Rookie Music Acts to Watch in 2007

By | January 1, 2007 at 11:49 PM

Following are previews of albums due out within the next few months from debut acts or under-the-radar artists due for a breakthrough.


Scottish singer/songwriter Paolo Nutini, who turns 20
January 9, was one of the most noteworthy breakout artists of
2006 for Atlantic Records in the United Kingdom. After an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin last March, his debut single, “Last Request,” reached No. 5 in July on the
British charts and also became a substantial airplay hit.

His debut album, “These Streets,” subsequently opened at
No. 3 with out-of-the-box sales of 35,000, according to his label, which had risen to 500,000 by December.

A second single, “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty,” was a top 20 U.K. hit in early October and was followed in early December by

As “New Shoes,” his first U.S. radio track, made inroads at the triple-A format late in the year, Atlantic was developing its transatlantic plans for Nutini for 2007. “These Streets” is due for U.S. release January 30, when he performs on “Today,” with a booking for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” the following day.


His name may have a familiar ring for U.S. audiences. And by the early part of 2007, American radio listeners and record buyers are expected to recognize James Morrison’s music.

One of the big breakout success stories in the United
Kingdom in 2006, the Polydor-signed artist is tipped for big things abroad. Soundwise, think James Blunt, with an edge.

Interscope is setting up the smoky-toned singer’s debut album, “Undiscovered,” for U.S. release in first-quarter 2007, at which time Morrison will head Stateside to do promotional and support work.

The album has shipped more than 1 million copies worldwide since its August release, more than half of those tallied in the United Kingdom.


Last year, Young Love — a.k.a. Dan Keyes, former frontman of Texas rock band Recover — was busing tables and working at
American Apparel in New York, casually carting a demo of dance-rock tunes from one hipster club to the next.

DJs dug them, especially the Bloc Party-meets-Blur
“Discotech,” a guitar-laden ode to boogie-ing in the Big Apple that is so joyful and unpretentious that it had to be written by an out-of-towner.

Then Jay-Z called.

“This is where it’s at,” Jay-Z told Keyes over brunch in

Miami, as Beyonce lounged by the pool and paparazzi helicopters circled.

So Keyes signed with Island Def Jam and took his demos into the studio.

Keyes himself resembles the shaggy teen hero, fair and lanky with an intense gray-eyed stare. “A friend gave me Daft
Punk’s ‘Discovery’ for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it kind of destroyed my rock band,” he says. “I didn’t want to play guitar anymore, so I started experimenting with electronic stuff.”


The Ponys’ first full-length album on esteemed indie
Matador Records doesn’t arrive until March 20.

But judging from the Chicago-based rock band’s previous work, its Matador debut, “Turn the Lights Out,” should be worth the wait.

The act’s 2005 disc, “Celebration Castle,” released on Los
Angeles-based garage rock label In the Red, has sold 7,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

“Celebration Castle” matched a hard-rock intensity with a hung-over swagger, and the Ponys established themselves as one of the most exciting bands in underground rock.

From the bluesy breakdown in shout-along anthem “Get Black” to the slacker wailing of frontman/guitarist Jered Gummere in the punk-rock strut of “Today,” “Celebration Castle” flirted with recklessness as its tightly structured songs burst with pop hooks.

The band is also confident enough to slow things down and show off some new wave influences . In the Red has given Matador a solid base to build upon in further boosting the Ponys’ career.


R&B’s underground cognoscenti have carried a torch for this spirited singer/songwriter since 1996. Folks still wax rhapsodic over Ledisi’s “Soulsinger,” her 1998 indie debut, accompanied by former partner and keyboardist Sundra Manning.

Now a solo artist, Ledisi is a rare but welcome commodity:

What you hear on record is what you get live. Mixing R&B, jazz, gospel, pop and rock with flavorful scatting, Ledisi’s energetic live gigs are can’t-miss propositions.

Two years ago, this Oakland, Calif., talent offered an arresting interpretation of Luther Vandross’ “My Sensitivity” that gained some national airplay, as well as the attention of
Verve Records.

Now Ledisi’s sassy vocals (think Minnie Riperton meets
Sarah Vaughan) are poised to reach a wider arena this spring with the release of her Verve debut. A fitting scenario, given that Ledisi’s name means “to come forth” in Nigerian.

Ledisi still isn’t leaving anything to chance. She continues to operate her label, LeSun Music, and owns her masters.


Luke Bryan is unapologetically country in his music and lifestyle, which is why he stands out from the pack.

“Even my friends in Nashville laugh sometimes at how country I am,” he says. “I’m still adjusting to (living in
Nashville) because I can’t . . . just walk out my door and go fishing or hunting or do something outdoors.”

A native of Leesburg, Ga., Bryan grew up on his family’s peanut farm.

With lyrics like “I can grow my own groceries and salt-cure a ham/Hey baby, I’m a country man” and a stone-country presentation, Bryan is hatched from the same mold as Randy Travis and Alan Jackson.

First single “All My Friends Say” is due at radio in
February, and an album will follow in summer. Bryan co-wrote all 11 songs on his Capitol Records Nashville debut and also co-wrote Billy Currington’s current single “Good Directions.”

In an effort to build consumer awareness, Capitol made a four-song EP and individual tracks available on iTunes in late


Fans of purely melodic pop music should rejoice. Naomi Striemer is here to offer what they crave.

The singer/songwriter, whose debut album “Images” arrived in December on S Records, was home-schooled in her native Nova
Scotia, Canada, but she realized she had a purpose far from the farm.

“Thinking back to where I come from and enjoying the innocence of life’s untouched imagination, I dreamt of being something that seemed so far out of reach but so close in my mind,” Striemer says.

As a teen, she signed with Epic Records, but the deal unraveled when then-president Polly Anthony exited.

Then Steven Nowack, a hedge-fund driver, saw Striemer perform live in Toronto, and approached the artist and asked,
“What are you doing for the rest of your life?” He formed S
Records as a vehicle to launch her.

Her album’s first single, the melancholy ballad “Cars,” produced by Narada Michael Walden and featuring a guitar solo by Carlos Santana, gained coverage from Fox News columnist
Roger Friedman and the National Post in Canada.

“I am a testament that it doesn’t matter where you come from or how badly the world tears you down,” Striemer says. “If you believe, life, love and God will get you through.”


When one of country music’s veteran hitmakers and one of the Christian community’s most successful artists team up to introduce a new act, expectations run high. And singer/songwriter John Waller meets and exceeds those expectations with thoughtful songwriting and a compelling voice.

The former frontman for acclaimed indie band According to
John, Waller returns on Beach Street Records, a Christian label owned by Sawyer Brown’s Mark Miller. Mark Hall, leader of Beach
Street’s flagship act Casting Crowns, introduced Miller to
Waller’s music. Hall met Waller at a youth rally shortly after
September 11, 2001, and recalls being immediately impressed with Waller’s songwriting.

“Then he started talking between the songs, and something stood out about him,” Hall says. “I could tell he was reaching my students.”

After his earlier band broke up, Waller moved to Colorado to become a worship pastor. During a trip to Atlanta, he enlisted Hall to sing on a song called “The Blessing.”

Hall sent a CD to Miller, who signed Waller to Beach
Street. The label is working “The Blessing” at Christian radio as the first single from Waller’s debut album, set to arrive
March 6.


Toronto-bred MC Kheaven Brereton, aka K-OS, has been making waves in Canada and beyond since his 2002 debut album, “Exit.”

But he’s poised to finally infiltrate the United States in 2007 with “Atlantis: Hymns for Disco,” which will be worked here by
Virgin. K-OS’ two prior albums were released in the States by

In Canada, the genre-bending “Atlantis” debuted in October at No. 5 on the album chart, the highest debut by any Canadian urban artist in Nielsen SoundScan history, Virgin says.

In the States, the album’s first single is the infectious
“Sunday Morning,” which many are likening to OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” or Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

Ahead of the album’s February 20 U.S. release, “Sunday
Morning” is already benefiting from airplay at NASCAR, NFL and
NCAA events and on ESPN’s “NFL Sunday Morning Countdown.”


Rich Boy, a.k.a. Maurice Richards, is catching everyone’s ears with his single “Throw Some D’s,” which samples Switch’s
“I Call Your Name.”

Working with producers Butta and Polow Da Don (known for their tracks with the Pussycat Dolls and Fergie of the Black
Eyed Peas), Rich Boy is cooking up debut album “A Product of the Hustle” for release early this year.

A native of Mobile, Ala., Rich Boy began as a student at historically black college Tuskegee University before he dropped out to pursue music.

Thinking he’d make it as a producer instead of mechanical engineer, his original major, he wrote the track “Cold As Ice,” which garnered local radio support.

After meeting Polow in 2003, Rich Boy later signed with
Interscope and began his artist-development process. Now “Throw
Some D’s” is also garnering strong support at national radio.

In addition, MTV profiled Rich on its up-and-coming artists series, “You Hear It First.” And realizing hip-hop’s high turnover rate, Rich Boy is rejuvenating “Throw Some D’s” with a soon-to-be-released remix featuring the Game, Jim Jones and
OutKast’s Andre 3000.

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