As great of a year as 2014 was for country music throughout North Texas, many of the headlines were dominated by veterans, both young and grizzled. While 2015 will surely see some fine albums from this area's better time-tested honky-tonk talents, there are a handful of fresher names we're particularly excited about hearing more from, as well as artists we haven't heard from in a while.
And as always, country music in Dallas and well beyond can show off an impressive array of styles and sounds. We're thrilled to know that some of the artists we're most excited about in 2015 are looking to take some chances and make something off-kilter while working within the framework of the genre. Here are five local country artists we're pretty pumped about as we head into the New Year.
2013's Bull Run EP, while really enjoyable, obviously only scratched the surface for Dallas-based Troy Cartwright. On February 3, the winner of 2013's prestigious B.W. Stevenson Songwriting title will release his self-titled, debut full-length record. The record is packed with gems both rocking and of the quieter variety, all of which display a fine depth. There's little doubt us locals will be talking about this record, produced by Wes Sharon (Turnpike Troubadours, Parker Milsap) this time next year and considering it as one of the very best of 2015.
For years now, Grant Jones has been a welcome, regular presence in Deep Ellum, whether he has a full band behind him or it's just him and his guitar. His 2012 country-rock powerhouse, Saints, Sinners & Liars, which was a concept album based upon the down-and-out characters of a small tore-up town, is as badass now as it was upon its release. Jones has told us that a new album is in the work and will likely be released late in 2015. With the tentative title of Blood on the Banks, Jones, never afraid to shake things up, plans on adding some electronic and atmospheric touches to the arrangements while dealing in some of the same subjects as he did in 2012. Thanks to his years of killer live shows and high-quality records, Jones has more than earned the good faith that leads us to look ahead with excitement rather than trepidation.
Earlier in 2014, Melissa Ratley, the Flower Mound-based singer-songwriter who gigs on the regular in Denton and Fort Worth, had her guitar stolen. Thanks to some quick work from police and a responsible pawn shop worker, Ratley was reunited with her beloved instrument in rather short order. That was good news for many reasons, as who knows whether we would be seeing the release of her debut record, A Lonely View, as soon as we will, on January 20, or much later had the guitar not been recovered. The album's stellar lead single, "Say You'll Stay," is a classic up-tempo love song with some damn fine pedal steel work on display.
In 2011, this Fort Worth-based crew offered up a respectable self-titled debut of rock-inflected Texas country. But things got funkier, greasier, dirtier and much better in 2013 with the release of Gold Coast. Indeed, there are some real country nuggets on there, but gritty numbers such as "Black Canyon Boom" took this Ace Crayton-led outfit into exciting, rollicking terrain that translates fantastically in concert. According to Crayton, the band has begun pre-production on a new album they hope to release somewhere near the middle of 2015. Understandably, he was quiet on more specific details, but there's no question this is an album to keep an ear out for next year.
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Led by the harmonic trio of Arwyn Benson, Alyssa Yancey, and Courtney Childs-Mock, Calamity Janes offer up honey-sweet sounds via gorgeous harmonies. Calling Waxahachie home, such a group-vocal gift simply isn't heard much around this part of the state in the clubs very often. It's not that this group, completed with a solid band behind the three lead ladies, deals only in pastoral elegance, mind you. On the group's upcoming debut EP, Roots and Wings, the trio can sing a classic Tex-centric line such as, "You may all go to hell, I'll go to Texas." And make it sound both sweet and menacing simultaneously. Hopefully, we'll see this outfit in full-fashion more regularly once the EP arrives, as it will be great fun to have a bit of Western swing-style honky-tonk blood added to the mix here in North Texas.
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