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Josh Graham and Rick Russell of Lucky Ned Pepper. Photo credit: Made U Look PhotographyIf Westerns are your type of film, then the name Lucky Ned Pepper might ring a bell: It’s the bad guy in True Grit, a nasty, cantankerous character typical of those that prowled the plains and prairies. It’s also the name Josh Graham and Rick Russell chose for their new duo.

While there’s nothing particularly villainous about these two Bakersfield-based singers, they do infuse their music with some wide-open, big-sky flavor. The songs on their debut album, Get Lucky, are contemporary, each written by some of the best songwriters along Music Row. But they look at home in scuffed boots, jeans and farmland fashion. Their singing complements these images by evoking the courtliness, swagger and easy-going humor of cowboy life.

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NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Florida Georgia Line

Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line. Photo credit: Adam TaylorYou don’t need to know that Tyler Hubbard comes from Monroe, Ga., or that his partner in Florida Georgia Line, Brian Kelley, comes from Ormond Beach, Fla. It’s the music that lets you know these two guys know how to kick it in the studio and onstage, Dixie style.

Scheduled to release Dec. 4 on the Republic Nashville imprint, Here’s to the Good Times is a pastiche of prickling banjo, walloping backbeats and muscle guitar, run through a blender of Country, Southern rock and a hint of hip-hop.

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Kelleigh Bannen never made the trek to Nashville — she was already there. Born and raised in Music City, she was singing and writing songs when she was 2 years old. Well, actually, as she notes in her self-written bio, “it was a little song with two lines that I would sing to myself inspired by the ‘word of the day’ from ‘Sesame Street.’”

Safe to say, at least, that her ears were wide open at an early age, taking in music beyond the Country playlist and kiddie show themes to include Frank Sinatra, Patty Griffin and other eclectic performers. However, Country proved to be her true calling, so after graduating from college in Virginia, she hastened back home to develop her writing and discover her own sound as a singer.

That sound shines on her upcoming debut album, produced by Paul Worley and Jerry Smith and set to release on EMI Records Nashville. Written by Bannen and Troy Johnson, its first single, “Sorry on the Rocks,” recounts a relationship melting down, like ice in an untended glass past last call. Bannen’s strong, assertive vocals underscore the clever metaphor that flows through each verse and chorus.

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Rather than flow in one direction, similar to a storyline in a single song, Bill Gentry’s life has veered in a dozen directions. The son of a minister who died when he was 2, Gentry won the state 4-H performance contest, got kicked out of his high school band, was kidnapped along with two of his colleagues in a rock band, served as president of his junior college class, ran for city council, launched a successful data-compiling company, interned for Sen. Sam Nunn in Washington, was lovingly told by his sister that she never wants to sing with him again and most recently founded and ran Wild Bill’s, the huge and successful Country venue near Atlanta.

In that last incarnation, Gentry booked many of the biggest acts in the business. Though he’d never really stopped playing, being witness to great shows night after night rekindled Gentry’s determination to aim for his own place in the spotlight too.

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