The Definitive Guide to Country Music in 2014
Whether you're a hay bale hater or a truck and tires enthusiast, country music is rising to the forefront of the music scene in 2014 in a way that it hasn't in the past. From Florida Gerogia Line's showstopping collaboration with Nelly last year to the conquests of Kacey Musgraves, country music is ascending to nearly the same status as pop itself. Here's our guide to who and what to watch out for in the rural outskirts of music this year.
Blake Shelton "Doing What She Likes"
While Blake Shelton has been around for a while, The Voice coach just scored his eleventh No. 1 single with this wife-worshipping track. It's off his seventh studio album Based on a True Story… and while the whole record is great, this song alone is a summer staple. It's got Shelton being extra cheesy-romantic—but since everyone knows he's talking about his superstar wife Miranda Lambert—it feels just sweet enough. For a good love song to jam all summer long, longtime country crooner Blake Shelton has got you covered.
An up and coming country singer, Hunter Hayes is just off the release of his sophomore album Storylines. Hayes is not only a dead ringer for Australia's biggest country star Keith Urban, but his voice recalls the sweet purr of Urban's pop crossover appeal. He's already had two No. 1 singles with "Wanted" and "Somebody's Heartbreak," and his smash hit "I Want Crazy," earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance. If you long for the millennial version of Rascal Flatts—it's here. Which isn't to say that Hayes is 100% derivative, merely that he has the same hooky country ballads as our old favorites.
Considering he was the fourth best selling artist of 2014, Luke Bryan needs no real introduction. But the recent boost of his appearance on the brand new Florida Georgia Line song "This is How We Roll" and his latest party-rocking EP Spring Break 6 … Like We Ain’t Ever have made Bryan a hot topic well into 2014.
2014 is the year that teen pop sensations—or their little sisters—turn to the country music circuit for a change of pace. Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale is set to release her debut album and told Billboard it would be a country record flecked with influences from the likes of Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks.
Jamie Lynn Spears
Meanwhile, another former TV star is making her way into the realm of country music. Jamie Lynn Spears has shrugged off her older sister's pop shadow and her own Nickelodeon past to release her first country single "How Could I Want More." Along with Lucy, Jamie Lynn is helping to prove that this younger generation of millennial artists is eager to embrace country music's traditional roots.
Off in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon's greenery, a festival focused on acoustic and guitar-based music has built quite a following. The festival takes place on a little spot called Pendarvis Farm August 1-3, and has been an independent music staple since 1998 when it began. Featuring acts like Nickel Creek, Woods and Those Darlins, the lineup this year proves that there's real staying power for the folk and bluegrass side of things on the festival circuit. Check out the full lineup here.
After nearly three years since her last album Stronger, Sara Evans returned in 2014 with her seventh studio album Slow Me Down. In a time where country radio has focused on bro-country and party anthems, Evans brings gravity and grace to the charts with the album's title single "Slow Me Down"—which has been a steady fixture in the top 20 since it was released in March. Deep album cuts include a heartbreaking with Isaac Slade of The Fray called "Can't Stop Loving You."
New albums from old greats like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell
While there are plenty of younger, emerging artists making the future of country more exciting than ever, one of the other great things about this genre is the longevity of its veteran artists. This year alone a brand new Johnny Cash album was unearthed and released, Dolly Parton put out a new album, as did Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash. Check out Cash's Out Among the Stars or Dolly Parton's Blue Smoke for a new look at some old favorites.
Holly Williams is country music royalty—as the granddaughter of Hank Williams and the daughter of Hank Williams Jr., she has the blues in her blood. But she was determined to carve out her own path, and last year's The Highway proved that, she relies on a singer-songwriter approach and put the album out through her own label Georgiana Records. Soulful and sweet, Holly is touring throughout this year to bring her uncompromised sound to fruition.
CMA Awards and the CMA Festival
The CMAs are awesome because they're basically like the Grammys but just for country music. They take place later this year in November, and you can expect tons of red carpet, on stage, and performance action from megastars like Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley.
One of the hottest rising country stars is Brantley Gilbert, whose third album Just As I Am dropped on May 19. He's garnered his third No. 1 single in "Bottoms Up," a song that toasts the good times. Gilbert's sound is polished and playful, and his ability to blend the two is one of the hallmarks of his success.
This husband-and-wife duo of Keifer and Shawna Thompson have had plenty of chart toppers in their four years as recording artists, including their initial single "Let's Fight" and the adorable "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not." Now, they're working on their third studio album, and the third single from their sophomore album "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About" is still blowing up the country charts. Catch one of their many live shows on the brand new "Just Feels Good" tour and keep an eye on this set of talented lovebirds.
The third and as-yet-undiscovered member of The Pistol Annies is Angaleena Presley, a knockout brunette with the voice to match. While the details are still being worked out, Presley is due to release her debut solo record, American Middle Class sometime this year—and if the Pistols are anything to go off of, it will be boundary-pushing and genre-defying. Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert may have some competition as solo artists when Angaleena Presley's record finally comes out.
This hunky young country singer is perfectly poised to climb to the top of the charts and into country music lover's hearts. Sam Hunt has already established his songwriting chops by penning Keith Urban's 2013 track "Cop Car" and before that, Kenny Chesney's 2012 smash "Come Over." His four song EP Acoustic Mixtape also displays a more singer-songwriter side that may help boost his appeal for all kinds of audiences. Check out his latest video for "Leave The Night On," above.
Danielle Bradbery was the winner of last year's season of The Voice. At 17, she's the youngest contestant to ever win on the show, and her long blonde hair and Dixie Chicks-era country chirp make her a shoe-in for future stardom. Listen to Danielle's Bradbery's first single "The Heart of Dixie," here.
July 16, 2014 via Pepsi