Every year there’s that handful of artists that you discover and it’s hard to comprehend how you got along without them previously. In 2023, there seems to be even more of these artists than normal as country music continues to open up, and opportunities for independent artists have never been so lucrative. Here are as few of Saving Country Music’s newest favorites and top discoveries to get on your radar for big things in 2024.
Maybe you recognize Josie Toney as the fiddle player and harmonizer that helped underpin the rabid success of Sierra Ferrell over the last few years. Originally from Olympia, Washington with a family history in music including old-time and other traditional styles, Josie Toney is so much more than just a fiddle player.
A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she received the Sam Eisenson Award for Country Music from the prestigious music school, and also won the FreshGrass fiddle championship in 2019. She’s now taking all of her time learning, practicing, studying, playing for others, and putting it all on red in service of her own career.
Her debut album Extra released in April is everything you were hoping Josie Toney’s debut would be. When she sings, Toney evokes the ghosts of the classic country era by mixing old-school country with old-school blues indicative at times of Hank One. You may think of her as an instrumentalist first, but the album showcases a confident and seemingly effortless vocal delivery with plenty of pain and emotion behind the lyrics, and even the appearance of a yodel.
It’s easy to turn speculative whenever you see that a drummer has decided to step in front of the microphone and take a turn in the spotlight. With many drummers, you’re just happy if you can get them to bathe and not to bite their toenails at the breakfast table. Levon Helm and Don Henley are the exceptions. “Sturgill Simpson’s drummer” certainly gets you to pay attention to what’s happening here, but the next thought you have is, “Okay, but how good could he really be?”
In the case of Miles Miller, he’s that good. Really good. Surprisingly good. He’s so good in fact, your next question is why he’s been sequestered behind a drum set for so long? Sure, he sang harmony for Sturg and was always presented as the “bandleader.” He also did a stint in the Asheville-based band Town Mountain. But Miller has a naturally-pleasing and seemingly effortless singing style that most dedicated singers can’t even bring to the table these days. He’s also got a rather stellar set of songs worthy of bending your ear to.
All of this is illustrated in Miller’s debut album Solid Gold. Produced by Sturgill Simpson, the 12-song set features a lot of Southern-style soulful moments less indicative of Kentucky, and more similar to the Muscle Shoals sound, or perhaps Brent Cobb and his smooth country vibe. There is also a distinctly 70’s-era classic rock feel to Solid Gold, and favorably so.
Raised on a ranch in Sunnyside, Washington, Zach Top is next in line in the lineage of traditional country artists such as George Strait and Randy Travis. This is one you don’t have to worry about straying from the script. Country music is deep in his soul, and at 25-years-old, he’ll be expressing it for many years to come.
Zack Top released an 8-song album in May of 2022, but it was really the succession of subsequent singles that have caught fire, and have Top poised to break out big time in 2024, especially since he’s seeing big opportunities opening tours for Lainey Wilson, and landing on major festival lineups like Two Step Inn and Under The Big Sky.
It’s taken a bit for Zach Top’s songwriting to develop. But with the way traditional country is coming back into fashion, and performer like Zach is poised to rise to the top.
Turnpike Troubadours bassist RC Edwards stumbled upon Lance Roark in 2020 during the Turnpike hiatus when he was looking for a lead guitar player. Roark fit the bill, but has subsequently slid even deeper into the Turnpike universe while finding a way to showcase his own music at the same time. “Chipping Mill” that Roark wrote with R.C. Edwards appeared on the new Turnpike Troubadours album A Cat In The Rain.
That’s not the only Turnpike Troubadours connection. Lance Roark’s 8-song debut album Better Man released in March was produced by Hammerin’ Hank Early, a.k.a. Turnpike’s Swiss Army Knife who plays the steel/dobro/banjo/accordion. From Eastern Oklahoma, Lance Roark’s roots are in bluegrass and country, and that definitely underpins Better Man. But there is also a bit of a swampy and sweaty feel in the way these original songs were rendered.
Don’t be surprised if Roark catches some wind and becomes the next shooting star from Oklahoma in the coming years. You already see him getting major opportunities on festival lineups in Red Dirt and beyond.
When you go to see Wyatt Flores live, it’s a similar experience to seeing Zach Bryan where many in the audience know every single word to every single song, and sing along. But Wyatt has everything many of the other guys blowing up massive at the moment don’t, which is a refined ear, a more polished sound, and an actual production sense, while still delivering those cutting lines that make the music feel so much more visceral and reverberative than the mainstream product.
Raised on all those Red Dirt/Oklahoma country influences, Wyatt Flores grew up in the music since his dad was a drummer in Red Dirt bands. After finding some success with early songs, Flores moved from Stillwater to Nashville in the summer of 2022, and soon signed an independent deal with Island Records. He’s still yet to release a proper debut album, but his 7-song EP Life Lessons released in November is already earning him high praise, including the song “Orange Bottles” being nominated for Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year for 2023.
Wyatt Flores is not the typical species of the country music insurgency. He’s a rare one. If you’re looking for the one new artist that could make major waves in the coming years, it’s Wyatt.
It’s official, ladies and gentlemen. Country music has entered a new neotraditional age. Not dissimilar to when George Strait and Randy Travis showed up on the scene in the ’80s and swayed everything in the direction of more country-sounding tunes, we’re seeing large swaths of mainstream country re-adopt country sounds and country sentiments in popular music.
There may be no better evidence for this than Savannah, Georgia-native Megan Moroney. No, it’s not because Moroney is making straight-down-the-middle traditional country. She’s a major label-signed 25-year-old pop country starlet fresh into Nashville whose music happens to be slathered with steel guitar, steeping in classic country lore, and dare we say superbly written when it comes to a good handful of songs.
Expect in the coming years for Megan Moroney to join Lainey Wilson, Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde, and a growing list of mainstream country women rewriting the script for women in country music.
Sister trio Ellie (lead guitar), Powell (banjo) and Lily (vocals) exploded on social media in 2023 as a smart, cute, and super-talented neotraditional trio singing covers of classic and traditional country tunes. But don’t regard this project lightly as simply a trend on Tik-Tok.
Not only are these three women super talented and able to evoke the eternal appeal of blood harmonies that go all the way back to the original formation of country music. They are the ultimate mix of traditional country roots and widespread popular appeal. Already getting booked on some of independent country’s biggest festivals, The Castellows could take country music by storm in the coming months and years as they transition from cover singers on social media to original artists in the studio.
Recently they released the single “No. 7 Road” written by the sisters themselves, and licensed through Warner Music Nashville via their own Henry-Dixon Line label. It’s not a matter of “if” The Castellows blow up big, but “when.” And they’ll be taking their more traditional country sound with them.
Don’t let the baby face of Myron Elkins fool you. You pipe up his debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines produced by Dave Cobb, and it’s like you’re immediately ferried off to some faraway, ramshackle roadhouse set in 1970s sepia, with some 70-year-old cat in polyester butterfly collars crooning out stories of blood and bruises through a voice eroded from decades of unfiltered Kool menthols, and enough drams of whiskey down the gullet to match the water displacement of an oil tanker.
Not since Colter Wall have you been flabbergasted by the age behind a young man’s voice, and it’s a voice that has something to say, delivered in a style that immediately ingratiates itself to the audience. It’s like a fusion of Southern rock, soul country and country blues, deep fried and smothered in brown gravy with a biscuit on the side for sopping. It may be hell on the heart, but it’s manna for the soul.
He may be from Michigan as opposed to the Deep South. But expect Myron Elkins to be a major player in Southern rock and the soul side of country for years to come.
Classic country singing and songwriting was always there, but is not exactly what Amanda Fields has been known for heretofore. Fields primarily comes from the bluegrass discipline. Originally from Southwest Virginia and the Appalachian region, she grew up playing guitar and singing in the Pentecostal church. Moving to Nashville when she was just 18, she naturally fell into the bluegrass circles, and according to peers, has paid more dues than anyone since.
Amanda Fields released a bluegrass single in 2019 called “Brandywine” in what was supposed to be the start of a hopefully illustrious solo career in the bluegrass subgenre. But it’s hard to second guess the extended pause and the re-emergence as a traditional country artist from what is captured on her debut album What, When and Without. It earned the highest rating of any album on Saving Country Music in 2023 (a 9.4), as well as a nomination for Album of the Year.
If Amanda keeps it up, she could be a major artist in traditional/independent country and Americana for years to come.