love it. […] This right here is about making history, it's generational, it's about creating a legacy."
Preceded by singles "Me Pone Mal" with Omar Courtz and "Jumpin" with Lil Jon, it seems that Trackhouse, despite its innovative inception, will continue to further Pitbull's famed Latin pop brand. This fall, he will also join Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin on The Trilogy Tour across the U.S. and Canada.
Dominic Fike, Sunburn
Release date: July 7
Multitalented singer, songwriter and actor Dominic Fike also joins the roll of summer comebacks. His second studio album, Sunburn, comes out July 7, and follows 2020's acclaimed What Could Possibly Go Wrong.
In recent years, the Florida star found great exposure after landing a role in the HBO hit series "Euphoria" as well as the upcoming A24 drama Earth Mama, which is slated to release on the same day as Sunburn. The past three years were also marked by collaborations with a handful of artists, from Justin Bieber ("Die For You") to Paul McCartney ("The Kiss of Venus") to his Euphoria co-star Zendaya on "Elliot's Song" from the show's soundtrack.
Sunburn marks Fike's joyful return to music, aiming to portray "the aching and vulnerable revelations of a young artist still growing and putting their best foot forward," according to a press release. Through 15 tracks, including singles "Dancing in the Courthouse," "Ant Pile," and "Mama's Boy," Fike will explore themes of "heartbreak and regret, addiction, sex, and jealousy."
One week after Sunburn's arrival, Fike will embark on a tour across North America and Canada, starting July 13 in Indianapolis.
Lauren Spencer Smith, Mirror
Release date: July 14
Lauren Spencer Smith said on TikTok that she's been working on her debut album, Mirror, for years. "It has been with me through so much in my life, the highs and the lows, and it means more to me than I can put into words. It tells a story of reflection, healing and growth," she added.
The 19-year-old, British-born Canadian singer is unafraid to dive deep into heartbreak and sorrow — as she displayed on her breakthrough hit "Fingers Crossed" — but offers a way out by focusing on her growth. "I went through a hard breakup, and the album tells the story of that all, the journey of that and now being in a more happy relationship. The title comes from the one thing in my life that's seen me in every emotion through that journey — my bedroom and bathroom mirror."
Like a true Gen Zer, Smith has been teasing the 15-track collection and its upcoming world tour all over social media. On July 14, the day of the album release, she kicks off the North American leg of the tour in Chicago, before heading to the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Colter Wall, Little Songs
Release date: July 14
"You might not see a soul for days on them high and lonesome plains/ You got to fill the big empty with little songs," sings Colter Wall on the titular track off his fourth studio album, Little Songs. The Canadian country star says in a press release that he wrote these songs over the last three years, and that "I penned most of them from home and I think the songs reflect that."
Born and raised in the prairies of Battle Creek, Saskatchewan, Wall found inspiration in the stillness of his surroundings. With this album, he bridges "the contemporary world to the values, hardships, and celebrations of rural life" while also opening "emotional turns as mature and heartening as the resonant baritone voice writing them," according to a press release.
Little Songs is composed of 10 tracks — eight originals and two covers (Hoyt Axton's "Evangelina," and Ian Tyson's "The Coyote & The Cowboy.") He'll celebrate the album's release with a performance at Montana's Under The Big Sky festival on the weekend of the LP's arrival.
Release date: July 14
British singer Mahalia celebrated her 25th birthday on May 1 by announcing IRL, her sophomore album. Out July 14, the R&B star claims the album to be "a real reflection of the journeys I've had, what actually happened, and a celebration of everyone who got me there."
The 13-track collection will feature names like Stormzy and JoJo, the latter of whom appears on the single "Cheat." Before the release, Mahalia also shared "Terms and Conditions," a self-possessed track that pairs her silky voice with delightful early-aughts R&B.
"I'm so proud of this album, and so proud of how much I challenged myself to just let those stories out," she said in a statement. "We're all fixated on how we can make ourselves better but I want people to also reminisce on lovely or painful situations they've lived through and how they've helped shape the people they are now."
IRL is Mahalia's follows 2019's highly-acclaimed Love and Compromise. In support of the release, she has announced UK and Europe tour dates from October through November.
NCT DREAM, ISTJ
Release date: July 17
The Myers-Briggs Personality Test (also known as MBTI) is a current craze in South Korea, therefore, it was only a matter of time until a K-pop group applied its insights on their music. Although none of NCT DREAM's seven members has the ISTJ personality type, that's what they decided to call their upcoming third studio album, out on July 17.
The 10-track collection comes in two physical versions: Introvert and Extrovert, the first letters and main differentiators in any MBTI personality. Spearheaded by the soaring "Broken Melodies," where they display an impressive set of vocals, their comeback announcement on Twitter promises "The impact NCT DREAM will bring to the music industry."
Since September, the NCT sub-group embarked on The Dream Show 2: In A Dream World Tour, which crossed Asia, Europe, North America. The group will wrap up July with four concerts in Latin America.
Blur, The Ballad of Darren
Release date: July 21
"The older and madder we get, it becomes more essential that what we play is loaded with the right emotion and intention," said Blur's guitarist Graham Coxon in a statement about The Ballad of Darren, the band's ninth studio album set to arrive on July 21.
Maybe that explains why The Ballad is their first release in eight years, and represents "an aftershock record, reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now," according to frontman Damon Albarn. During a press conference in May, bassist Alex James reinforced the positive moment that they find themselves in, stating that "there were moments of utter joy" while recording together.
Produced by James Ford, the album contains 10 tracks, including the wistful indie rock of lead single "The Narcissist." On July 8 and 9, Blur is set to play two reunion gigs at London's Wembley Stadium, followed by a slew of festivals across Europe, Japan and South America.
Barbie: The Album
Release date: July 21
The most-awaited summer flick of 2023 also comes with a staggering soundtrack. Scored by producers Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, Barbie: The Album features songs by hot stars like Dua Lipa, Lizzo, and Ice Spice, as well as some surprising additions, such as psychedelic star Tame Impala and K-pop rookie sensation Fifty Fifty.
As undecipherable and alluring as the actual movie plot, the album tracklist only increases expectations for Greta Gerwig's upcoming oeuvre. Is it all a satire? Is it a serious take on "life in plastic" and consumerism? Is it about nothing at all? You can try to find some clues through pre-release singles "Dance the Night" by Dua Lipa, "Watati" by Karol G, and "Angel" by PinkPantheress.
Greta Van Fleet, Starcatcher
Release date: July 21
Fans who attended the three final shows of Greta Van Fleet's Dreams in Gold Tour this March already got a sneak peek of the band's upcoming third studio album, Starcatcher. Among their most popular hits, the quartet played five new songs — or half of Starcatcher — including singles "Meeting the Master," "Sacred the Thread," and "Farewell for Now."
In a statement about the album, drummer Danny Wagner said that they "wanted to tell these stories to build a universe," and that they wanted to "introduce characters and motifs and these ideas that would come about here and there throughout our careers." Bassist Sam Kiszka adds: "When I imagine the world of Starcatcher, I think of the cosmos. It makes me ask a lot of questions, like 'Where did we come from?' or 'What are we doing here?' But it's also questions like, 'What is this consciousness that we have, and where did it come from?'"
Just a few days after release, Greta Van Fleet will embark on a world tour. Starting in Nashville, Tennessee on July 24, they will cross the U.S. and then head over to Europe and the UK in November.
Post Malone, AUSTIN
Release date: July 28
In a shirtless, casual Instagram Reel last May, hitmaker Post Malone announced his upcoming fourth studio album, AUSTIN, to be released on July 28. Titled after his birth name, the singer shared that "It's been some of the funnest music, some of the most challenging and rewarding music for me, at least" — a very different vibe from the more mellow, lofi sounds of 2022's Twelve Carat Toothache — and that the experience of playing the guitar on every song was "really fun."
Featuring 17 tracks (19 on the deluxe version), AUSTIN is preceded by the dreamy "Chemical" and the angsty "Mourning," and sees Malone pushing his boundaries in order to innovate on his well-established sound. The album will also be supported by a North American 24-date trek, the If Y'all Weren't Here, I'd Be Crying Tour, starting July 8 in Noblesville, Indiana and wrapping up on August 19 in San Bernardino, California.
Stevie Nicks: Complete Studio Albums & Rarities box set
Release date: July 28
To measure Stevie Nicks' contribution to music is an insurmountable task. The Fleetwood Mac singer and songwriter has composed dozens of the most influential, well-known rock classics of the past century ("Dreams," anyone?), also blooming on her own as a soloist since 1981, when she debuted with Bella Donna.
In the four decades since, seven more solo albums followed, along with a trove of rarities that rightfully deserve a moment in the spotlight. Enter: her upcoming vinyl box set, Stevie Nicks: Complete Studio Albums & Rarities. The 16xLP collection compiles all of her work so far, plus a new record with the aforementioned rarities, and is limited to 3,000 copies. It's also the first time that Trouble in Shangri-La, In Your Dreams, and Street Angel are released on vinyl. For those who can't secure the limited set, a version of Complete Studio Albums & Rarities with 10xCDs will be available digitally.
Joni Mitchell, At Newport
Release date: July 28
Last year's Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island was one to remember. During one evening of the fest, a surprise guest graced the "Brandi Carlile and Friends" stage: it was none less than legendary folk star, Joni Mitchell. And what's more? It was her first live appearance since 2015, when she suffered a debilitating aneurysm.
During that time, the 79-year-old singer quietly held "Joni Jams" at her home in Los Angeles — inviting musicians that ranged from Elton John to Harry Styles to participate — with organizational support offered by Carlile. With Mitchell's special appearance at Newport, the coveted experience of a Joni Jam was available for thousands of fans.
This month, the release of At Newport eternalizes the headlining-making moment, bringing her talents to an even bigger audience. Among the classics in the tracklist are "Carey," "A Case of You," and "The Circle Game," proving that Mitchell is still as magical as when she stepped on the Newport Folk Festival stage for the first time, in 1969.
Jennifer Lopez, This Is Me… Now
Release date: TBD
In 2002, J.Lo was everywhere. Her relationship with actor Ben Affleck ensued heavy attention from the media, and her This Is Me… Then album — which featured hits like "Jenny from the Block" — was a commercial success, with over 300,000 first-week sales in the U.S.
How funny is it that, 20 years later, the singer and actress finds herself in a similar situation. After rekindling with Affleck in 2021, she announced the sequel to her 2002 release, This Is Me… Now, and stated in an interview with Vogue that the album represents a "culmination" of who she is.
A press release also describes This Is Me… Now as an "emotional, spiritual and psychological journey" across all that Lopez has been through in the past decades. Fans can also expect more details on the new-and-improved Bennifer, as many of the titles among its 13 tracks suggest, especially "Dear Ben Pt. II."
Although an official release date has not yet been revealed, on June 29, Lopez posted a cryptic image on social media with the caption "album delivery day" — suggesting that the highly anticipated This Is Me update may not be far away.
Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage
12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2023: Nate Smith, Morgan Wade, Jackson Dean & More
Before the famed country music festival takes place on April 28-30, take a look at some of the rising stars to check out whether you'll be at Stagecoach or tuning in from home.
Now that the Coachella dust has settled at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., it's time for country music to take over.
Since 2007, the Stagecoach Festival has been bringing some of the biggest names in country music to the desert. This year is no different, with the festival featuring headliners Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Chris Stapleton, along with some of country's newer hitmakers, including Bailey Zimmerman, Parker McCollum, Gabby Barrett, Lainey Wilson and Tyler Childers.
In addition to the always exciting headliners and stars, Stagecoach continues to be a showcase for up-and-coming talent. Several budding country and folk artists are on this year's roster, from a genre-bending New Jersey native to a bluegrass songstress with a powerful voice.
For fans who can't make the trip to catch the action in person, Stagecoach will be live streaming all weekend on Amazon Prime. No matter how you're enjoying the festival, get to know 12 acts to catch at Stagecoach 2023.
The weekend will be a big one for Nate Smith all around: Not only will the California-born singer make his Stagecoach debut, but he will be releasing his self-titled debut album on the same day, Friday April 28.
It's been a long road to success for Smith, who first moved to Nashville in his early 20s. After things didn't take off, he returned home to Paradise, Calif.; in 2018, he lost everything he owned in the massive wildfire that ripped through his hometown.
But through it all, he found hope through music, and returned to Nashville to try again. Now, he has a No. 1 song — the gritty breakup romp "Whiskey On You" peaked in January — and a rejuvenated soul that is clearly resonating.
Tiera Kennedy's smooth voice and southern charm first caught the attention of Nashville in 2019, when she was signed as the flagship artist on Songs & Daughters, a publishing company founded by songwriter Nicolle Galyon. In 2020, she released her first single "Found It In You" to critical acclaim.
Since then, Kennedy has independently released a self titled EP, giving fans a more full sense of who she is as an artist and songwriter. The release also led to a record deal with Big Machine Records in 2021.
Kennedy's bright personality has resonated just as much as her music, as the singer hosts her own show on Apple Music Country. Titled The Tiera Show, the program sees Kennedy sharing her take on what's on the rise in country music with a very personal touch.
Another artist making his Stagecoach debut this year, Jackson Dean has been winning over country music fans with his outlaw style and unique, gritty voice. He's already scored a top 5 hit with his debut single, "Don't Come Lookin,'" which reached No. 3 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.
Dean's success has not been limited to just the charts, either: "Don't Come Lookin'" was featured on the TV show 'Yellowstone,' and he's been included on a number of artists to watch lists including Spotify's Hot Country Artists to Watch in 2023, Amazon Music's 2023 Breakthrough Artists to Watch: Country Class, and CMT's Listen Up class of 2023.
After selling out his headlining debut in Nashville in January, Dean will spend the majority of the year headlining sold-out shows and supporting the likes of Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Parker McCullum, Lainey Wilson, and Jon Pardi.
After first seeing success as a co-writer on Lily Rose's breakthrough song, "Villain," Mackenzie Carpenter has since made a name for herself as an artist in her own right. The Georgia-born singer's down-home personality shines through in her fun country-pop tunes including the catchy cautionary tale "Don't Mess With Exes" and the heartbreaking ballad "Jesus, I'm Jealous" — all of which ultimately prove that she isn't afraid to be herself.
In less than a year since signing with Big Machine imprint Valory Music Co., Carpenter has enjoyed many career milestones, including a Grand Ole Opry debut and an invitation to CMT's Next Women of Country class of 2023. And just weeks before taking the Stagecoach stage, Carpenter released her debut self-titled EP.
Since the release of his debut single "My Truck" in 2019, Breland has been making waves in the industry by stretching the boundaries of country music. The New Jersey native's sound is derived from a mix of hip-hop, R&B and gospel, while still remaining recognizably country — he even titled his debut album Cross Country.
Breland's feel-good, diverse sound has already helped him land collaborations with country superstars, including Sam Hunt, Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley. His single with the latter, "Beers On Me" (also featuring HARDY), scored Breland his first No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart, but he's proving to make an impact in his own right with more than 1 billion streams to date.
This year marks Breland's second year in a row on the Stagecoach stage, as he performed at the Late Night at Palomino after-party in 2022.
Bella White brings a fresh perspective to an old-time sound. The Canadian artist serves audiences traditional bluegrass sounds with a clear, powerful voice.
White's voice, however, is not her only strength. She's also a skilled instrumentalist, as she was raised in a musical household and was drawn to the mandolin and banjo early on in her life.
Following the success of her debut album Just Like Leaving, White signed to Rounder Records in 2021. Just ahead of her Stagecoach performance, White released her second album, Among Other Things, on which she explores heartbreak and a wider breadth of sounds, weaving drums and electric guitars into her traditional-sounding strings.
After a short stint on 'The Voice' in 2018, Kameron Marlowe began paving his own way in Nashville. The singer has made a name for himself with his signature smoky voice, while making sure his music is a true reflection of who he is.
Marlowe gained traction with his first independent release, 2019's "Giving You Up," which helped him land a record deal with Sony Music Nashville in 2020. He's since released his debut album, 2022's We Were Cowboys, and has sold out shows across the country — including his hometown of Charlotte, N.C.
Marlowe nods to his home state in his latest release, "Take Me Home," in which he grapples with the changes that come along with success: "I hate feeling like I'm someone / That I've never been before / Take me home to Carolina / I don't wanna be here anymore," he sings.
A trailblazing country singer with an edge, Morgan Wade has captivated audiences with the striking vulnerability of her music. Wade takes her experiences with heartbreak, mental health and addiction and crafts them into songs that stick with listeners.
Wade's voice borders on the edge of country and rock, which makes her moving lyrics all the more affecting. That is particularly true on her breakout track, "Wilder Days," which takes listeners through the raw emotion of finding the right person at the wrong time.
Since the 2021 release of Wade's album Reckless, she has been touring nonstop, both in the U.S. and overseas. Wade's Stagecoach performance is one of over 65 tour dates for 2023, giving fans across the country and around the world a chance to experience her powerful music live.
Folk artist Tre Burt uses his storytelling prowess to tell the stories of the moment, amplified by his rootsy sound. Burt engages audiences with tracks like "Under the Devil's Knee," a protest song written during the upheaval of 2020, a year during which he found musical inspiration in the chaos surrounding him.
Since hitting the scene, Burt has performed with artists including Nathanial Ratecliff and Margo Price, and has become a staple at folk festivals around the country. Burt expanded on his deeply affecting sound with his second album, You, Yeah, You, which arrived in 2021; with his powerful delivery on stage and on record, he's been labeled a "storyteller and musical philosopher," and a "troubadour" blazing his own path.
Jaime Wyatt's success has been long and hard-earned. The singer/songwriter entered the music business when she was just a teen, and the now 37-year-old has kept her nose to the grindstone ever since. Her years have been colored with late nights in honky tonks, addiction, and recovery, and she details it all in her traditional country music.
Wyatt's 2020 release, Neon Cross, challenged the genre, as the singer examined her identity as a queer woman, and positioned herself as a true outlaw in the landscape of the industry. In 2021, she released a merch line with a portion of the proceeds benefiting G.L.I.T.S, an organization that addresses systematic discrimination of LGBTQIA+ individuals. In being true to herself, Wyatt has provided a beacon of hope for queer artists and fans alike.
Kaitlin Butts has made a habit out of being a good listener, crafting the stories she hears into fun, innovative country songs. Like many of her Stagecoach cohorts, Butts has a versatile sound, drawing in influences from rock and 90's emo music — but the baseline is always undeniably country.
While Butts has been releasing music since 2015's Same Hell, Different Devil, this past year has been a whirlwind for the budding star. Her second album, What Else Can She Do, landed in the top 10 of Billboard's Americana Albums chart; the title track earned a spot on Rolling Stone's "100 Best Songs of 2022" list.
Within a span of six months, Butts played the Ryman Auditorium and made her Grand Ole Opry debut, and has opened for fellow Stagecoacher Morgan Wade as well as playing several other festivals.
American Aquarium, led by BJ Barham, incorporates elements of country, folk and rock music into their thought-provoking music.The group's lyrics wrestle with some of life's biggest problems and tell delicate, personal stories.
The band's latest record, Chicamacomico, is a journey through the lead singer's personal losses. The album is a departure from the band's previously harder, rock-leaning sound, presenting more stripped-down tracks that lean more on Barnham's stirring vocals. Even so, Chicamacomico has been hailed as their best album yet.
Over the span of a 20-year career, American Aquarium has cycled through many members; Barnham being a mainstay on lead vocals. The band has proven their staying power in the industry, and their presence at Stagecoach proves that the festival is a celebration of country music in all its forms.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.