Nashville's star-making machine has been the subject of countless articles, several films and six seasons of a prime-time soap opera — but there are plenty of emerging music-makers who operate at the fringes of that world, or well beyond it. Some value indie-style self-reliance, while others tap into popular movements that transcend geography. Here's a roundup of some of these artists' compelling recent offerings, in the midst of perfecting their angles on an array of styles.
The young, Chicago transplant RJay Green works in the rapidly growing confessional singer-songwriter niche of the urban contemporary gospel world, which has its most visible representative in the established star Jonathan McReynolds. Green's EP-length introduction Where Are You, released last November, betrays his coffeehouse neo-soul influences. Its strongest track, "Home," is penitent and gauzily reflective.
Daisha McBride started building her internet presence as the Rap Girl several years back, when she posted videos of herself spitting rhymes over other people' tracks from her college dorm room at Middle Tennessee State. But she quickly proved herself to be a serious rap artist, finding her own go-to beat-makers and furthering her craft on a succession of loosies, mixtapes and EPs. "No Talk," a track from her full-length debut Wild, shows the fruit of her labors with slyly sharp lyrics and a broody, lithely swaggering flow.
The first song posted online by Sister Kit — the musical moniker of Abby Clark, who's also a visual artist — may have been a lo-fi slice of bedroom recording, but a subsequent EP, last November's Slow Recovery, has glassy, languidly melodic dream pop textures and quietly self-aware melancholy that makes her a kindred spirit of several other standouts in the current indie rock singer-songwriter movement. Witness: "Someone to Blame."
A lot of younger artists who are self-conscious about fitting into seemingly homogenous niches speak of how important it is to see someone who looks like them claiming that space. For Nigerian-American Joy Oladokun, it was footage of Tracy Chapman that brought on the epiphany. From there, Oladokun found her own path to singer-songwriter pop with dustings of soul suppleness and folk clarity. She's released a pair of songs this year – "Blame," a bit of playfully peeved post-breakup air clearing, and "Sunday," a broody, beat-driven reflection on feeling closeted and condemned as a church kid--that both display what a warm, nimbly melodic writer she's become.
Singing, songwriting front woman Emma Hoeflinger and her Oginalii band matesRyan Quarles Simon Knudtson and Emma Lambiase have spent the last few years working out an ambitious and expansive angle on indie rock. What they've arrived at on their first full-length Cause & Affection, released in April, is precise in its sludginess and exhilaratingly psychedelic in its channeling of socially pointed anger.
The primary influence that Briston Maroney cited when he auditioned for American Idol as a teenager was Bob Dylan, but that was practically a lifetime ago. In the half-dozen years since, Maroney's gravitated toward nervy, buoyant guitar-pop, test-driven in the underground venues of Nashville and sharpened with a succession of EPs. The latest, Indiana, boasts the taut, hooky romanticism of "Caroline."
The daughter and granddaughter of respected St. Louis jazz musicians, Morgan Bosman didn't leave the family business behind entirely. Besides occasionally lending her voice to work by a Swedish electronic duo, she's been fleshing out her easeful blend of singer-songwriter pop and neo-soul and her fluttery, gently jazzy approach to vocal improvisation, both of which are showcased in"Haunt," one of a handful of tracks she's released so far.
Jake Wesley Rodgers is clearly aware that he's working in a well-defined pop lineage — that his theatrical acuity and swelling dynamics descend from Peter Gabriel, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and Sam Smith. But Rodgers wears those influences lightly on Spiritual, his second EP and first since finishing his college music studies, which benefits from his intricate vision and assured performances. During the standout tracks "Jacob From the Bible" and "Little Queen," he gracefully choreographs flares of melancholy emotion and shrouds erotic desire in spiritual reverence.
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