Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he CRS New Faces of Country is always billed as a highlight of the annual radio confab - a chance to see new artists, who have made at least somewhat of a mark.
Ashley McBryde has enjoyed the most success of the five artists on the bill, she showed why. McBride kicked off her set acoustic-based (that in and of itself would prove to be a contrast with the others on the bill) with "Girl Going Nowhere." It's a song of triumph and self-redemption, telling the naysayers they were dead wrong. With a subdued, but emotionally intense delivery, McBryde wasted no time in establishing herself.
Remaining acoustic-based, McBryde turned up just a few notches on the first song that gave her attention, "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega."
McBryde leaned back on her Arkansas roots to play Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" solo. Telling a story about how she once played a club in her home state where a fan asked if she'd play her favorite Cash song, she said she didn't. $20 later, she learned part of it. McBryde changed the words for the second stanza, throwing in beer brands.
McBryde has been touted for her songwriting rumors and showed why on "One Night Standards," slowly percolating with guitar underneath, but her vulnerable voice carrying the day.
Two albums in, McBryde has done well for herself with lots of quality songs (including the closing single "Martha Devine") and great vocal control. This girl is going places.
"Call me what you want to/Just call me country," Travis Denning sang in his opening cut, which rocked a lot, even if it did namecheck Charlie Daniels. The Georgian has shown prowess as a songwriter, demonstrated by the follow-up song and his next song, "ABBY." Not only is it a woman's name, of course, but also is the acronym "anybody but you" in this humorous kiss-off song.
Denning took a totally different tack with a new song, the ballad "I'm Going to Love You," accompanied only by keyboards and a little bit of his own steely, but subdued, guitar playing. This was not the typical Denning.
And then he returned to his staple, a song with drinking as a component, "After a Few." Denning has displayed a knack for writing good melodies with his sandpapery voice confidently carrying the songs.
Tenille Arts offered more of a country bent starting with the spunky "Everybody Knows everybody." She may hail from western Canada, but Arts also sang with a twang. No matter because she offered quite the contrast with her predecessors. She continued that vibe with "Give It To Me Straight" with her guitarist adding slide guitar.
Arts gave a message to those dreaming like she did about her former apartment on. She concluded with an inspired take on her biggest song, "Somebody Like That."
The towering Matt Steel (he's 6-7) was one of several artists who stretched the bounds of country. His opening "That Ain't Me No More" had a strong rock edge. Ditto for his hit "Everywhere (But On)" with his drummer thumping the skins and the guitar blazing away.
Yet witth a song like his hit, "Prayed For You," Still showed himself an up-and-comer.
HARDY opened the event with a rock-oriented stint, starting with the musically heavy sounding "Boots." The song sounds like something out of the The Cadillac Three canon. HARDY puts a rock sheen to his sound and seemed more concerned with the emotion than vocal prowess, considering that he was a bit flat at times ("Truck").
Singing, "I'm unapologetically country as hell," underscores the width and breadth of country music these days before raising both hands at the end and giving the finger.
Everyone has their own brand of country these days, but on this New Faces, it was easy to see why McBryde star shines bright.