Talk about a tough act to follow. By any measure, 2010 was a dream year in Nashville music, and one that isn't likely to be topped anytime soon. But thanks to a harmony-rich trio of siblings, a former reality show star, a turntablist extraordinaire and eight other rising artists to watch, 2011 could be a rich musical year in its own right.
The Band Perry
Country radio listeners officially met The Band Perry in 2009, when the trio of East Tennessee siblings released its upbeat Top 20 single "Hip to My Heart." Then came the band's self-penned second single, "If I Die Young," which hit No. 1 and went platinum. Its success propelled Perry to its first CMA nomination, a Grammy nod and the No. 2 position on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart when its self-titled full-length debut album hit the market in October. With genre-swinging variety, rich family harmonies, songwriting prowess and super-cute hair to boot - not to mention a country fan base that seems hungry for bands at the moment - The Band Perry has the goods for staying power. - C.W.
His debut single, "A Little More Country Than That," had many country music insiders drawing comparisons to his fellow soft-spoken, traditional-sounding label mate George Strait - a pretty good sign (to say the least) that Corbin's well liked within the country community. The single, a song about traditional, upstanding country values, was his first of two chart-toppers in 2010 and garnered single and song of the year nominations at November's CMA Awards, where Corbin was also up for best new artist. In addition, his follow-up single, "Roll With It," reached the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart this fall, indicating fans and country radio are squarely behind the Florida native. - C.W.
Hot Chelle Rae
The Nashville pop/rockers' 2009 debut album was packed with a number of high-energy synth-rock singles that seemed poised to take the Top 40 chart by storm. Instead, the band found its first big hit in "Bleed," a belted acoustic rock ballad that's racked up more than a half-million views on YouTube and led the band to high-profile gigs with the likes of Maroon 5 and Train. Hot Chelle Rae isn't squandering this second wind. It's working on new material and has a gig at New York City's esteemed Webster Hall later in January. - D.P.
JEFF the Brotherhood
Overall, 2010 was kind to Nashville psych-punk duo JEFF the Brotherhood - composed of brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall - what with the blog buzz, SPIN magazine photo shoots and an international tour that took the band all the way to New Zealand. Still, the pair may have its biggest year yet. A new album, perhaps prophetically titled We Are the Champions, is set to hit stores in early 2011, and the first tune they've shared, "Diamond Way," suggests we might be hearing some fresh, friendly melodies - packaged with fuzz-rock charge - from them soon. - D.P.
With a movie-star wife (Katherine Heigl) and a younger brother who's nothing short of country royalty at the moment (Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum), country convert Josh Kelley has a lot of people interested in what he has to say in 2011. The former pop singer is poised to release his first country album, and he spent much of 2010 laying the groundwork for its success. He introduced himself to country fans with the radio-friendly "Georgia Clay," made his Grand Ole Opry debut and spent much of last fall on tour with Miranda Lambert and Eric Church. Kelley maintains he's a longtime country fan and feels right at home in the genre. Over the next few months, we'll see if radio programmers and country fans buy into the elder Kelley's new groove, but one thing is for sure: Everyone will be paying attention. - C.W.
Many hometown fans figured local pop singer Jeremy Lister would be a surefire breakout star back in 2007, when he signed to major label Warner Bros. As 2010 rolled to a close, he still hadn't released his long-delayed full-length album, and his partnership with Warner dissolved. But he did reach millions of ears and eyeballs in December via another media giant, NBC, as a contestant on televised a cappella singing competition The Sing-Off. Lister's group, Street Corner Symphony, narrowly missed the winner's seat, but the network TV exposure brought a flush of attention toward the singer, who'll self-release his LP, The Bed You Made, in early 2011. Aching, Beatles-esque single "Picturing You" - out now via iTunes and Amazon.com - hints that those 2007 expectations were well-founded; the payoff's just perhaps been a bit delayed. - N.K.
He isn't a new face around Music Row; just to country music fans. Niemann kicked around town for a decade as a songwriter, penning hits such as Garth Brooks' chart-topping "Good Ride Cowboy" before finding success as an artist last year. Niemann's remake of the early '90s Sonia Dada song "You Don't Treat Me No Good No More" (he changed the title to "Lover, Lover") landed the Kansas native his first No. 1 as an artist. And when his debut album Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury came out later in the year, it hit the top spot on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. Niemann wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the songs on his album, and his often humorous approach to songwriting and selection avoids the formulaic. With 20 separate cuts - not all of them songs - to choose from on the album, Niemann is rich with solid material to keep country fans craving more over the next 12 months. - C.W.
Only a handful of Christian rock acts have been able to attract and hold onto a sizable secular audience, but that's just what Nashville hard-rockers Red have done over the course of two Grammy-nominated albums. In 2011, they're poised to become a name that not just head-bangers but all Christian listeners know. From January to April, the band that's previously toured with Godsmack, Sevendust and Drowning Pool will join Christian pop stars Newsboys, Francesca Battistelli and NewSong on the Winter Jam tour. The group's third album, Until We Have Faces, hits stores Feb. 1 and looks to please hardcore fans as well as attract new ones with melodic ballads such as "Not Alone." - D.P.
First, take England by storm. Then return to America to conquer. It's a game plan that eventually worked for Nashville rock giants Kings of Leon, and it looks like the formula might be repeated - albeit in a smaller, indie-rock arena - with local singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose. The 23-year-old's debut album, Own Side Now, was a beyond-her-years set of melancholy country tunes that garnered raves from U.K. critics. Rose made NME's list of the 75 "Coolest People in Music," and her single "Shanghai Cigarettes" was just named the second-best song of 2010 by The Sunday Times. With the album set to hit the U.S. in March, expect Rose to make similar waves in her own country soon. - D.P.
Nashville turntablist and remixer Andrew "Wick-It" Owsley has been a staple of the local hip-hop/electronic scene for years, but he's garnering national notice for the spot-on remixes and mash-ups he's been posting online at www.soundcloud.com/wick-it. His mix of the Black Keys' "Tighten Up" and Big Boi's "Shutterbugg" got props from Big Boi himself ("This jam is hot!" he wrote on his website), and the resulting eight-song Black Keys/Big Boi collection, Brothers of Chico Dusty, earned digital ink from the likes of SPIN and SF Weekly. As Grey Album creator Danger Mouse can attest, there's no telling where Owsley goes from here. - D.P.
He has shaken off the Nashville Star-winner stigma once and for all with two No. 1 singles (the saucy "Getting' You Home" and spiritual "The Man I Want to Be"), and a third ("Voices") that just might follow them to the top. Young will stay in the spotlight in early 2011 as he vies for a Grammy and continues to support Rascal Flatts on their nationwide arena tour, and he's planning to release a new album by year's end. - D.P.