Announcing the 2021 finalists for Best Country Artist and Song

Announcing the 2021 finalists for Best Country Artist and Song

Today, Recorded Music New Zealand and APRA AMCOS NZ are proud to recognise the outstanding contributions to the Aotearoa country music scene from the past year.

The finalists for Recorded Music NZ Te Kaipuoro Tuawhenua Toa | Best Country Music Artist feature two previous winners and a newcomer to the scene - Jody Direen for Smokin’ Ashes, Ryan Fisherman for Vibe and Tami Neilson for CHICKABOOM!

Tami Neilson is also nominated for the APRA Best Country Music Song for her track ‘Queenie, Queenie’, along with Delaney Davidson for ‘Sleep’ and Kendall Elise Todd for ‘Between Hello and Goodbye’.

Recorded Music NZ Best Country Artist

Since releasing her debut album five years ago, Jody Direen has been hard at work making waves in the country music scene both here and internationally.

After winning the Tūī for Best Country Music Artist in 2017 for her third album Shake Up, Jody has continued to record and tour – including supporting Kenny Rogers on his last New Zealand tour.

Christchurch multi-instrumentalist Ryan Chin began his musical career as the drummer for indie electronic act Doprah in 2013.

Since then, he has adopted the moniker Ryan Fisherman for his solo songwriting endeavours and released his debut solo album Vibe in May 2020.

Featuring over twenty Kiwi musicians including Marlon Williams, Candice Milner and Ben Wood, the album was recorded in Lyttelton by award-winning producer Ben Edwards.

Canadian-born songstress Tami Neilson grew up performing with her parents and her two brothers around North America as The Neilson Family Band.

Nominated for her 2020 album CHICKABOOM!, she has become a staple of the local country scene, picking up the APRA Silver Scroll and winning multiple Tūī including Best Country Album and Best Country Song.

Recorded Music NZ Kaiwhakahaere o Ngā Tohu Puoro o Aotearoa  Sarah Owen says the finalists for this year’s Best Country Music Artist showcase the best the genre has to offer.   

“After such a tumultuous year, it fills me with joy to be able to celebrate the wonderful artists creating such vibrant, emotionally-charged country waiata,” says Owen.

“If the calibre of these artists is anything to go by, it’s an exciting time to be a country music fan in Aotearoa.”

APRA Best Country Music Song

Alongside her nomination for Best Country Artist, Tami Neilson is also nominated for APRA Best Country Music song for the infectious ‘Queenie, Queenie’.

Joining Tami in 2021 is three-time winner of the APRA Best Country Music Song award Delaney Davidson for his song ‘Sleep’ (which was recorded by Tami for CHICKABOOM!).

No stranger to the awards, Delaney has made a name for himself as a staple of Aotearoa’s country music scene.

Along with relentless recording and performing, he has contributed as a producer to countless Kiwi albums for musicians like Troy Kingi and Marlon Williams.

Kendall Elise Todd is the third finalist for this year’s award for her song ‘Between Hello and Goodbye’.

Last year, Kendall Elise was a finalist for the Recorded Music New Zealand Best Country Artist, alongside Delaney Davidson and Barry Saunders, and Katie Thompson.

When her 2020 European tour was postponed due to COVID-19, Kendall used the time to write and record a new album, which is due out June this year.

APRA Head of NZ Operations Anthony Healey adds: "These songs get at the heart of what it means to be a country musician. A little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of that Southern flair, and a little bit of storytelling for good measure.”

After being cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2021 Best Country Music Artist and Best Country Song winners will be announced as part of the Tussock Country Festival on Thursday 3rd June. Tickets available here

Also announced at the Tussock Country Festival will be the winner of the annual MLT Songwriting Award.

The ten finalists are:

- ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ – Marian Burns (Auckland)- ‘Gonna Turn’ – Nicky Moran (Hamilton)- ‘If You Were a Bird’ – Jenny Mitchell (Gore)- ‘Imperfect Lovers’ – Mia Jay (Napier)- ‘Trouble Finds a Girl’ – Jenny Mitchell (Gore), Tami Neilson (Auckland), Chris Wethey (Christchurch) and Tali Enjalas Jenkinson (Christchurch)- ‘Old Bones and New Strings’ – Carylann Martin (Otaki) and Rod Harris- ‘Alexandra Road’ – Chad Robinson (Queenstown)- ‘What It Does’ – Michael Young (Auckland) and Dixie Dolejs (Auckland)- ‘Downsizing’ – Eric Reid (Pelican Waters, Australia)- ‘Tired as a Possum’ – Ron Mitchell (Gore)

Jeff Rea, Chairman of the NZ Country Music Awards Committee says: “I’m amazed at the ever increasing standard of songs entered in the MLT NZ Songwriting Award and this year with close to record high entries of 117, we can’t wait to hear the top 10 finalists perform their song on the theatre stage.”

Finalists for Recorded Music NZ Te Kaipuoro Tuawhenua Toa | Best Country Music Artist

Jody Direen – Smokin’ Ashes Ryan Fisherman – Vibe Tami Neilson – CHICKABOOM!


Finalists for APRA Best Country Music Song

Delaney Davidson – ‘Sleep’ Kendall Elise Todd – ‘Between Hello and Goodbye’ Tami Neilson – ‘Queenie, Queenie’


About Recorded Music New Zealand Recorded Music NZ is a non-profit industry representation and licensing organisation for recording artists and their labels. It divides its services into three main areas. The Member Services team delivers projects including the Aotearoa Music Awards, the weekly Official NZ Top40 Charts and the Music Grants programme. Recorded Music NZ’s licensing division administers broadcast and public performance licensing either directly or through its joint initiative with APRA called OneMusic. The Pro-Music team is dedicated to protecting and promoting the interests of artists and labels across the New Zealand recording industry.


About APRA AMCOS APRA AMCOS, representing the Australasian Performing Rights Association and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, is a non-profit organisation that collects and distributes songwriting royalties to its 100,000 songwriter, composer and music publisher members, and around 3,000,000 copyright owners worldwide.


About The New Zealand Songwriters Trust The New Zealand Songwriters Trust was formed to promote and encourage the craft of songwriting, and to raise the profile and quality of original music for public entertainment and enjoyment. Originally it ran the MLT Songwriting Awards as a standalone event as part of the NZ Gold Guitar week, until 2011 when a new relationship was formed with RIANZ (now Recorded Music NZ) and APRA, which saw the New Zealand Country Music Awards and the MLT Songwriting Awards combined into one night of music, showcasing songwriters and recording artists.