Welcome to Pandora’s Country Artists to Watch. From brand new artists on the scene to talented musicians who are burning up our New Country station, we think these are the country acts who are going to own 2017. Listen here for a handpicked mixtape of all our Country Artists to Watch and more of our favorite emerging acts (listed in alphabetical order):
Tenille Arts is hot on the scene with her new self-titled EP. Chosen for the 2016 Canadian Country Music Association Discovery Program, she’s been building her career at home, and recently moved to Nashville to pursue music full-time. With songwriting inspired by Don Henley and reminiscent of early Taylor Swift, and vocals the size of her native Canada, Arts’ future is bright.
Cobb introduces himself as a “songwriter/singer,” making it clear that his is the music of a writer first. He inherits the legacy of Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark as well as the Southern gothic narratives of Bobby Gentry and Tony Joe White. Standout tracks on his 2016 release Shine On Rainy Day include the relatable “Solving Problems” and haunting family yarn “Down in the Gulley.”
Combining energetic country pop and Southern rock, Luke Combs busted through the gates in 2016 with his current single “Hurricane.” With several appearances on our new Pandora Trendsetter’s Chart, and a recent label deal with Sony Nashville, Combs is set to conquer 2017.
For this year’s wedding song, look no further than Dickerson’s “Yours.” He just released a hopelessly romantic EP and is set to kick of 2017 with a new label partnership. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll hear him mentioned alongside the likes of Thomas Rhett, Old Dominion and Cole Swindell.
Erik Dylan just released his first full-length album, Heart of a Flatland Boy, to acclaim from Red Dirt music fans everywhere. From dark trailer park sagas (“Pink Flamingos”) to breakup negotiations (“Willie Nelson T-Shirt”), Dylan delivers with an earthy, rocking sound and his lauded songwriting skills. For fans of Steve Earle, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Kip Moore and Eli Young Band.
Seth Ennis grew up all over the world in a military family before settling in Nashville to pursue a career in country music. A true renaissance man, he sings and plays all of the instruments on his debut track, “Woke Up in Nashville.” After catching the attention of Sony Nashville, he signed with them in late 2016.
Hot Chelle Rae singer Ryan Follese returned to his roots in 2016, dropping his first EP as a solo artist in the fall. A Nashville native and the son of songwriter parents, Ryan writes energetic, pop-infused tunes that hearken back to his previous work. They’re embellished with a hint of southern twang and cool acoustic instrumentation.
If anything can be said of Walker Hayes, it’s that, thankfully, he doesn’t quit. Early in his Nashville career, Hayes’ voice caught the attention of a major label, but the deal ultimately didn’t work out. After pounding the pavement for a few years, the Mobile, Alabama native has found his niche with timely, spoken word lyrics and visionary instrumentation on his two 8 Tracks EPs. Standout tracks include “Halloween” and “Mind Candy,” and we’re looking forward to more.
One of two Canadian acts on this list, High Valley has been climbing the charts this year with “Make You Mine.” Brothers Brad and Curtis Rempel built up a substantial fan base at home before moving to Nashville and signing with Warner Music Group. Their sunny upbeat tunes and soaring harmonies speak for themselves, all the while celebrating their Mennonite roots.
Taylor Ray Holbrook
Holbrook got his start by posting a Luke Bryan cover on YouTube, but he’s been putting out his own brand of homegrown country ever since moving to Nashville. A 100 percent DIY artist, Holbrook is focused on his fans, which is evident from his success on social media. For fans of Kane Brown and Brantley Gilbert, small towns and entrepreneurial grit.
Like many of our 2017 Artists to Watch, Ryan Hurd is a gifted songwriter. Aside from penning the music he sings, he has also written songs for acts like Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and more. The boyfriend of Maren Morris (the most nominated artist at the 2016 CMA Awards), Hurd is paving his own way with ultramodern pop-country tracks like “We Do Us” and “City Girl.”
Welcome to life and heartbreak the way Merle would have done it. In keeping with troubadour tradition, the top-quality musicianship of Jinks’ band supports his baritone vocals, allowing his voice to shine through. He has also been spotted on our Pandora Trendsetters chart around the recent release of his latest album I’m Not the Devil. Fans of Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton need to hear this.
Another artist in the middle of a renaissance, Moakler traded his singer-songwriter pop for country and it sounds so good! Moakler has penned cuts with Dierks Bentley, Ashley Monroe and Jake Owen. His lead single, “Suitcase,” is catching like wildfire, and we can’t wait to see where it leads.
With a fresh start at a new record label, RaeLynn has found her voice in the tracks leading up to the release of her upcoming album, WildHorse. The new songs, “Love Triangle,” title-track “WildHorse” and “Diamonds” stand in contrast to her earlier material (in the best way). She got her start on Team Blake during season two of The Voice, and is about to take 2017 by storm.
Big Spring, Texas native Brandon Ray is no stranger to the road. He got his start in Nashville as Brett Eldredge’s guitarist, and is now embarking on a solo career with his newest single, “American Way.” The similarities to Mellencamp are palpable in this catchy ode to middle American hometowns.
Runaway June is bringing country back in the form of transcendent, three-part harmonies and big voices. The trio includes lead singer and guitarist Naomi Cook, singer and mandolinist Hannah Mulholland and singer and guitarist Jennifer Wayne (granddaughter of the great John Wayne). The group’s first single, “Lipstick,” is finding fans on Pandora and beyond with its high-energy twang and message of empowerment, qualities reminiscent of The Dixie Chicks and early Shania Twain.
Sanders found his calling while spending summers in Nashville with his uncle, professional musician Scotty Sanders. After becoming a full time resident of Music City, he got his start like many on our list, as a songwriter. Since then, he’s had songs cut by Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch, ultimately deciding to make a go of it as a solo artist. Sanders has since toured across the country, finding success with his newest single, “Thunder.” For fans of Cole Swindell, Lee Brice, and David Nail.
Making good use of pedal steel, and a voice that is at once familiar and completely her own, Aubrie Sellers single-handedly defines a new style of “garage country” with her debut album New City Blues. Daughter of artists Lee Ann Womack and Jason Sellers, and stepdaughter of Miranda Lambert’s producer Frank Liddell, Aubrie pulls from familial influences and beyond to breathe new life into the phrase, “three chords and the truth.”
The Shires is a British duo comprised of friends Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes. The former X Factor UK contestants have been hard at work finding new fans one tour stop at a time. Their music recently arrived in the US via Universal Music Group in Nashville. With their pop-country sound and stomping rhythms, this dynamic duo is an exciting discovery. If you like Lady Antebellum or Drake White, you’re going to love The Shires.
With two self-released Demo Sessions EPs out this fall, and a fanbase generating stint on the X Factor, Texas siblings Cirby, Carli and Celbi are just getting started. The trio’s underlying bluegrass influences are akin to early Dixie Chicks and The Wreckers, but the sound is wholly its own. The sisters combine the best of Texas — western twang and soaring harmonies — with some occasional irreverent lyrics, à la Pistol Annies and Kacey Musgraves.