2008 was a great year for up-and-coming artists, and here's a look at some of the best new artists to hit the folk and bluegrass scene this year.
Justin Townes Earle's full-length debut, The Good Life, hit stores early in 2008, and he was quickly lauded by fans and critics alike as one of the best new artists of the year. Those claims never wavered, and for good reason. Earle has proven himself a gifted songwriter and performer, whose follow-up is one of the highly anticipated discs of 2009. He has a knack for storytelling and composing compelling love songs, and he's definitely an artist to watch.
The Steeldrivers were one of the most exciting new bands on the bluegrass scene this year. You really can't go wrong with a group of well-known and well-respected Nashville studio players. With their debut self-titled album out in 2008 on Rounder Records and a nomination for IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year, it's hard to argue with the fact that the Steeldrivers have a good thing going.
The Felice Brothers aren't incredibly new on the scene, either, but their April 2008 debut was definitely the point where everyone everywhere was abuzz about their infectious brand of folk music. Similar to bands like Bombadil and the Avett Brothers, the Felice Brothers marry traditional music with anti-folk, contemporary rock, and elements of other musics of the world to attract young and old alike.
4. Sierra Hull
I first heard Sierra Hull at the tail end of 2007 during the IBMA conference showcases in Nashville, Tenn. Her Rounder Records debut didn't hit the streets until May, however, and it was well worth the wait. At just 16 years old, Hull has a long career ahead of her and, if her debut is any indication, she's sure to have plenty of chances to win over new fans.
5. Rose Cousins
Rose Cousins was one of my favorite discoveries at the 2008 National Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, Tenn. I caught her set during one of the guerilla showcases, and was glad I had wandered in. Her songs are understated and heart-wrenching tales of love, sadness, and sincerity.
Meg Hutchinson, like many of the artists on this list, has been around for a few years, but 2008 saw quite a few advances for her career. For one, she signed a deal with Red House Records and released her very well-received disc Come Up Full. Performances at South by Southwest and other notable festivals followed, and Hutchinson became one of the most memorable up-and-comers of the year.
I first saw Langhorne Slim in the summer of 2007 at Pickathon, but 2008 seemed to be the year that his tireless touring and onstage charisma was catching around with music fans everywhere. He played to packed crowds at both Pickathon and Bumbershoot—two of our best music festivals in the Northwest—and packed clubs nationwide. His band, the War Eagles, are an impressive roots-rock trio, and their dedication to their craft is admirable. He's definitely one of the most notable up-and-comers on the scene.
North Carolina's Bombadil was one of the most memorable bands to hit the mainstage at Pickathon 2008. Calling to mind fellow innovators like the Felice Brothers and Avett Brothers, Bombadil occupy that fun undefinable area of roots music, marrying all kinds of Americana into one delightful blend.
I've been hearing Natalia Zukerman's name for a few years, but I didn't get to check her out in person until the 2008 National Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, Tenn., where she shared a guerrilla showcase with the aforementioned Rose Cousins. Zukerman's songwriting is intricate and surprising, and her guitar work is notable, as well. With her 2008 release Brand New Frame on Willy Porter's Weasel Records, she solidified her continuous climb up the contemporary folk food chain.
10. Anthony da Costa
Anthony was another Folk Alliance find for me. The Pleasantville, New York-based teenager is one of the shiningest new stars on the rise in the Northeast singer-songwriter scene. With the release of his 2008 album Typical American Tragedy, he continued touring the East Coast festival circuit and, no doubt, turning heads up and down the eastern seaboard. He is definitely one to watch in the coming years.