With the appeal for roots music on the rise throughout the music landscape, it’s no wonder Southern rock is making a resurgence. Where a few years ago Southern rock seemed to be all about nostalgia and/or rehashing the same old tired twangy rock guitar riffs, the sub-genre now finds itself flush with a new crop of talent bringing creativity and a fresh, more progressive approach to the format, continuing the work of bands like The Drive By Truckers, Lucero, Old 97’s, The North Mississippi All-Stars, and The Bottle Rockets.
The success of The Zac Brown Band has also led to labels, festivals, management companies, etc. recognizing Southern rock as one of the long-standing staples of American music that’s worthy of renewed attention. Though Zac Brown is pushed through country channels, he’s said himself that he’s more Southern rock, and his leadership as a label owner has led to new opportunities for Southern rock bands.
Here’s some of the younger, newer, up-and-coming bands in Southern rock to check out, and when you look into them deeper, what is universal in all of these bands is their dedication, and how they are all a tight knit group of friends first.
From Birmingham, Alabama, Lee Bains III rose from the ashes of the equally fierce Dexateens to form a band that takes all the varying influences of Southern rock and combines them into a raucous perspective into the Southern identity. Sometimes sounding more like The Allman Brothers than the Allman Brothers themselves, their study of Southern rock modes is tireless. Yet they’re not scared to play a pure rock song or sing with soul just as akin to Motown as Montgomery. Explosive live, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires are force in new school Southern rock.
Pouring their hearts out through their music, leaving it all out on stages, and making poetry out of an ugly, gritty, drug-laced portrayal of the downtrodden Southern identity, American Aquarium are the tireless troubadours of Southern rock. Rarely at home in North Carolina, they regularly can be found on stage delivering those most potent lyric lines that physically knock you back when you hear them.
From Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Glossary is already on their seventh record, and like American Aquarium, has garnered a smallish, but very loyal and dedicated fan base from hard touring and songwriting sincerity that crowds relate to. They have more of a progressive sound than you would expect from a garden variety Southern rock band, but with the appearance of steel guitar, harmonies, and other Southern twang elements, they are just as much Southern rock as anything else. It’s also great to catch them backing up solo artist Austin Lucas.
A recent up-and-comer who is trying to make the leap to becoming a full-time traveling band, Fifth on the Floor brings a hard-nosed, guitar heavy sound indicative of Southern rock, without being scared to slip in a few country ballads here and there. Their latest release Ashes & Angels was just released on Entertainment One records to rave reviews.
The little band that could. Just a rag tag group of friends from Athens, Alabama the were getting together to play music, never making too much of it until it blew up from their endearing sincerity and Brittney Howard’s dominating presence. Now they’ve played Austin City Limits and Saturday Night Live. This is one popular band you’re not ashamed to say you like, and their mix of rock and soul and a splash of country have made Southern rock relevant again.
When you’re latest album starts out with audio of a quote from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, you know your Southern roots run deep. This exemplifies the smart, progressive approach The Sons of Bill from Charlottesville, Virginia bring to their version of Southern rock. As their name implies, they’re made up of three brothers (their dad’s name is Bill), and like many Southern rock bands, you get this sense that you are looking into a very tight group of friends regardless of blood affiliation that you can’t help finding an affection for that helps you connect with the music.
Trumped in popularity and draw in Southern rock only by their frequent tour partners the Zac Brown Band, Blackberry Smoke is the other top act right now in Southern rock. They’re singed to Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label, and their last album The Whippoorwill was both a critic’s favorite and a breakout commercial success, hitting #8 on the Billboard country album chart, bolstered by the single “Pretty Little Lie.” When they started out 13 years ago, their sound had a little more edge than what it features now. Unlike many of the other bands in this list that are slightly different versions or derivatives of the classic meaning of “Southern Rock,” Blackberry Smoke just about fits the description perfectly, while slipping in a few straight country tunes on you here and there.
Probably not as well known as many of the other bands on this list because of long droughts between album releases and tours, the Wrinkle Neck Mules nonetheless forge a great sound by combining powerful songwriting with a country rock sound. There’s a very epic approach to their music, and their last album Apprentice To Ghosts is a great example of modern-day Southern rock.
Borrowing parts from the previous bands of Scrappy Hamilton and Old Pike, Truth & Salvage was formed in late 2005 and caught the ear of Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson who signed the band to his Silver Aarow label in 2008. They released their self-titled debut in May of 2010. Truth & Salvage is truly a collaborative effort, with six full-time members and four who pull frontman duty at some point during a live set, including the drummer Bill “Smitty” Smith.
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Some solo artists who could be considered Southern rock: Jimbo Mathus, Jason Isbell, Austin Lucas, Shooter Jennings, Leroy Powell.
Other bands to check out: Truck Stop Darling, Whiskey Myers, Kenneth Bryan Band, The Cadillac Black, Doc Dailey, Magnolia Devil, Uncle Lucius, Iron Orchard.