Think “country music,” and you think America. And that’s fair, given it’s where the genre’s roots stretch deepest. But know who’s making some great country music right now? Canadians. From traditionalists to genre-pushers, here’s a list of north-of-the-border singer-songwriters to add to your twang-friendliest playlist, stat.
If you like Sheryl Crow or Adele, check out Jessica Mitchell
Hometown: London, Ont.
This up-and-coming artist doesn’t just have power pipes, she sings with a soulful vulnerability that cuts to the deepest part of you. Like some of the greatest country stars, Jessica Mitchell has really lived—through addiction, mental illness, the death of her mother—and you can hear that pain and experience in her voice. That authenticity is getting noticed: her wrenching song “Workin’ on Whiskey” boasts more than a million streams on Spotify and she was chosen to play a Neil Young tribute at his Songwriters’ Hall of Fame gala at Massey Hall last month.
If you like Kacey Musgraves or The Ronettes, check out Whitney Rose
Hometown: Charlottetown, PEI
Whitney Rose is the perfect blend of take-no-shit sweetness, with muscular songwriting and a sassy delivery. Now based in Austin, Texas, this Maritimer is building some serious musical cred in the biz, with Raul Malo, frontman of legendary neotraditional/Latin/rockabilly group The Mavericks, producing her latest record, Rule 62 (which Alcoholics Anonymous members know to mean “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously”). You’ll find that brand of cheeky irreverence and retro style on all of Rose’s social media platforms, which we highly recommend you follow immeds (no one pairs killer cowboy boots with a cute beehive quite like her).
If you like Townes Van Zandt or Johnny Cash, check out Colter Wall
Hometown: Swift Current, Sask.
Listening to Colter Wall’s self-titled debut record is like reading a Cormac McCarthy novel—dark, spare and country as hell. His EP, Imaginary Appalachia, which applied stories of America’s backwoods to the plains of Saskatchewan, caught the attention of sought-after Nashville producer Dave Cobb, who then helped Wall make his first brooding full-length record, released this spring. And fun fact: his father is outgoing Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
If you like Carrie Underwood or John Mayer, check out Lindsay Ell
Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
Catchy, country radio-friendly songs aside, this woman can shreddddddd it on guitar (just watch this blues hall show with Melissa Etheridge from earlier this year). A long way from her early days playing bars in Alberta, Lindsay Ell’s debut album, The Project, was extremely well received in Nashville this summer, where she promoted it on popular country music DJ Bobby Bones’ radio show (FYI he’s her boyfriend, and she’s said that their relationship has cost her radio play on competing stations). She’s been out on tour opening for Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, both respected guitar players in their own right. Just try to get Ell’s single “Waiting On You” out of your head once you hear it.
If you like John Prine or Loretta Lynn, check out Winona Wilde
Hometown: Peterborough, Ont.
The best introduction to troubadour songwriter Winona Wilde’s wry sensibilities is through her delivered-with-a-wink song, “Chick Singer”: “If racism was alcohol and patriarchy LSD/This whole world would be trippin’ balls/Stumbling home and puking in its sheets.” She sings with both exasperation and good humour, because, as we all know, sometimes the truth is so bleak, it’s hilarious. The same autobiographical song also references the blank stares she gets from people surprised to see an Iraqi-Canadian woman singing country songs. Wilde, whose real name is Noosa Al-Sarraj, fell in love with country music thanks to a nanny she had as a kid. Her kickass songwriting abilities led to win an award at the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival’s New Folk competition this year—one of few Canadians to do so, and certainly the first of Iraqi descent. She’s only just stopped living out of her car, she says, at the recommendation of her doctor.
If you like Miranda Lambert, check out Meghan Patrick
Hometown: Bowmanville, Ont.
With a strong dose of sass, Meghan Patrick proves you don’t need to come from the deep south to be a strong country woman. She blends traditional sounds with just enough progressive punch—take her biggest hit “Bow Chick a Wowow,” in which she flips the typical male objectification of women (think Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” from a woman’s point of view). And say what you will about Nickelback, but Chad Kroeger can write a damn hook; the frontman of Canada’s most notorious band co-wrote a lot of the songs on her debut album, Grace & Grit. Patrick picked up the Female Artist of the Year award at the Canadian Country Music Awards in September, so expect to see her name more in the future.
If you like The Lumineers or The Dixie Chicks, check out The Lovelocks
Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
When Ali Raney and Zoë Sparrow met singing in church, they knew their blended harmonies were something special. After teaming up to form The Lovelocks, the pair crowdfunded enough money to make both their debut EP and their second record, Born to Love, which came out last year. Their cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” has a contemporary, yet traditional feel: their harmonies and fiddle parts are straight out of the Appalachian mountains, but the musical arrangement is Mumford & Sons modern. We’re obsessed.
If you like Chris Stapleton or Bob Seger, check out JJ Shiplett
Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
With a sexy opening line like “I can still remember when our clothes were on the floor,” this redheaded rocker will make you forget allllll about that other ginger crooner who claims to be in love with your body. Shiplett’s voice is rough around the edges in all the right ways, and effortlessly takes us from classic rock vibes (the aforementioned “Darling, Let’s Go Out Tonight”) to contemplative folk (“Waters”) and back again. He’s like a cooler, younger, more rebellious Johnny Reid, which makes sense since he supported the Scottish easy-listening titan’s Canadian tour last year (See? It’s possible for you and your mom to enjoy the same shows).
If you like Dolly Parton, check out Lindi Ortega
Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
Lindi Ortega has long been one of the music industry’s most under-appreciated gems—and we have a good bet why. She won’t march to the beat of anyone else’s drum, despite how much everyone claims to love authenticity. Her voice is fragile, yet strong, and her songwriting is always on the nose. She’s also been vocal about the financial difficulties of being a struggling musician, telling Postmedia earlier this year that critical acclaim is great, but it doesn’t pay the rent. Still, she continues making killer art: her cover of the BeeGees “To Love Somebody,” (which most Canadians will recognize from Blue Rodeo’s version) returns the classic to the punchy, soulful territory on which it was conceived.
If you like Kelsea Ballerini, check out Madeline Merlo
Hometown: Maple Ridge, B.C.
The field of pop country is pretty crowded these days, but Madeline Merlo stands out for her catchy hooks, strong vocal ability and relatable charm. That triple threat has made her a mainstay on Canadian country radio, which (like pretty much all country radio) is a pretty male dominated place. From the soaring inspirational fire of “War Paint” to the infectious party-hearty “Motel Flamingo,” Merlo’s sound is right in tune with the contemporary sounds coming out of Nashville RN, but it’s also a sound she makes all her own.