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Seeking new tunes in the new year? Check out the sounds of these five emerging regional acts.


Martha Spencer

The Sound: Hailing from the mountains of southwest Virginia, Martha Spencer grew up in a musical household, surrounded by traditional Appalachian songs. With her family leading the acclaimed Whitetop Mountain Band, Spencer has been picking and dancing on stage since she was a teenager, but last fall she emerged with her own solo debut album. The self-titled effort offers throwbacks to classic country, built around Spencer’s honeyed vocals and heartfelt story songs, while also touching on rockabilly (“Hard Headed Woman”) and old-time strings (“Let the Wild Stay Free”).

Top Tune: The album-opening “Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby” is a sweet-voiced front-porch meditation with Spencer looking back at her family’s musical roots.

Catch a Show: Performing at the Floyd Country Store in Floyd, Va., on February 23.


South Hill Banks

The Sound: This quick-picking quintet from Richmond, Va., blends reverence for bluegrass tradition and Americana songcraft with urges to take acoustic music to the outer limits; a great new act for fans of the Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass.

Top Tune: “Movin’ on My Mind,” from the band’s fall released album No Time for a Breakdown, is a reflective, windows-down anthem with a patient progression and nimble string solos.

Catch a Show: Performing at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, W.Va., on January 11 and World Café Live in Philadelphia on February 28.



The Sound: Tellico, a four-piece string band from Asheville, N.C., plays Appalachian-hued folk brimming with the influences of old-time mountain songs and the roots of country music. Tasteful acoustic arrangements cradle the lyrics of main singer Anya Hinkle, who has a voice with affecting depth, similar to that of Gillian Welch. Irish folk legend John Doyle produced the band’s latest album, Woven Waters, which was released in the fall.

Top Tune: Steeped in optimism, “Courage for the Morning” is a sunny country hopper about combating discord with kindness and looking forward to brighter days on the horizon.

Catch a Show: Performing a hometown album release show at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C., on January 18, with additional dates at the Reeves Theatre in Elkin, N.C., on January 19, and the Shady Grove Coffeehouse in Glen Allen, Va., on March 9.


The Steel Woods

The Sound: The partnership of lead singer Wes Bayliss and guitarist Jason Cope (a former member of Jamey Johnson’s band), the Nashville-based Steel Woods play riff-heavy Southern rock with outlaw country edge, offering a sound that’s ready to please fans of Chris Stapleton and ZZ Top.

Top Tune: “Rock That Says My Name,” a deep-drawled distorted reflection on mortality, is a standout from the band’s sophomore album, Old News, which comes out on January 18.

Catch a Show: Performing at Songbirds North in Chattanooga, Tenn., on January 31 and February 1, the Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C., on February 9, and the Shed in Maryville, Tenn., on July 27.


Sarah Shook & the Disarmers

The Sound: With an authentic warble that delivers earnest hard-living lines, Shook leads this gritty alt-country outfit from Chapel Hill, N.C., that blows off steam with both a twangy heart and punk angst. Last year Shook and her crew released their second album, Years, on the venerable independent Bloodshot Records.

Top Tune: “News Ways to Fail” is a defiant, boot-stomping honky-tonk break-up tune about refusing to change for an overly judgmental partner.

Catch a Show: Performing at Jig and Reel in Knoxville, Tenn., on January 16, the Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C., on March 7, and Aisle 5 in Atlanta, Ga., on March 9.


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