Welcome to my overview of women in country music, with reviews ranging from folk and bluegrass to honkytonk, rockabilly and Nashville pop. This is the first page covering the letter "B."
Baillie & The Boys "Baillie & The Boys" (RCA, 1987)
Baillie & The Boys "Turn The Tide" (RCA, 1989)
Baillie & The Boys "Lights Of Home" (RCA, 1990)
Baillie & The Boys "The Best Of Baillie & The Boys" (RCA, 1991)
Baillie & The Boys "Lovin' Every Minute" (Intersound, 1996)
A comeback album of sorts; includes remakes of some of their early hits.
This band, featuring East Coaster Kathie Baillie on lead vocals, had a few decent-size hits towards the end of the 1980s, and then sort of faded out of sight. This later release has some re-recorded material, and a slew of new stuff... What it lacks, however is both spark and subtlety. I'll reserve full judgement until I can track down some of their old stuff.
(Produced by Michael Bonagura)
A mix of mature country-pop and Carpenters-ish pop power balladry, this is probably a for-fans-only effort, but folks who have hung with Baillie & The Boys over the years will psyched to hear Kathie back on wax. Guest performers include Vince Gill and Highway 101's Paulette Carlson, who sings harmony on her own mother-daughter themed "Old Glass Case," a fiddle-based weeper that's certainly one of the album highlights. Baillie's longtime partner Michael Bonagura, a veteran of the original band, pitches in as producer and sideman...
An unabashed Patsy Cline copycat (she actually portrayed Cline in the stage musical, "Always, Patsy Cline...") Barnett gets extra points for draping a jazzy torchsong arrangement around Jim Lauderdale's loopy "Planet Of Love," but immediately loses traction on the generic "young country" grind of "Maybe," the song that follows. In general, she seems to have a good sense of material to cover (Willie Nelson's "Three Days," for example...) and is fairly "rootsy," at least in comparison to her Nashville contemporaries. Still, outside of the Patsy-isms, she's not that tremendous of a vocalist, and if she doesn't have the right arrangements behind her, Barnett's music lapses into mediocrity fairly fast. Mellow, easy on the ears and a nice change of pace, but she still doesn't really wow me.
An absurdly derivative recreation of Patsy Cline's smooth, pioneering proto-countrypolitan sound. Legendary Decca arranger Owen Bradley -- who produced many of Cline's biggest hits -- helps sculpt this album, and studio veterans such as pianist Pig Robbins and guitarist Harold Bradley refabricate the feel of the old Decca sessions. Nonetheless, this dose of old-timer authenticity doesn't compensate for Barnett lack of Cline's slick, bluesy bite and sweet, soulful delivery... When not simply mimicking Patsy's intonations, Barnett slips perilously close to approximating Linda Ronstadt's lesser efforts. Sure, the song selection is cool (not a Cline cover among the lot), but neither Barnett nor her band are speaking with an original voice, and this homage founders in comparison to the real thing. Pleasant, and easy on the ears, but kind of self-defeating.
Molly Bee "Swingin' Country" (MGM, 1967)
A former child star who became a fixture on the Las Vegas show scene, Molly Bee has negligible success on the Country charts... This disc was her only entry into the albums charts, and is mainly made up of cover tunes of old hits like "Almost Persuaded," etc.
This all-gal trio from Canada has a super-sugary, folk-tinged take on the Americana sound, with traces of acoustic soul-gals Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco evident in their sound, as well as more standard-issue folk-scene types like Cathy Fink and Greg Brown. Their big trick, musically speaking, is to take everything at a slow-moderate pace, with gentle syncopation punctuated with trad instruments such as the banjo and mandolin. The funny thing about it is that while the music is fairly monochromatic, their odd approach is still intriguing enough to hold your attention the hole way through. The weak spot is when they cover old folk tunes such as Stephen Foster's "Oh Suzannah," or public domain ditties like "Lakes of Ponchartrain" or "The Coo-Coo Bird," in the same lazy, disjointed slowcore style. These can sound mannered and pretentious, and may tax the good will of their listeners. Worth checking out, though, especially if you're looking for something mellow.
This moody, magnificent followup to the first BGT album finds the band gaining solid footing, penning stronger material while self-producing the album, perfecting an oddball trip-hop folk style with a uniquely disjointed, mellow sensibility. The gals deploy old-timey instruments in an unusually relaxed manner, plunking the banjo at a loping gait, sawing a lazy fiddle along with a few funk-laced guitar riffs and unexpected modern touches. They indulge in little of the drag-racing flash and fire of the traditional bluegrass scene; indeed, the band's low-key, minimalist approach is what makes it consistently listenable and alluring. In an era of bombastic, overly-layered corporate pop, the Tanyas are a model of restraint and willful imperfection. Sadly, they seem unwilling to shed the almost-tedious, mumbly-voiced, white-girl acoustic soul murmuring they apparently copped from Ani DiFranco. It's an affectation that muddles an otherwise refreshingly direct presentation; nonetheless, the band's quiet grace will doubtless cast a comfortable glow on a thousand cafes across the land. This is a swell record, highly recommended!
The Be Good Tanyas "Hello Love" (Nettwerk, 2006)
Traditionalist bluegrass with a country-ish tinge, carrying the torch of the 'Fifties commercial bluegrass heyday. This is a swell collection of this duo's work, originally recorded in the 1970s and '80s. It's great stuff -- one sweet melodic heartsong after another, with solid, sometimes pleasantly ragged picking and soulful, old-school vocals. Recommended!
Matraca Berg "Lying To The Moon" (RCA, 1990)
Matraca Berg "The Speed Of Grace" (RCA, 1994)
Matraca Berg "Sunday Morning To Saturday Night" (Rising Tide, 1997)
Better known as a songwriter than as a performer, Nashville native Matraca Berg became sort of a critic's and artist's favorite among those who wanted to inject a loftier, more artsy tone into the country hits of the '90s. She was particularly adept at writing for the female perspective, and was popular with singers such as Suzy Bogguss, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood, all of whom explored a more ornate -- some might say overly dense -- style of songwriting. This is an odd compilation of her recorded work in the 1990s -- it omits several of her chart entries (hard to call 'em hits; she never got that far up the charts), while those that it does include tend to be a bit cerebral. Still, it's a nice portrait of one of the more influential under-the-radar artists working in modern-day Music City, even if she does get a bit Carly Simonesque at times.
Terri Binion "Leavin' This Town" (Daemon/Shinola, 1997)
One of the most distinctive indie-Americana albums to come down the pike in quite some time! This record makes a strong first impression, and only gains depth with each successive listen. Orlando, Florida's Terri Binion sings with an irony-laced raspiness, making it easy to draw a facile Lucinda Williams comparison (especially since Lucinda sings harmony on the bouncy opening track, "GayleAnne"...) yet Binion clearly has her own artistic voice, and every song on this album has a compelling, off-kilter charm. Cloaked in familiar-sounding country-tinged arrangements, she glides subtly into pop-folkish singer-songwriter terrain, balancing wry lyrics and skillfully crafted melodies in a way that is also reminiscent of the Roches early work. Many of today's alt-hick types have their glimpses of brilliance; Binion is able to sustain her connection to the Muse throughout the length of the entire album. Nice touch on the "mystery track" at the end -- Binion does a little field recording with one of her old-timer Southern relatives, who she sits down and asks to sing the song about a moonshiner relative, Jim Binion, locally famous for having taken a pot-shot at the sheriff one day. with banjo plunkin', and quiet self effacement, he answers her question, "who wrote this song?" by saying, "I dunno: it was here when I was here!" Just one more charming touch on a compelling, noteworthy album. This is one you'll definitely want to pick up -- and hang onto. (Here's her website for more info.)
Another sweet, understated set of quiet, old-timey tunes which slows the pace of life down and takes us back to simpler days. The Blakes are old hands at this kind of musical wizardry, and while this disc doesn't cut any paths for them, it's another fine example of their mastery of the style. This is a mostly gospel set, and if you want a mellow, nonconfrontational version of the country gospel, this is a pretty little disc.
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "B"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues