Here at Belles and Gals we’re committed to bringing you the very best in female country and today we’re delighted to bring you our first ever ‘artists to watch’ piece. Our focus in this first piece heads across the Atlantic, where six members of the team each pick out an artist who should certainly be on your radar (if they’re not already!).
Kayla Ray – chosen by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)
If you prefer your country music without prefixes such as “Bro” or “Pop” then Kayla Ray may well be the artist for you! I’m always excited to hear new music from an artist who stays true to the traditional country music that inspired them in the first place and this is definitely what we have here.
Texan born Kayla is hugely influenced by the artists her grandmother loved such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard (whom she cites as her ultimate favourite). Listening to them while growing up and encouraged by her grandmother to pursue her passion for music it isn’t hard to detect a similar honesty in her writing, albeit with a modern twist. Both her albums use classic country instrumentation too ( heavy on fiddle, steel and resonator guitar ) and vocally she shares the vulnerability of her idols.
Currently touring her new album “Yesterday and Me” stateside (along with another great artist who’s music is clearly rooted in trad country, Erin Enderlin) Kayla wrote all bar two of the tracks, one being a previously unreleased song by the late Keith Whitley. Describing the album in a recent interview with Saving Country Music she says “Triumph I think would be the theme of the album, and learning everything you can from yesterday but leaving it right there “.
Both this, and her debut 2014 album “Love and Liquor” are available to listen/download in the usual places, and more info can be found at kaylaraymusic.com
Above is a taster of her new album, a totally stripped back version of the witty track “Pills”.
Ruthie Collins – chosen by Shanon Hynes (twitter.com/s_hynesmusic)
Lennon Stella – chosen by Laura Klonowski (lauraklonowski.com)
18-year-old actress and singer Lennon Stella is best known for playing Maddie Conrad on the hit US musical drama Nashville. In the CMT series the multi talented star often performs with on screen and real life sister Maisy Stella whom plays Daphne Conrad.
And this year as Nashville comes to an end, Lennon will be breaking away from releasing music via the show and will instead be venturing into the world with her own solo music and we at Belles and Gals believe she is going to become a huge star of 2018.
But while she makes pop-country tunes on the Nashville TV show, it’s likely that she steer away from that sound slightly with her own musical output as she looks to find her true place in the industry.
At the moment she is working hard in the recording studio on her debut album which is due for release later this year and has been working with renowned producer Timbaland.
For her solo record we are expecting RnB vibes with a country twist but little has been revealed about what direction her original music will take. But judging by snippets posted on her Instagram account over the past year this is the kind of style we feel she may gravitate towards.
And while we would love for her own output to be pure country, it seems obvious that she would like to make a little change as she leaves the county music drama.
But that doesn’t mean that she will say goodbye to the genre as we still have a feeling that her natural songwriting ability and guitar skills will be put to good use to keep the country vibe alive as she breaks out on her own.
And whatever style of music she releases we just know it will be fantastic and we can’t wait to hear what she has in store for us over the course of the next few months.
(Watch Lennon Stella in action above from the hit TV show ‘Nashville’)
Kayla Woodson – chosen by Katie Louise Ingram (twitter.com/xkatie19x)
My choice for one to watch is the immensely talented Kayla Woodson! Ever since hearing her self titled EP and the song “Before it’s too late” I was instantly drawn in by this incredible girls voice and have been a fan ever since. Growing up in Louisiana she started out singing at a pretty early age and making the decision in 2012 to move to Nashville to study at Belmont University.
When I heard she was trying out for The Voice in US and saw her audition a fabulous rendition of Reba Mcentire “Turn on the Radio” I instantly thought I was looking at the next winner and was absolutely shell shocked when she didn’t even get a chair turn. Well The Voice’s loss is our gain as it looks like it has been the making of her and made her even more determined to succeed! She has started a whole new chapter this year and is not just a little girl with a big voice anymore. Showcasing her absolute powerhouse vocals for her new single “Unfixable” which on first listen you are instantly drawn in to this absolute heartfelt power ballad which expresses her vulnerable side,I got to confess to constantly playing this song on repeat. If this single is anything to go by Kayla Woodson has an amazing future ahead of her as a country singer and is my choice for one to watch 2018 and I for one cannot wait to hear more! Make sure y’all check her out too!
Abby Anderson – Chosen by Liam Lewis (twitter.com/liam0324)
Abby Anderson is a country megastar in the making. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter is signed to black river entertainment, alongside fellow female Kelsea Ballerini. Already recognised by CMT as one of the ‘Next Women of Country’ it is clear to see that there is certainly a successful career blossoming. ‘This Feeling’ is how Abby initially entered my musical radar. Currently close to 1 million Spotify streams, the contemporary country sound coupled with her intelligent songwriting is the perfect introductory track for a soon to be shining career. The newest release to Abby’s repertoire ‘Make Him Wait’ is an incredible debut single. A ballad with an interestingly constructed amalgamation of country and pop, sprinkled with cleverly constructed lyrics, it easy to see why her reputation as not only an artist but also a songwriter is rising rapidly. With a full-length album currently in the works, it will only be a matter of time before Abby Anderson will be taking the charts and radio by storm.
Karen Jonas – chosen by Nick Cantwell (twitter.com/nickbelles_gals)
Karen Jonas first came to my attention at the back end of 2016 when she released her second album ‘Country Songs’. You know an album is good when you’re still playing it regularly almost a year and a half later, while also discovering in the meantime just how good her debut ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ album was too. For me, Karen has a raw, almost instinctive ability to write and perform unique and original songs and each album shows an artist who is certainly not afraid to mix it up. She can tick the country box, she can tick the alt-country/Americana box, while some of her compositions tick neither – but whatever she does, she does it brilliantly and in her own way.
Karen has a new album, ‘Butter’, out next weekend and having had a sneak preview, it will surely see the singer’s profile raise again. If you haven’t listened to Karen Jonas before, she’s the best artist you’ve never listened to. Check out the wonderful ‘Wasting Time’ above.