What a fantastic year 2013 has been -- there has been an extraordinary amount of fresh, captivating music coming from the fairer sex this year. To say that women are breathing new life into country music as a whole isn't an exaggeration, either. Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go Round" deliciously shocked listeners with its straight-out-of-Peyton Place chorus, "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down." How's that for a snapshot of life in a small town?!
And to be fair, if this current crop of "freshmen" are making inroads in the music game, it's because such artists as Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood helped blaze the trail. Do you remember the first time you heard Lambert snarl, "I'm going home gonna load my shotgun / Wait by the door and light a cigarette / He wants a fight, well now he's got one / He ain't seen me crazy yet"? Whoosh!
And don't get persnickity on us. Yes, we realize Reba, Martina, Faith, Shania, Dolly, Barbara, Loretta, Patsy and a whole heap more came before. But we think there's something to all of this. And whether you call it kismet, serendipity, coincidence or simply a "good angle," we're putting the spotlight on a handful of country music's new girls -- make that women.
Kacey is a 24-year-old Texan with a smart, acerbic way with words. Sometimes she comes up with one-liners that sound suspiciously like your grandma (see "If you're ever going to find a four-leaf clover / You got to get a little dirt on your hands," from "Silver Lining"), while at other times she sounds like your best girlfriend in high school ("Between the lunch and dinner rush / Kelly caught the outbound bus, for Vegas / We're all out here talking' trash, making bets, lips wrapped 'round our cigarattes," from "Blowin' Smoke"). Her Same Trailer Different Park is a must-hear.
In the mid-'00s, Monroe put out a couple singles and, like many artists before her, was dropped before most people even heard of her. She kept writing, however, and collaborated with the likes of The Raconteurs, Train, Mat Kearney and Chris Isaak; when Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert recorded some of her songs, interest in Monroe picked up again. That interest was whipped into a frenzy after she joined Lambert and Angaleena Presley in the surprise hit group The Pistol Annies. Now she's got a triumphant solo album, Like a Rose.
Oh sure, Caitlin Rose's mom, Liz, writes hits with Taylor Swift, but don't expect Caitlin's music to be quite so boy-centric -- or even pop-centric, for that matter. No, if comparisons are made, Caitlin's music, as heard on her great new The Stand-In, will most likely be compared to that of strong, evocative singer-songwriters such as Iris Dement, Rickie Lee Jones or Lucinda Williams. And for that, we are grateful.
The Pistol Annies may have a leg up on the competition because of Lambert: The trio proved to be so much more than a side project when their debut single "Hell on Heels" achieved Gold status and their feisty, critically acclaimed debut album of the same name ran amok on best-of/year-end lists. The trio's sophomore effort, Annie Up, helped seal the deal.
There are plenty of sons and daughters of country music celebrities who wear their famous DNA like a chip on their shoulder: "I'm more country than you because my daddy was _______." Thankfully, Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams, Jr., isn't one of those people. Williams' writing clicked on her third album, The Highway, which may or may not have anything to do with being let go by her major label and doing things her own way. Coincidence? Some say there is no such thing.
As a member of Team Blake, 17-year-old Danielle Bradbery became the youngest contestant to win The Voice. During her stint on the show, Bradbery demonstrated a fondness for the kind of songs country music used to be known for: tuneful, well-written with a distinct lyrical twist. And if her debut single, “The Heart of Dixie,” is any indication, Bradbery is choosing songs with those same characteristics -- which will be a nice respite from all those country boys testing out their rapping skillz, yo! Her debut album is slated for November 19.
Lindi Ortega doesn't get airplay on commercial country stations, nor do her videos get featured on channels such as CMT or GAC. Maybe that's because her classic, timeless country comes with a kick: It's the kind of country that is so old-school it's now called alt-country. Nevertheless, with three albums to her credit, Ortega's body of work shows plenty of heart-on-sleeve gutsiness, whether she is slaying with a slow-dance song or a boot-stomping rave-up.
We featured Maggie Rose as part of our Rhapsody Radar program, where we spotlight some of our favorite up-and-coming artists. Rose, who released her debut earlier this year, impressed with the somber song "Better," which packs a world of hurt in just four minutes. Other songs, such as the sassy “I Ain’t Your Mama,” or the harrowing murder-ballad “Preacher’s Daughter,” prove she can get gritty with the best of them.