CRS 2023 Highlights New Faces of Country Music

Jelly Roll, Frank Ray, Priscilla Block, Nate Smith and Jackson Dean proved that modern country music encompasses a wide range of talent in the Country Radio Seminar’s (CRS) 2023 New Faces of Country show on Wednesday (15 March). The annual tradition closes the three-day workshop in Nashville with performances from some of the genre’s most promising rising stars. Below, we look at what made each artist stand out.

Videos by American songwriter

Videos by American songwriter

Jelly roll

Jelly Roll was full of surprises as it closed CRS 2023 with a star-studded affair. “I’m always a bit nervous before gigs, but tonight I’m shaking as hell,” he admitted. “It’s not often you get to play for the people who changed your life.” The Nashville native shared how after writing music for 15 years and working in the hip-hop genre, he told record label BBR Music Group that he wants to be a country music artist. It was “time for the prodigal son to come home,” he recalled. This led to real renditions of “Need a Favor” and his chart-topping country hit “Son of a Sinner.”

Continuing to blaze a trail in the genre he now calls home, Jelly Roll has announced the release of his debut full-length country project, Whitsyth Chapel, available June 2. He was then joined by Brantley Gilbert and Nashville-based rapper Struggle Jennings on a song called “Behind Bars,” which will be featured on the new album. Jelly Roll is one of the most versatile artists working in country music today and his CRS New Faces set showed that his unique style has been embraced by the country community.

Frank Ray

When Frank Ray took the stage at the Omni Nashville Hotel ballroom, he declared that he wanted to “set the bar,” a promise he kept throughout his five-song set. The New Mexico-born singer was an energetic, engaging performer who moved with ease from start to finish.

Backed by a big band country sound, he showcased his vocal skills with his breakout hit ‘Country’d Look Good on You’, ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ and recent single ‘Somebody Else’s Whiskey’. Ray demonstrated his true star power when he brought the room to life with his closing number, “Streetlights.” Welcoming a mariachi band and dancers to the stage for his spirited finale was the highlight of the evening. Ray is a breath of fresh air in country music and that was on full display during his set.

Priscilla Block

Priscilla Block brought a healthy balance of honesty and carefree energy to her dynamic set. The viral TikTok star, who caught the attention of her record label UMG Nashville with her breakout hit “Just About Over You,” has demonstrated why fans are captivated by her. She began her set by confessing, “I’ll never be the girl who leaves a bar because someone I don’t like is there,” leading into her catchy song “My Bar.”

Block brings a refreshing, modern female perspective to country music through her songwriting. She channeled the frustration she felt when she saw her ex-boyfriend with another woman who looked just like her and turned it into the sharply written “Me Pt. 2.” “I’ve always believed in myself, and I was just waiting for people to start believing in me,” she confessed of breaking into the Nashville music industry with her debut top 15 single, “Just About Over You.” She finished her set with the song and then had a beer. During her four-song set, Block proved that her sheer confidence is her secret weapon.

Nate Smith

Before Nate Smith took the stage, the curtains opened to the sound of a thunder storm that set the tone for his booming voice. Smith opened her show with “Name Storms After,” which she performed with fiery vocals.

He softened his rock with the piano ballad “Wreckage,” which showed his vocal vulnerability to match that of lyrics like, you see all the ruins / And it breaks me that you stay. “I’m going to be a messenger of music that can touch hearts,” he shared, staying on the vulnerable bandwagon with “Better Boy.” Smith’s set established him as one of the genre’s most diverse new voices.

Jackson Dean

Jackson Dean created a dark atmosphere with his set. With a soulful voice that filled the massive ballroom at the Omni Nashville Hotel, Dean drew on his enigmatic personality and hard rock-influenced sound. Dean also emphasized the songwriting when he prefaced “Heavens to Betsy,” stating, “as a songwriter, it’s a songwriter’s song—it’s a damn good one.”

Dean ended his set by thanking country radio for “changing my life” with his raucous debut single “Don’t Come Lookin.” Fans of Chris Stapleton will likely gravitate to Dean’s sound as he has proven himself to be one of the best new voices in country music.

Photo: Patrick Tohill / Courtesy of Lime Tree Music

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