A four-piece super-group, down-home southern rockers and burgeoning lyrical geniuses are among the talented artists chosen for CMT’s “Listen Up” program for 2019.
The year-long campaign will spotlight country music’s most promising newcomers across CMT platforms, exposing the network’s passionate music fan base to the diversity of today’s country music landscape through featured promotions of their new music and videos.
The new Listen Up class is comprised of Brandon Lay, Dillon Carmichael, Gone West, Hardy, Ingrid Andress, Kylie Morgan, Lainey Wilson, Mitchell Tenpenny, Nick Wayne, Rachel Wammack, Riley Green, Ruston Kelly and Tenille Townes.
Since 2011, CMT’s Listen Up franchise has helped launch the careers of superstars including Brett Eldredge, Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch, Jon Pardi, Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and RaeLynn. The 2018 class alone included Jimmie Allen, Jordan Davis, Maggie Rose, Morgan Evans, Morgan Wallen and Russell Dickerson.
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Meet the 2019 class below:
Lay grew up in Jackson, Tenn. and broke through in 2017 with his debut single “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers,” which was co-written with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally. His follow-up, “Yada Yada Yada” is a flirtatious tale that has the main character trying to convince his love to stay in after she gets all dolled up for a night out with friends. Lay is fresh off a monumental summer opening for Kenny Chesney on the Trip Around The Sun stadium tour. Lay is currently writing and recording for his debut album.
There’s no doubt about it, Carmichael is country to the core and has a throwback voice that embodies the greats, including Randy Travis and Hank Williams, Jr. Produced by Grammy winner Dave Cobb, Carmichael’s debut Hell on an Angel offers hardcore honky-tonk country that touches on the perennial themes including love (“Dancing Away with My Heart”), commitment (“Might Be a Cowboy”) and drowning in regret (“Natural Disaster”). Carmichael is also the nephew of John Michael and Eddie Montgomery and a Nashville local.
Gone West comprises of Grammy winner Colbie Caillat, Jason Reeves, Justin Kawika Young and former JaneDear Girl, Nelly Joy. Reeves is Joy’s husband and collaborator on Caillat’s breakout album Coco, and Young, a four-time Hawaii Music Award winner, is Caillat’s fiancé. The four musicians formed their band in Nashville less than a year ago and based on their first material together, their future is bright.
Philadelphia, Miss. native HARDY is having a moment and proving he’s one of Music Row’s most consistent hit-makers on the rise. Most recently, he’s co-written Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Simple” and Seth Ennis’ “Call Your Mama,” and has been part of several writing sessions with FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley on the duo’s 2018 summer tour. This Ole Boy, Hardy’s four-song debut EP, offers hooks for days that stay on the brain and just won’t leave.
Denver Colo. native Andress has a multifaceted songwriting talent that would do well in any music city. And she has a resume that would be the envy of any rising musician, having co-written Charlie XCX’s “Boys” and Vice’s “Steady 1234.” But there is nothing more thrilling than seeing her perform solo with just a piano. Her voice is both wistful and empowering. And her lyrics endear, especially in her forthcoming song, “Lady Like,” an autobiographical ballad that shows all the women she is and that she won’t play into any of society’s stereotypical roles that sometimes trap unsuspecting people. A member of CMT’s Next Women of Country program, Andress is arguably one of the most creative tunesmiths to call Nashville home in recent memory.
A Newcastle, Okla. native, Morgan has been writing songs since she was 12, and Nashville has been her home since she was 18. With a vocal style that’s equal parts smoke and sweet, Morgan is on the rise with her debut single “Easy to Forget,” a power ballad about trying to get over a relationship gone south. It’s the first release from a forthcoming EP with hit-makers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne.
Wilson’s high and lonesome voice epitomizes one of her all-time favorite singers, Lee Ann Womack, and her sound is as raw and audacious as the other Louisiana singers who came before (See “Middle Finger” from her 2018 self-titled EP). A member of CMT’s Next Women of Country, the Baskin, La. native lived her first three years in Nashville in a bumper-pull camper outside of the recording studio of producer Jerry Cupit (George Jones, Tim McGraw), who is also a family friend. During that time, she accumulated her first cuts with Luke Combs and fellow rising artist Kasey Tyndall. She joins Morgan Wallen’s If I Know Me Tour in 2019.
Tenpenny is a Nashville native who grew up in the music industry under the guidance of his grandmother, Donna Hilley, a prominent figure in Music Row’s publishing world. Before she passed in 2005, she helped facilitate the careers of Nashville’s great songwriters, including Bobby Braddock, Taylor Swift and others, giving Tenpenny a front-row seat at the sacrifice music people encounter in their rise to prominence. His first big break came when Granger Smith recorded one of his originals, “If the Boot Fits.” He just released his full-length debut Telling All My Secrets, featuring his breakout hit “Drunk Me” and his second single “Alcohol You Later.”
Music Row needs writers like Wayne to show the complex nature of a man’s heart. And he has a voice that’s to die for. Cue his high falsetto on “How Do I Get Close,” a song he wrote inspired by his relationship with fellow touring musician, Hannah Ellis. He croons about a world in which he has a steady job in a gas station where he might have a better chance of seeing his girlfriend instead of being on the road constantly. “How Do I Get Close” is part of a two-sided single with the arpeggiated “If You Ever Wanna.”
The same soul that runs through her native Muscle Shoals, Ala. runs through Wammack, and it shows in her eponymous EP. It’s just a taste of the soul-baring performances she has in her catalog. Her lead single, “Damage,” co-written with Tom Douglas and David Hodges has her playing a bartender who is part-therapist and part-lifelong student. Her voice haunts and is full of promising possibility. She is also a member of CMT’s Next Women of Country program.
A Jacksonville, Ala. native, Green has an authentic sound that will have country people everywhere recognizing themselves in his music. He was bred on many of the southeastern clubs that groomed mainstream stalwarts and Americana favorites, including Cole Swindell, Brent Cobb and others. He is currently having a moment with his Top 20 radio hit “There Was This Girl” and his headlining Outlaws Like Us tour.
Kelly’s debut album Dying Star boldly reflects the self-inflicted damage from the drug addiction that nearly killed him, but it ultimately delivers a message that’s overall life-affirming. Through overcoming his demons, Kelly accurately documents the human condition in a poeticism that is unmatched among his contemporaries. The pedal steel playing is an emotional performance by his father Tim “TK” Kelly, who channeled his private pain in watching his son struggle with drugs. To listen to Kelly’s music is to understand oneself for the better.
As a child growing up in rural Canada, Townes learned how to read by poring over album liner notes in the back seat of her parents’ vehicle. So, to say music is her life is an understatement. Four years ago at age 19, she made the 45-hour drive down from her home in Grande Prairie, Alberta to Nashville to pursue music professionally. A member of CMT’s Next Women of Country program, she writes from a perspective that embodies the emotional fortitude of Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna with a Shania Twain attitude. Townes’ debut album is currently in the works with producer Jay Joyce, and she will be on the road with Dierks Bentley’s Burning Man tour starting in January.