Ann Powers

When Liz Cooper got her first guitar, it didn't help her social life. A high schooler who'd spent her early years as an athlete, Cooper fell in love with the instrument and spent hours in her room teaching herself to play in the intricate, looping fashion she still uses today. Cooper has gained a growing following in Nashville and beyond as one of the rock scene's most distinctive guitarists, with a style few can imitate.

Birdtalker's music arises at the point where intimate exchange connects with community. Zack and Dani Green were a newly married couple when, one afternoon, the guitarist and singer asked his spouse for input on a song he was writing. Within hours, they realized that Dani's background as a student of literature and inherent talent as a harmonizer brought Zack's music to another level.

Southern friendship is all about porches. The craftsman cottages of East Nashville were designed for afternoon sweet tea and guitar picking with the perfume of whatever's on the smoker (these days, it's as likely to be tofu as hog) wafting by. Bars like Mickey's on Gallatin Pike have great porches, too — a famous local might come in for a cold beer and leave hours later in a new super group.

R.LUM.R is all about 'framily.' That's the word — a mix of friends and family — that Reggie Williams, who records under the all-caps moniker, uses to describe the tight network he's created as he has established himself as a star on the streaming pop charts. This is how pop artists rise in the South beyond the nerve center of Atlanta: They work together across genres and become masters of the internet.

On the day we talked to him, Joshua Hedley came into the studio with a cold; he was all apologies and sniffles, a cough chasing his hello. Yet when the longtime Nashville favorite entered the recording booth, a seeming miracle occurred. His trademark tenor emerged clean, warm, and on point, rounding out each note beautifully within his classic country songs.

If John and T.J. Osborne hadn't been born brothers, each might have found artistic success in his own lane. John's a hotshot guitarist who developed his smooth, inventive style emulating hard rockers and bluegrass pickers. T.J. has the resonant baritone of a classic country crooner, with a little Eddie Vedder thrown in.

The most heart-wrenching country songs employ metaphor like a splash of cold water. They wake you up with a shock; blinking, you see the world just a little bit differently.

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