by Roman Mitz
As people are buzzing with excitement as the NCAA tournament gets Stateside underway, there’s also a beehive of activity north of the border as our finest Canadian country acts race for the number one sweet spot on the country charts. Here are some of the hottest new entries to consider when filling in your bracket.
With powerhouse vocals and the ability to write songs with her heart first, Taylor-Rae claims her space in the country music scene with her independently released new single “If This Is Love,” which has already surpassed 100K collective streams – to date and is climbing. Debuting the song earlier in the year to a captivated audience at The Listening Room in Nashville, the Alberta-raised, Nashville-based artist proves she is an artist to watch in 2023. A runner-up for the 2022 Boots and Hearts Emerging Artist Showcase, Taylor-Rae offers raw originality and showcases her vocal versatility with ‘If This Is Love,’ delivering a unique blend of heartfelt lyrics backed by a soulful melody.
Well, we’re down to the Elite Eight regarding the finalists vying to be named the 2023 winner of SiriusXM’s Top of the Country competition. In partnership with the Canadian Country Music Association, SiriusXM Canada holds this competition to promote and elevate the best emerging Canadian music. Each participant will record an original track in-studio, which will later be shared with Canadian country fans to vote for their favourite. This year’s competitors are B.C.’s Teigen Gayse and Mark Ledlin, Alberta’s The Prairie States and Hailey Benedict, Noah Derkson (Manitoba), Lydia Sutherland (Quebec), and Ontario’s Danya Reid and Amanda Jordan. Full disclosure, Open Spaces has a soft spot for Amanda, who sat down for a feature story with Music Express last year. https://themusicexpress.ca/amanda-jordan-everythings-coming-up-roses/
Breakout artist and Rising Star nominee at the 2022 Country Music Association of Ontario awards, Alli Walker has released her sophomore album, “Growing Up,” and a new single by the same name. The album includes the infectious new single “Good Ol’ Days.” A deeply personal album, “Growing Up,” showcases Alli’s growth and evolution as a songwriter and musician since her debut album in 2019. “I always want to make music based on where I am in life, and that hasn’t changed with this album,” she says. “Since my first album, I’ve been lucky enough to see some of my goals come to fruition, and because of that, I’ve found myself in a better space – a bit more lighthearted – and that’s definitely reflected in this music.”
Nashville-based, Saskatchewan-born artist Shantaia is proving why she is one of Canada’s country’s most exciting exports with the release of her debut full-length album “Exes And Friends.” Whether it’s a breakup song to move past an ex or a party song to dive into a night with your best friends, the 10-song concept album is filled with an anthem-ready track list to set the perfect mood. “Exes And Friends” sees some of the strongest and most authentic songwriting from Shantaia yet. “I started working on the album and the concept over two years ago and have put my heart and soul into this record,” she shares. “It represents a new chapter or era, if you will, of myself as an artist and a songwriter, and I’m so proud of everything it’s done for me already. I hope it can do something for you too.”
Emerging artist Graham Scott Fleming returns with the release of his dynamic new single “Toughest Act To Follow,” a country number with some edge. The track was co-written with Canadian Country Music Association Award winner, Gold-certified singer-songwriter Madeline Merlo, and fellow Canadian export Vanessa Marie Carter. It paid a nod to Fleming’s background in theatre. While beginning to craft his unique sound in the country genre, Graham found an incredible career on Broadway, landing the lead role of Charlie in “Kinky Boots” and working directly with Cindy Lauper. Following his Broadway run, Graham returned home in 2020 and continued to pursue a solo career in the genre that raised him.
Last month, Calgary country-rocker Devin Cooper kicked off things with a bang, landing an incredible seven nominations for the 2023 Country Music Alberta Awards. Continuing the momentum, Devin is sharing his first new music of the year with the release of “The Other Guy.” Giving fans a sneak peek of what’s to come from his sophomore album, the new single showcases the evolution of his sound and the depth of his lyrical storytelling as he takes the listener out for a potentially regrettable night on the town. “Musically, it’s bolder than anything we’ve ever done and lyrically as well,” Devin says. “It’s about being careless and doing things on your own terms and letting your rebellious side come out without worrying about the repercussions, even if only for one night.”
With over 140 million catalogue streams to date, multi-platinum five-time JUNO Award nominee Tim Hicks reflects on the decade since his label debut with the release of “Talk to Time” to country radio. The title track of his recent album, Tim, also unveils a beautifully nostalgic accompanying music video. “The video turned out awesome,” he says. “We shot it on a really cold and windy day underneath the Burlington Skyway. Somehow, through the magic of filmmaking, you can’t even tell I was frozen to the bone.”
A decade after her debut EP, Canadian country powerhouse Nicole Rayy reflects on the essential markers of her career with the release of her new album “Now & Then.” Featuring fan favourites that have already accumulated over 2.5 million Spotify streams alone, Nicole displays her evolution as an artist and songwriter with the beautifully crafted title track. “Now & Then is the perfect title for this album because it really encapsulates the stories from both my past and present,” Nicole shares. “It is a celebration of my life now (“Last Ones Up”) and how I grew up (“Feels Like Yesterday”). Many of the tracks on this album have been my biggest singles to date (“Broken Boys”), and I am very excited that they all finally have a home on one record.”
We’ll end this month with the slam-dunk release of the year so far, Shania Twain’s latest offering, “Queen Of Me.” The album is sonically inspired by ’70s and ’80s funk and rock—just like the sounds she grew up with – created by her heroes. The album consists of 12 new tracks, and one ‘listen’ will reveal this LP as a powerful statement from this iconic voice. From the energetic opener “Giddy Up!” through the empowered title track “Queen Of Me” and the passionate finale “The Hardest Stone,” this record proves that Shania is never going to run out of creative ideas.