If You Like Willie Nelson, You Should Listen to These 7 Artists

When you think of outlaw country, you think of Willie Nelson. At 91 years old, he recently released his 75th solo album, and is even still touring occasionally. He is—along with his faithful guitar Trigger—a legend of country music, always imitated but never replicated. However, if you’re looking for more contemporary artists who possess some of Nelson’s unique outlaw spirit and storytelling abilities, we’ve got a list for you.

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In celebration of Nelson’s new album The Border, here are six modern artists who represent his free spirit and penchant for spinning a tale.

Willie Nelson Releases 75th Solo Album: ‘The Border’ Track-By-Track

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers possesses a songwriting and emotional ability similar to Willie Nelson’s. Like all the artists on this list who emulate Nelson, Childers is a storyteller. Songs like “Nose to the Grindstone” and “Bus Route” create concrete characters and settings that transport listeners to Childers’ world. He’s great at using songwriting to craft intricate myths and stories in the same vein as Willie Nelson. While their instrumentation is slightly different—Childers employs a fuller band in most cases—it’s their writing that brings the two into the light together.

Wyatt Flores

Wyatt Flores has more of a Nelson approach to instrumentation, employing mostly acoustic guitar and light percussion on songs like “Please Don’t Go” and “Losing Sleep.” Again, the storytelling shines through in Flores’ work, with elements of his Mexican-American heritage in his musicality and life in Oklahoma in his writing. He writes of life, death, joy, and pain with the perspective of someone who has lived multiple lifetimes, but he makes it all believable.

Sturgill Simpson

Adopting more of a traditional country sound, Sturgill Simpson uses his solid vocals and classic instrumentation to bolster his storytelling. His writing is what makes Simpson stand out, as he’s delved deep into mostly concept albums. His most recent, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, pens an epic tale backed by outlaw-style guitar and fiddle. Simpson emulates Nelson in his use of simple instrumentation but elaborate lyricism.

Billy Strings

Billy Strings leans more bluegrass than Willie Nelson technically does, but there are elements of the outlaw in Strings that work when comparing the two. Strings sings and plays guitar with an untethered energy and freedom that Nelson also possesses. The song “Dust in a Baggie” creates a loose narrative, while Strings’ playing calls to mind young Willie Nelson, the outlaw country world his playground, creating music that could be played around bonfires. Billy Strings has that same energy, and although his instrumentation is more banjo-heavy than Nelson’s, they have a similar attitude in their music.

Chris Stapleton

While Chris Stapleton is not really a true Willie Nelson emulation, he possesses that same outlaw spirit and attitude in his music. Stapleton leans more blues and soul at times instead of true country, but he sings of love and redemption with a tender spirit in songs like “Joy of My Life” or “Tennessee Whiskey.” Additionally, his guitar skills are top-notch, his solos taking listeners through time and space to the place where Stapleton carefully crafts his bluesy rock ballads.

Charles Wesley Godwin

Charles Wesley Godwin definitely taps into the cinematic side of Nelson’s influence, using country-folk to craft elaborate stories and sweeping legacies. He draws on family and pure outlaw themes in his music, creating lasting images in songs like “All Again” or “Hardwood Floors.” He sometimes leans into bluegrass, but blends the style with classic country similar to Childers and Simpson.

Orville Peck

Lastly, Orville Peck is one of many outlaws to come through country music. He creates openly gay storylines within his songs, drawing on traditional country imagery and sound, but blending them with new characters, identities, and environments. His songs sometimes sound like slow dancing in an empty honkytonk, nothing but the neon and a lonesome outlaw with a guitar. Peck continually breathes new life into classic country music, which includes doing a duet with Willie Nelson himself. The two rerecorded “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other” for Peck’s recent album, Stampede: Vol. 1.

Featured Image by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for H&M

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