Though many would proffer that there’s a certain sameness in today’s music, the 2018 New Faces of Country Music show did its best to dispel that notion. This year’s New Faces dinner and show, the signature event of the annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, offered up five rising stars with a unique individual perspective and style: Carly Pearce, Michael Ray, Midland, Lauren Alaina and Luke Combs. The five played before an audience of top radio personnel, industry executives and media members, making the New Faces show a coveted performance for all. Finalists for each year’s New Faces of Country Music show are voted on by radio professionals.
Pearce is a true country lady from Kentucky who also exudes a relatable sophistication. Clad in a trendy, flowery skirt, Pearce came out in a burst of energy with “Careless,” followed by “If My Name Was Whiskey.” Her current single, “Hide the Wine,” drew rounds of applause, as did her breakthrough hit, “Every Little Thing.” Though only 27, Pearce showed plenty of versatility and commandeered the stage with a confident presence.
Michael Ray displayed a strong, emotion-filled voice on “Kiss You in the Morning” and “Get to You.” Handsome in an almost matinee idol, pop star manner, Ray nonetheless can nail a country tune and captivate a crowd armed with only an acoustic guitar. He did just that on “Her World or Mine,” a new song that will be part of an upcoming project.
Texas-based band Midland has been drawing a slew of media attention for its retro sound and members dressed in colorful cowboy attire. But there is substance to the style. The guys brought solid harmony and musicianship to the table, starting with “Make a Little” and on to the song that proved their major breakthrough, “Drinkin’ Problem.”
Alaina hardly qualifies as technically a “new face,” as she’s been a familiar fixture on the scene since her runner-up finish on “American Idol” in 2011. But after some hits and a few misses, Alaina started to establish herself in 2017, fueled by the album “Road Less Traveled.” The title tune reached No. 1, making her one of only three women to top the country charts last year. She saved that song for the end of her set, kicking it off instead with the emotional “Three,” followed by her latest single “Doin’ Fine” and “What Ifs.” Her down-home charm and radiant personality shined through in what turned out to be the night’s most winning performance.
The label of “unique” certainly applies to Luke Combs, a burly, bearded North Carolina guy who looks like he should be working at the feed store. Talk about country cred. The voice is also country by a wide mile, almost unabashedly so. Combs whipped through a four-song set that ran from “Honky Tonk Highway” to his 2017 No. 1 “When It Rains It Pours,” his current single “One Number Away,” and the No. 1 smash “Hurricane.”
All performers made sure to thank country radio for embracing their music and helping launch their respective successes. We’ll surely hear more from these New Faces well into the future.