The world of country music is vast and extremely popular, and yet so much of it tends to go unnoticed in indie/alternative rock circles. Occasionally artists cross over -- like Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and Nikki Lane have in recent years -- and of course both worlds share some of the same heroes (Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, etc), but the crossover doesn't happen as much as it should. If you're someone who wishes current indie and alternative rock would "rock" more, you'll find a lot of the guitar-oriented music you're looking for coming out of the country world. It makes sense; country has infiltrated rock for over half a century -- from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones to The Byrds to Neil Young to Bob Dylan and beyond -- and country musicians have been overtly channelling rock for years and continue to do so. The walls between rock and country may look sturdy from afar, but so often the separation has more to do with image and perception than it does with the actual music. The same can be said for country and the more folk-leaning indie artists. If you think you "don't like country music," there are probably multiple artists who would convince you otherwise.

If you're a country-curious indie/alternative/rock fan and looking to explore more, we've put together a list of 15 current country singers that we think you should know. We tried to keep it to artists who have been rising in the past few years and who are doing stuff as we speak, though some are already more established and popular than others. 15 is just a small sample size and this list is just a starting point; if you like what you hear, keep digging, and if you've got more suggestions, leave 'em in the comments.

Read on for the list, in no particular order…

Morgan Wade

When asked about artists she looks up to or is influenced by, Morgan Wade is quicker to mention Lana Del Rey than any traditionally country artist, and it makes sense. The Virginia native maybe has a little more of a Southern drawl than Lana, but her personal, emotive pop-Americana is coming from a very similar place. When Morgan sings a couplet like "You said you hate the smell of cigarette smoke/You only used to smoke when you drank" ("Wilder Days"), it induces that same kind of vivid nostalgia as Lana's best songs. You can also draw comparisons to other country crossover acts like Kacey Musgraves or Jason Isbell (whose guitarist Sadler Vaden produced Reckless). Like both of them, Morgan's musical roots are in country but she avoids the genre's stereotypical lyrical clichés and just sings from the heart. That's what makes her 2021 debut album Reckless (and its expanded 2022 deluxe edition) worth coming back to over and over again. It's got instantly-satisfying songs like "Wilder Days" and "Run" and "Don't Cry" that get stuck in your head for days, and deep cuts that peel back new layers with each listen. Morgan has a ton of upcoming international tour dates, including a run opening for Chris Stapleton (that hits the NYC-area on August 25 at Jones Beach), and it doesn't feel crazy to think that one day Morgan will be headlining the same huge venues she's about to open for Chris in.

Joshua Ray Walker

Rolling Stone has called 30-year-old Dallas native Joshua Ray Walker "country’s most fascinating young songwriter," and it's not hard to see why. Starting in 2019, he released three albums in as many years, all cut from the same cloth, all full of instant-classic songs, and all met with deserved acclaim. He cites Texas legends like Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver as core influences, but he also celebrates "hook-driven" superstars like Alan Jackson and George Strait, and you can hear all of that coming through in his music. He's a clear student of the classics and favors arrangements that date back to country's more traditional, pre-pop era, but he also has a hooky songwriting style that makes his songs stick with you after just a couple listens. Whether it's something like the mariachi-tinged "Love Songs" from his 2019 debut, the melancholic country folk of "Gas Station Roses" from last year's See You Next Time, or the horn-fueled, '60s-style R&B of "Sexy After Dark" from that same album, Joshua just comes off like a true natural. He hasn't released anything in 2022 yet, but he's been busy this year; he made his late night TV debut on Fallon in February, he's making his Grand Ole Opry debut this month, and he's continuing to tour like crazy. In addition to being a great songwriter, he's also a magnetic performer, so go see him if you can.

Lainey Wilson

The Louisiana-born Lainey Wilson moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country music over a decade ago, and her big break came after she released her first major label EP, 2019's Redneck Hollywood. Its song "Things A Man Oughta Know" was released as a single the following year, and after her 2021 full-length Sayin' What I'm Thinkin' – which features all four songs from Redneck Hollywood and eight others – was released, "Things A Man Oughta Know" just kept rising. She made her late night TV debut with it on Kimmel last fall and it was named Song of the Year at the ACM Awards earlier this year. The song is a gorgeous ballad about the tougher side of love, and it's not the only gem that Sayin' What I'm Thinkin' has to offer. There's "LA," a super fun country/funk/rock hybrid that pokes fun at urban elitism. There's "Dirty Looks," another gorgeous ballad that plays with the double meaning of its titular phrase. There's the anthemic Southern pride of "Pipe," the sweeping bittersweetness of "Keeping Bars In Business," the warm country folk of "Rolling Stone," and the straight-up rock of "WWDD," aka "What Would Dolly Do," in which Lainey celebrates the influence of one of the greatest country crossover stars of all time. It's still early in her career, but it seems like Lainey is already doing a great job of following in her hero's footsteps.

Lainey is opening Jon Pardi's 'Ain't Always the Cowboy' tour this year (including NYC's Rooftop at Pier 17 on 9/22), and…

Hailey Whitters

…Hailey Whitters is opening that Jon Pardi tour too, and she's not to miss either. Hailey released her breakthrough album The Dream in 2020, right before the pandemic really got bad in the US, and she's coming out of the pandemic strong too, with her great new album Raised. Hailey reminds me of the more overtly country style of Kacey Musgraves' pre-Golden Hour days, and like Kacey's music, Hailey's songs are catchy enough for pop radio but still rustic and organic enough for the "alt-country" crowd. Comparisons aside, Hailey stands tall as a force of her own because both her words and melodies quickly stick. She touches on familiar themes (love, small town pride, self assurance) with turns of phrase that never feel cliché, resulting in songs that feel comfortingly nostalgic and refreshingly new all at once.

Ian Noe

One of the most underrated country debuts of the past few years is Kentucky singer Ian Noe's 2019 LP Between The Country. He made it with Dave Cobb, the go-to producer for Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson, and in a just world, Ian would already be as big as those guys. It's clear from listening that one of his biggest influences is country/folk legend John Prine, and the album also has a slowcore-ish side that sits nicely next to stuff like Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Songs: Ohia. Ian followed the album this year with River Fools & Mountain Saints, and it expands upon his debut in every way, with bigger sounding production (this time from Alabama Shakes collaborator Andrija Tokic), a greater variety of musical styles, and an even stronger knack for detailed storytelling. When I recently asked Ian about the musical influences on this album, he said he thinks the whole thing falls somewhere in between "White Oak on the Hill" by bluegrass pioneer (and Kentucky legend) Bill Monroe and "Lookin' Out My Back Door" by swamp rock vets Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's an eclectic answer, but it also perfectly sums up this album, which treks through twang-fueled rock, traditional country and bluegrass, ethereal balladry, sweeping, string-laden country pop, and more. When I asked what he hopes people take away from the album, he replied, "The main thing I hope people take away from this album is that there are still people out there who can write a damn song." Mission accomplished.

Ryan Culwell

Johnny Cash isn't the only country singer with a great Nine Inch Nails cover. Last year, Texas native Ryan Culwell teamed with Aubrie Sellers for a stripped-back, countrified rendition of "Head Like A Hole," his first song since 2018's very good The Last American and the perfect stage-setter for this year's even better Run Like A Bull. Like the NIN cover, Run Like A Bull finds Ryan leaning into his more somber acoustic side -- a side he explored more on 2015's Flatlands than on The Last American and does better than ever on the new album -- and coming out with music that effortlessly bridges the gap between country, rock, and folk. Comparisons to Jason Isbell, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Fleetwood Mac all feel apt, but Ryan stands out with words and melodies that hit with immediate impact and a world-wearied voice that becomes increasingly unmistakable after repeated listens. From crossover crowd-pleasers ("All I Got," "Let's Go Crazy") to ethereal twang ("Colorado Blues") to ramped-up rockers ("Keep Your Head Up") to bare-bones melancholy ("Certain Light"), Run Like A Bull has it all, and it has the potential to reach music fans of all different stripes. It's a reminder that great songwriting knows no bounds.

Kaitlin Butts

Oklahoma's Kaitlin Butts released her debut album Same Hell, Different Devil back in 2015, but if you're still seeing people describe her as a rising artist, it's because her career has been more of a slow burn than an overnight success. In the time since then, she appeared on two albums by Texas band Flatland Cavalry (whose frontman Cleto Cordero she recently married), toured and sang on stage with Turnpike Troubadours, and released the singles "White River" (2019), "How Lucky Am I" (2021), and "Marfa Lights" (2021), which proved to be increasingly well-received breakthroughs. Now she finally followed all of that up with her second album, What Else Can She Do, which is the best thing she's done yet and an album that seems poised to raise Kaitlin's profile more than ever before. The Boot recently said lead single "Blood" is "as clear of a successful crossover from Red Dirt to Nashville as early Kacey Musgraves or Miranda Lambert," a sentence that applies to the full album as well, and it's not hard to see why. Like both of those artists, Kaitlin has a strong, unique voice that cuts right through the crowded field of singer/songwriters trying to achieve something similar. She knows how to write songs that honor the influence of the classics but sound entirely modern, and these are powerful, emotional songs that, to quote, Kaitlin, "are all stories from different women facing the question: 'What else can she do?'" "I see myself in all of these women in these stories," she adds. "I see these women in my friends and family all around me going through divorce, abuse, infidelity, financial instability, addiction, generational trauma, family issues, and life-altering, tough times but somehow, are still resilient and come out on the other side okay." The songs are filled with hooks that stay in your head for days, and Kaitlin nails the classic/modern balance not just with her original material, but also with a stunning rendition of "In the Pines" (which Nirvana fans know best as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?") that really adds something new to this oft-covered song. The album's only downside? With just seven songs, it ends far too soon.

Amythyst Kiah

Even the biggest Joy Division fans are probably tired of hearing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" covers, but Tennessee-born country singer Amythyst Kiah's recently-released rendition of the track totally reinvents it, and blows away every dime-a-dozen Ian Curtis wannabe in the process. How's that for country with indie/alternative crossover? As a writer of her own songs, Amythyst is even more commanding. Her 2021 breakthrough album (and Rounder Records debut) Wary + Strange confronts trauma with enduring anthems like "Black Myself," a riffy anti-racist country rocker that Amythyst had previously contributed a more stripped-back version of to her supergroup Our Native Daughters (which also includes Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, and Leyla McCalla), and the atmospheric Americana of "Wild Turkey," which deals with her mother's suicide. The album was made with producer/multi-instrumentalist Tony Berg, who was fresh off producing Phoebe Bridgers' Punisher, and it often has a glistening yet earthy feel that's not all that different from that album. When it comes to bridging the gap between indie and country, this album alone makes Amythyst a perfect candidate, even if she'd never covered Joy Division.

Sierra Ferrell

The 33-year-old West Virginia native Sierra Ferrell is a very old soul, whose music often sounds like it could've been written in the pre-Beatles era, and who got her start in a very old-fashioned way, busking on the streets of New Orleans before moving to Nashville and landing gigs in local clubs. It's a little ironic, then, that she got her breakthrough in an extremely modern way: by going viral on YouTube. Her videos eventually caught the attention of Rounder Records, who signed her and put out her debut album Long Time Coming in 2021, which featured studio versions of some of those YouTube fan faves, plus a handful of other songs, and a guest appearance by one of the most popular modern bluegrass musicians around: Billy Strings. Her songs often blur the lines between traditional bluegrass and early jazz (her voice has earned more than a few comparisons to Billie Holiday), and the album also experiments with mariachi, Latin rhythms, and more. It's overtly retro, but it never feels like campy imitation. Her music has been resonating with so many people because songwriting this strong is timeless, even if some of these songs sound like they could've come out almost a century ago.

Since the album came out, Sierra hasn't slowed down one bit, and this year she's released a collaboration with Shakey Graves and a Ray LaMontagne cover, and she's on tour now, including an upcoming Brooklyn show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on April 18.

Margo Cilker

Margo Cilker's music and lyrical themes often tap directly into the sound and feel of the American south, but Margo herself was born in California and now lives in Oregon, where she met Pacific Northwest indie icons like former Carissa's Wierd member-turned-solo artist Sera Cahoone, who produced her 2021 debut album Pohorylle, and The Decemberists' Jenny Conlee, who played keys on it. As a result, her music seamlessly crosses over between both worlds, tapping into the rustic twang of classic country but also appealing effortlessly to the indie folk crowd. Margo cites artists like Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams as influences, and she definitely carries on that lineage, toeing the line between genres so naturally that nobody's ever sure what exactly to call it. One thing is for sure: Margo's songs have serious staying power.

Michaela Anne

Michaela Anne had her biggest breakthrough yet with her 2019 Yep Roc debut Desert Dove, and she's dealt with a lot since then: she got sober, had a child, and her mother suffered a near-fatal hemorrhagic stroke, all while the COVID-19 pandemic was already altering the lives of Michaela and everyone around her. That all led to Oh To Be That Free, Michaela's anticipated second album for Yep Roc (due 6/10). "It’s kind of surreal the way this record turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear when I was at my lowest," she said. "These songs became healers, almost as if I’d written them as letters to my future self." Like Desert Dove, the new album finds her making country music entirely on her own terms. She cites SZA as an influence alongside country icons like Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones, and she went to school for jazz in New York, so it's no surprise that you can hear all kinds of stuff seeping into her music. If you're a music lover of any kind, Michaela's almost definitely got you covered.

Arlo McKinley

Since releasing his breakthrough 2020 album Die Midwestern on John Prine's Oh Boy Records, the Ohio-born Arlo McKinley has been moving up in the alt-country world, but he's not confined to it. He recently spoke to us about his favorite punk and metal albums, naming Agnostic Front, Youth of Today, Metallica, Gorilla Biscuits, and Megadeth; he more recently contributed to a tribute album to post-hardcore/emo veterans Chamberlain, alongside members of Dashboard Confessional, Rise Against, The Gaslight Anthem, Taking Back Sunday, and more; and his band includes current and former members of Wilco and Lucero. Arlo's musical world is seemingly limitless, and his upcoming album This Mess We're In is shaping up to be even better than Die Midwestern. He cites Nick Cave and Nick Drake as influences on this one, which you can hear coming through in the darker, more melancholic vibe, but he also hasn't abandoned the rustic twang that John Prine himself was enamored with before his 2020 passing. The album comes out in July, but Arlo is promising to preview more new material on his spring tour.

Tré Burt

Tré Burt hails from Sacramento, but between the classic country influences on his music and the Dylan-esque quality of his voice, he sounds like the middle ground between Nashville and Greenwich Village. He's signed to the late John Prine's Oh Boy Records (and has also gained the support of Wilco and Willie Nelson), and his latest album, 2021's You, Yeah You, was produced by Brad Cook (Hurray for the Riff Raff, Waxahatchee, etc), and was made with Brad on bass/synths, his brother/Megafaun bandmate Phil Cook on keys/harmonica, Alex Farrar (Angel Olsen, Indigo de Souza) on guitar, Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger) on drums, and backing vocals from his Oh Boy labelmate Kelsey Waldon and Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath. He followed the album this year with the new single "Know Your Demons," produced by frequent Alabama Shakes collaborator Andrija Tokic. It's clear that Tré is in good company, and it's no surprise. Like both Prine and Dylan, he's got that timeless songwriting style that can stop you in your tracks with nothing more than his own acoustic guitar and voice. His songs range from battling inner demons to addressing systemic racism and police brutality, like when he tells the real-life story of being racially profiled by police on "By the Jasmine" or when he sang about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner on the devastating 2020 non-album single "Under the Devil's Knee" (featuring both Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla from Our Native Daughters, as well as Sunny War). Tré proves not just to be a commanding storyteller and singer/songwriter, but also a documentarian. As he spoke about in a recent interview with NPR, he comes from a family of historians, and -- hopefully -- by continuing to document history in real time with his music, he can help inspire a better future.

Riddy Arman

Riddy Arman's 2021 self-titled debut album opens with a story of Johnny Cash coming to her father in a vision, shortly before both men passed, it tells stories of Riddy's days working as an actual cowboy, and it includes a cover of Kris Kristofferson's 1970 country ballad "Help Me Make It Through the Night," so it's clearly steeped in age-old country traditions. It should some as no surprise that she's been compared to a variety of country legends, but she's also has a freshness that's earned her comparisons to newer, indie-friendly artists like Neko Case and Margo Price, and she's about to tour with Lady Lamb. The comparison she likes best is Dolly Parton, because Dolly "did go through a phase in her early career where she wrote only sad songs [...] so I guess I related more to that one, because it’s the beginning of my music career and they’re all sad songs so far." True to that description, Riddy's debut album is largely full of stripped-back, melancholic songs that are riddled with death and heartbreak. I wouldn't call it "alt-country," but her interest in raw, somber songs is certainly an alternative to most of what's played on country radio today. And it's impressive how seasoned and instant-classic her songs sound for someone with just one album. She told Holler a few months ago that she's looking to start working on her second album soon, which is great news; her future is looking incredibly bright.

Emily Scott Robinson

Emily Scott Robinson's music career began to rise with 2019's self-released Traveling Mercies and its standout track "The Dress," a devastating song about sexual assault, and an even bigger breakthrough came with 2021's American Siren, her first album for Oh Boy Records. With stories that range from a war veteran who took his own life ("Hometown Hero") to a life-changing experience watching her late label co-founder John Prine perform ("Cheap Seats"), American Siren proves that Emily has the power to leave you hanging on her every word no matter the topic. She's cited Nanci Griffith, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Prine himself as formative influences, and her own music puts a modern spin on classic folk and country influences just like those. She favors humble production and simple, earthy arrangements that really let her storytelling and soaring voice do the talking, and the less-is-more approach is exactly what her songs need to hit as hard as they do. Emily has called American Siren "bigger and riskier and more expansive than [her] last collection," which feels like a very accurate assessment, and if she keeps progressing at this rate she'll be (even more) unstoppable. This year, she's been busy with her Acoustic Mondays video series (her latest is a gorgeous cover of the classic "Love at the Five & Dime" by her hero Nanci Griffith) and touring, and by the looks of things, she does not plan to slow down anytime soon.


Upcoming tour dates for each artist are mentioned in the corresponding blurbs above but a handful of artists on this list are also playing the very cool looking new alt-country fest Palomino Festival in California alongside greats like Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, and Turnpike Troubadours. Some of them are on Americanafest too.

Listen to or follow our playlist with all 15 artists:

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