GOLD WINNERWillie Stratton
SILVER WINNERJodi Guthro
BRONZE WINNERBrooklyn Blackmore
Willie Stratton’s newest album, Drugstore Dreamin’, undoubtedly shaped voters’ minds in the Best Country category since its April 2022 release. After a career of genre-hopping, the eight-track effort saw Stratton doubling down on what he does best, the type of rock ‘n’ roll-meets vintage country sound that perfectly matches his Sun Records-era Johnny Cash affectation. “It almost feels like a debut record in some ways, because it's the first one I've done with someone producing it, and really kind of taking my time with it. But in other ways, it definitely feels like conceptually, it's a composite of everything I've done so far,” says Stratton of the LP, speaking by phone by The Coast with the news of his win.
“I started out with this kind of folk thing that was pretty cool with people my age at the time. And then I got kind of sick of that, and went on to a more alternative rock direction, and then went deeper into surf rock; did some blue stuff; did a super, straight-up country thing; another surf rock record,” Stratton lists. “I'd always kind of put each of those sounds in different areas in my mind, where they wouldn’t cross over. The idea”—with Drugstore Dreamin’—“was to almost make a weird area in my brain where they co-existed with folk and surf rock and rockabilly. All those things I love, mix ‘em together.
“I’m glad people are digging the new tunes on the new album,” he adds. “It feels awesome—and I think that is what honestly kept me in Halifax: It’s big enough to do what you want, but small enough that you can get a little fan base goin’ and have a good time.” The Bedford balladeer should know: Since his teens, he’s been packing houses at open mics, with crowds gathering to hear everything from his pedal-steel guitar folk tunes to Dick Dale surf rock songs. He may have finally found his genre, but he’s long known his crowd.