The 10 Best New Solo Artists of 2010

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4. Nathaniel Rateliff
Hometown: Denver, Colo.
Album: In Memory of Loss
For Fans Of: Josh Ritter, Smog, Ray LaMontagne 
Photos by Todd Roeth

Nathaniel Rateliff's newest LP In Memory of Loss rings with the ease, tenderness and lightness of heart that often mark a new romance. And rightly so: Much of the album was written to woo a woman. Ambling guitar riffs and light touches of piano sound like aimless strolls through town; Rateliff's rich voice and his bandmates' textured harmonies sound like long and comfortable conversations, and the songwriter's occasional raw vocal rattle sounds like those sweet moments of when new lovers are bold to share hard truths—family secrets, old friends, regrets—and ask big questions. This year, he toured with Delta Spirit and The Low Anthem, among others.

And trying to woo that woman—how did that go? “Well, I married her,” Rateliff says. “I still try to woo her. I think that's your job as a lover and a partner is to continue in that same sort of feeling that you had when you first met. Not that that's always possible because it's a little too dreamy for it to stay exactly the way it is when you first meet somebody.”—Catherine Prewitt


3. Sarah Jaffe
Hometown: Denton, Texas
Album: Suburban Nature
For Fans Of: Rachael Yamagata, Sam Phillips, Katie Herzig
Photo by Melanie Gomez

“I love Texas,” says Sarah Jaffe, “but it's pretty 'it what it is.'” The 23-year-old singer/songwriter (whose last name rhymes with “taffy”) is at a mall in her hometown, on break from touring and killing time before she catches a movie. “I grew up in a place that was pretty much boring. It was brown and flat, but I think that humbleness is very attractive.”

Jaffe is a lot like her home state: Wide-open, humble and matter-of-fact, she crafts beautiful, raw songs that “are what they are” in the very best way. Playing like wise, witty diary entries marked with teardrops, growing pains and effusive honesty, her debut album Suburban Nature (out now) ebbs and flows on a sea of candid relationship narratives. “Love is interesting, because when two people come together that way, it can be really hostile and beautiful at the same time,” she says of the inspiration for the album's 13 songs, some of which were written before Jaffe graduated from high school.

The key to avoiding anxiety over performing such personal songs is confidence, a trait Jaffe easily exudes in conversation but that melts into a bewitching vulnerability in her music. “I've never written to impress, I've always written out of honesty,” she says. “I hope people will appreciate that honesty and relate it to themselves if they can.”

Jaffe is planning on touring for a year supporting Suburban Nature, but loves coming home to her family in Denton, who she calls her “centrifugal point.” “For as long as I can remember this is the one thing I've always wanted to do and I feel at home with,” she says over the hustle and bustle of the shopping mall. “It fills me. It makes me very very happy to write and to play and to travel. I can't really see myself doing anything else and I don't want to be doing anything else.”—Lindsey Lee