World Cafe Nashville: 20 Indie Discoveries From 2017 : World Cafe Hear a playlist of album tracks, singles and videos released by an array of fascinating independent Nashville musicians over the last 12 months.

World Cafe Nashville: 20 Indie Discoveries From 2017

A still from Angel Snow's "I Need You," a video found in this list of 20 songs from Nashville artists in 2017. YouTube hide caption

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A still from Angel Snow's "I Need You," a video found in this list of 20 songs from Nashville artists in 2017.


Nashville has produced its share of buzzy pop, rock and country albums this year — Kelly Clarkson's, Bully's, Margo Price's, Jason Isbell's, Tristen's, Kelsea Ballerini's and Paramore's, to name just a small few. But 2017 has also yielded plenty of other music worth hearing from independent artists laboring in the industry's shadow or working outside it entirely.

Some, like Jon Byrd and Mary Bragg, are subtly refining the folk-country singer-songwriter template. Others, like Erin Enderlin, Travis Meadows and Kendell Marvel, are pros who took time out from writing for other artists to make their own music. Still others, like Mike Floss, Katie Herzig, Kellen of Troy and Angel Snow, have unfurled their artistic evolutions over the course of several projects, or, in the cases of Indiana Queen, Brasko and Billy Strings, have fashioned compellingly idiosyncratic personas. Then there are those immersed in Nashville's under-recognized indie rock, emo and hip-hop scenes, like Cortney Tidwell, Daisyhead, YØUTH, The BlackSon, Johnny Phrank and Tim Gent, and those like Kyshona and Dynamo, whose music straddles multiple scenes.

In no particular order, here's a playlist of album tracks, singles and videos released by an array of fascinating Nashville music-makers over the last 12 months.

The Playlist

  • "Take Yours" by Mike Floss

    The son of jazz trumpeter Rod McGaha, Mike Floss made his first recordings under the moniker Openmic a decade ago. He was already impressive then, both as a rapper and lyricist, and he's only sharpened his craft since.

  • "I Need You" by Angel Snow

    Angel Snow arrived in Nashville a freewheeling singer-songwriter with folk leanings, and eventually found herself landing songs on an Alison Krauss album and collaborating on a project with Krauss' bassist-producer brother Viktor. By teaming up with electronic producer Lee Groves, Snow cocooned her hypnotic melodies in ethereal textures.

  • "Turmoil & Tinfoil" by Billy Strings

    Growing up, Strings' allegiances alternated between bluegrass and metal, but by the time he arrived in Nashville last year, he'd realized that he could have it both ways. His first solo album, produced by Glenn Brown of like-minded band Greensky Bluegrass, blends blistering picking with trippy psychedelic-rock flourishes.

  • "Hey Carolina" by YØUTH

    Julian Dente's last name may be familiar to those who know his folks' long-running duo Out of the Grey, but he makes sensitive, tuneful alt-rock under the moniker YØUTH. The name fits; plenty of his songs delve into youthful vulnerability.

  • "Done Ain't Done" by Mary Bragg

    Georgia-born Mary Bragg knocked around New York City for a decade before deciding that Nashville was where her sublime distilling of southern grit belonged. After making the move, she recorded the way many resourceful locals do: in a home studio, this one housed in a converted barn.

  • "Saturation" by Tim Gent

    Tim Gent is technically from Clarksville, Tenn., an hour outside of Nashville. He's built his reputation through mixtapes, EPs, singles and collaborations that showcase his unhurried, lyrical flow and his depiction of a young, black man's unglamorous struggle to bear up beneath responsibilities.

  • "Sideways" by Travis Meadows

    Travis Meadows has quite the back story, having lost a leg at 14, served in the Christian mission field, cycled through recovery programs and hustled on Music Row to get his songs recorded by the likes of Eric Church and Dierks Bentley. When he gets around to releasing his own stuff, it has the battered, visceral power of a survivor's testimony.

  • "Strangers" by Katie Herzig

    After spending her post-college years in an acoustic band, Katie Herzig initially explored her solo ideas with a DIY folk-pop approach. In the decade since, she's added subtle shading and sprightly beats to her beguilingly pensive pop musings.

  • "Dirty Ol' River" by Jon Byrd

    Jon Byrd, an Alabama native, was a major contributor to the Atlanta alt-country scene until migrating to Nashville to focus on leading his own band. There's a spry, temperate intelligence to his work, from his songwriting to his fingerpicked guitar figures and vocal phrasing.

  • "Bodies" by Daisyhead

    Fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Roe, the thrashy, tuneful emo band Daisyhead endured numerous lineup changes over the last several years before locking in the lineup that appears on this year's album and EP.

  • "Baby Sister" by Erin Enderlin

    Originally from Arkansas, Erin Enderlin was still in college when she landed songwriting cuts with Alan Jackson and Randy Travis. There were more to come, but she's also stockpiled songs for the occasional album of her own, including a vivid, character-driven song cycle released this year.

  • "Last Bite" by The BlackSon

    BlackSon is another of Nashville's most formidable and imaginative young MCs. He got his start in a spoken word troupe and moved on to aiming his quick-witted swagger at the gritty, grounded realities of racial inequality.

  • "Skin It" by Cortney Tidwell

    Cortney Tidwell is a Nashville native who grew up in close proximity to the country music industry, thanks to her parents' and grandparents' involvement in it. Besides collaborating with members of the band Lambchop, she's sometimes taken on her own expansive, experimental post-rock projects.

  • "Come Up" by Johnny Phrank

    Johnny Phrank's Soundcloud tracks have been generating buzz for several years, on the strength of his suave, street-hardened angle on hazy trap&B.

  • "We Were Unbelievers" by Indiana Queen

    There was a time when Kevin Thornton performed grandiose pop-rock under his own name. Then came a stint in stand-up comedy. These days, he splits his creative energies between the hilariously flaky drag persona Cupcake Hawthorne and Indiana Queen, a serious-minded singer-songwriter project that conveys queer perspectives through deconstructed folk-country idioms.

  • "Untangle My Mind" by Kendell Marvel

    Kendell Marvel has one of those stories that draw dreamers to Nashville: He wrote a hit for Gary Allan his very first day in town. But he's also put in time performing on the grueling honky-tonk circuit. The album he released this year was full of southern rock bluster, and shared a song in common with Chris Stapleton's latest.

  • "Same Blood" by Kyshona

    Former music therapist Kyshona Armstrong has been called upon to represent for soul and gospel in roots, rock and folk lineups and to bring singer-songwriter sensibilities to R&B bills. But wherever she plants her feet, she does so with righteous conviction and a strong sense of her own voice.

  • "Something's Gotta Give" by Dynamo

    Dynamo is something of an anomaly in 2017: a virtuosic, young, interracial horn band whose silken stylistic blend encompasses jazz, funk and symphonic soul. The group has been working steadily for the last half-decade, both in the studio and on the road.

  • "Take Me" by Brasko

    Jordan Gable used to make impish pop-rock under his own name, but he's recently reinvented himself as the androgynous electro-pop act Brasko, exploring his affinities for camp, glam and cabaret flourishes.

  • "Lately (I've Been Thinking I'll Be Fine)" by Kellen of Troy

    Kellen Wenrich exited college as a fiddle-playing member of the folk-rock band Apache Relay, and has logged time as a sideman for loads of other Nashville acts since. But his current priority is Kellen of Troy, a solo vehicle for his wry, fractured philosophizing.