Meet the new class of Music City musicians.
Despite winning accolades for its cocktail culture and superior dining scene, Nashville will never shake its reputation as Music City. While the city’s past is laden with stories of country stars to blues legends and lesser-known barbershop quartets, a host of artists is breathing new life into honky-tonk haunts, bridging the gap between Nashville’s culturally rich past and its eclectic present.
The intrinsic relationship between Nashville and music stretches far back in history and across genres and spaces: it was home to legendary trans pioneer and soul singer Jackie Shane; it launched Johnny Cash’s career; it served as the recording space for Etta James’s Rock the House album in the 1960s. Yet there is plenty of room for innovation in the ever-growing Southern metropolis: Dolly Parton’s influence can be heard in contemporary artists like Margo Price; Shannon Shaw of Shannon of the Clams recorded her phenomenal solo record here; and it’s no secret that DIY spaces and established venues alike support indie and experimental acts, or that the hip enclave of East Nashville is continually breeding new sounds.
To celebrate the staying power of Nashville’s cultural revolution, we’re highlighting notable members of the new class of Music City musicians, what makes them the real deal, and where you can hear them live in this summer in Nashville and beyond.
Essential Track: “Blossom (demo) / Be Seeing You”
In true DIY spirit, Sophie Allison recorded songs on a Tascam recorder and released them for free on Bandcamp in 2015 under the Soccer Mommy moniker. The response was so encouraging that she dropped out of school and moved back to her hometown of Nashville to pursue music full time. Soccer Mommy has long been a favorite of followers of the Nashville music scene; Allison and the band graced the stage at Third Man Records and headlined Mercy Lounge last year, and she’s earned praise from the Fader and NPR for her dreamy, nostalgic pop. Her latest album Clean came out in 2018, and she recently put out a few previously unreleased demos.
See Her Live: Exit/In on July 13
Essential Track: “Stranger”
Sierra Ferrell plays the saw, and if that’s not enough to make you want to see her live then I don’t know what is. Steeped in Nashvillian roots, her vocals are coated in a warm patina, yet her music feels contemporary. It’s also full of heart, fiddle, and pedal steel. Ferrell and her band released the full-length album Washington by the Sea in April.
Aaron Lee Tasjan
See Him Live: The AmericanaFest in Nashville on September 12-17
Essential Track: “Little Movies”
Any artist featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert is an artist worth listening to, and this ‘70s-esque country/stoner-rocker is no exception. A staple of the East Nashville music scene, Tasjan released his album Karma for Cheap in the late summer of 2018. It’s decidedly more rock than country compared with his previous works, but you’re still likely to see him don a flashy suit worthy of Nudie Cohn onstage.
Essential Track: “Frustrated”
R.LUM.R is the project of Reggie Williams, an acoustic guitarist turned R&B artist from Florida who now calls Nashville home. He’s far from a newcomer, having performed his 2016 hit “Frustrated” on Jimmy Kimmel Live and appearing on stage at Lollapalooza in 2018, but his music is entirely singular. Despite layers of production, R.LUM.R is still a singer-songwriter at his core.
See Him Live: Moon River Festival in Chattanooga, TN, September 7-9
Essential Track: “Get Out and Get It”
Nashville by way of Philadelphia artist Devon Gilfillian has a dreamy falsetto to complement his neo-soul tracks. He’s performed with heavy-hitters like Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight, and earlier this year he traveled to Africa for a bit of inspiration and healing. We can only anticipate his music will grow and change with him.
See them live: Check back here for shows
Essential Track: “Further In/Out”
Four-piece Oginalii is a self-proclaimed “Crunchy-Psych-Post-Tampon-Old-Wave-Newsies-Late-Hits-Rock” group, and I won’t even attempt to rival that description. Wholly original in ethos (even though frontwoman Emma Hoeflinger aspires to be like her predecessor St. Vincent), this band is worth keeping tabs on. Oginalii is the Cherokee word for “my friend.”
See Her Live: The Basement with ELEL, August 31
Essential Track: “Our Apartment”
Welcome to the melodious, wonderful world of Bantug. Her indie pop drifts from danceable to melancholy, and we’re here for all the moods. She describes herself as “alternative country” in scare quotes, which we can only assume is a play at the fact that the overwhelming majority of her fellow Nashville denizens are country musicians, and she’s anything but. Her EP Red is out now.
The New Respects
See Them Live: Moon River Festival in Chattanooga, TN, September 7-9
Essential Track: “Come As You Are”
The talent in this family—siblings Zandy, Lexi, and Darius Fitzgerald and their cousin Jasmine Mullen—is overwhelming; the soul pop group is defined by their powerful vocals and true musicianship. It’s hard not to fall in love with their music on the first listen, or not to sway during their infectiously energetic live performances.
See Them Live: They’re currently on tour — catch them at Zanzabar in Louisville, KY, a popular day trip for Nashville locals.
Essential Track: “Trying”
We can’t mention contemporary Nashville music without mentioning Bully. Driven by Alicia Bognanno’s infectious and powerful rasp and urgent instrumentals, they’ll make you nostalgic for pared-down, ’90s rock. They’ve been endorsed by Hole drummer Patty Schemel, who likened them to Dinosaur Jr. and the Breeders, plus they are signed to Sub Pop, so you know they’re cool.
See Him Live: Follow his Instagram for updates
Essential Track: “Stars of Longing”
Nashville denizen Andrew Combs is only going to be under the radar for so long; his forthcoming full-length album Ideal Man drops on September 20, and he has an international tour this winter. He had us at the album’s first single, “Stars of Longing,” which is both haunting and uplifting, and will sink its claws into you from the first distorted electric guitar lick, to the hook, to its sobering conclusion. The accompanying music video is simple and mesmerizing.
The above is just a sampling of new Nashville music that we’re excited about. Check out our Nashville playlist on Spotify for more tunes from and inspired by Music City, and don’t be surprised if you hear a number of country classics (we couldn’t resist!).