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 "C."
Kate Campbell "Songs From The Levee" (Compass, 1994)
Kate Campbell "Moonpie Dreams" (Compass, 1997)
Kate Campbell "Visions Of Plenty" (Compass, 1998)
Kate Campbell "Rosaryville" (Compass, 1999)
Kate Campbell "Wandering Strange" (Eminent, 2001)
Kate Campbell "Monuments" (Evangeline, 2003)
An interesting set of country and countrypolitan cover tunes, featuring such venerable oldies as Donna Fargo's "Funny Face," Emmylou's "Boulder To Birmingham," "Harper Valley PTA," "Help Me Make It Through The Night," etc. I have to confess, I've never been that into Campbell's work, but this disc seemed like a good chance to factor out one of the three factors in her music -- songwriting, performance and production -- and get a better sense of what makes her tick. Turns out, sure enough, the production (and her band) sounds just fine, but I sure don't like her voice. Her heart seems in the right place, but she sure ain't no Dolly or Lynn Anderson. Most of these songs start with great promise, but Campbell just doesn't seem able to really ride them home -- most fall flat and directionless by the time she's through with 'em. Sorry to be such a grouch, but I gotta call it like I hear it. If you like Campbell, then this is a great record... But if you just wanna hear a great country record -- well, I could think of a plenty of others to recommend before you turned to this one.
Although this is a "best-of" set, it's not actually a collection of stuff from old records, but rather new versions of favorite songs, and a few new ones to keep things lively. Like other Campbell albums, this is a little troublesome for me, as the music is consistently interesting, but the public religiousity aspect feels uncomfortable. Her Christian soul-searching is obviously heartfelt and sincere, but it still feels intrusive or overly intimate, somehow. Then again, I suppose no one is forcing folks like me to buy her records... And for people who are looking for religiously-themed music that's more nuanced and soul-searching than the norm, this is certainly fresh, creative material. This disc in particular is a pretty good introdcution to Campbell and her ouvre.
Kate Campbell "Sing Me Out" (Compadre, 2004)
Kate Campbell "Blues And Lamentations" (Large River, 2005)
Kate Campbell & Spooner Oldham "For The Living Of These Days" (Large River, 2006)
Judy Canova "Collector's Edition" (Simitar, 1998)
She wasn't really a country singer, but like many mainstream pop artists such as Dorothy Shay and Arthur Godfrey, Canova played on a broad "hillbilly" stereotype to deliver warped versions of popular songs of the day. These radio performances (from the 1940s perhaps?) capture Canova at her best: playful, corny yet canny, and a powerful performer. Included are several of her signature tunes, such as her rollicking versions of "Just Because" and "The Wabash Cannonball," and omits other songs that play more into the hick schtick... All in all, this is a pretty fun set, although it really should be classed more closely with pop vocals and show tunes than with legitimate country stuff. But does that really matter? Check it out for yourself, and find out.
New York's singing cowgirl, songwriter Cantrell hosts a country show on renowned freeform radio station, WFMU, and has parlayed her love of twangitude into a full-fledged recording career. Honestly, despite having several mutual friends in common with her, this debut disc doesn't do that much for me... The songs are just a little too overwritten and self-consciously crafted, also, her vocals kinda bug me; imperfections that could have been disguised in a rock'n'roll context are all-too apparent in the more stripped-down country context. Still, Cantrell has a lot going for her, not the least of which is a sharp band, culled in part from the East Coast power-pop/indie scene. Folks looking for alt.country that breaks out of the usual ruts of white trash stereotypes, etc., and aims to revitalize the old traditions of well-crafted heart songs will wanna check this gal out.
Although Cantrell's voice -- kinda like Mary McCaslin, but not quite -- still falls short, her songwriting is much sharper and direct, particularly on this album's opening numbers. Her band is tight as well: several songs are melodically strong, with an almost power-poppy propulsiveness, and Cantrell is closer to finding an effective tunesmithy voice. The slower numbers still seem a bit muddled, but less so than on her first album -- listeners may have to work a bit to get caught up in her songs, but the lyrics and emotional content are all pretty solid.
Laura Cantrell "The Hello Recordings" (Diesel Only, 2004)
A 5-song EP...
It's a delight to see when an independent artist crafts a masterpiece, particularly someone who's been around for a while and whose imperfections have been almost as charming as their artistic passion. On her third album, East Coast alt-country songwriter Laura Cantrell has crafted a solid, soulful work that may be the soundtrack for many a moody afternoon to come. Backed by East Coast indie-popster Dave Schramm and members of the uber-artsy, amorphous band Calexico, Cantrell shifts from style to style, drawing on numerous influences to forge a sparkling record with several memorable melodies. Unlike many big city altabillies, Cantrell seldom trawls through the depths of phony hick sterotypes to "prove" how country she is, and on this record she goes out of her way to claim ownership of her own urban identity, with songs that place the listener smack dab in the middle of New York, New York. For example, the album kicks off with its strongest track, "14th Street," a walking tour of heartbreak on concrete that half-unconsciously swipe its melodic hook from "There She Goes" by the La's. (Which, frankly, is fine by me. The next song, though, quotes that old Budweiser jingle... "when... you say... Bud!", which is a little more questionable...) Calexico & Co. prove themselves adept at absorbing country music, and when they do add a rock touch, it feels a bit raspy and Neil Young-ish; Cantrell anchors herself to her country roots through a fine, wistful version of the old Wynn Stewart hit, "Wishful Thinking," a plaintive rendition of the ballad, "Poor Ellen Smith," and her own "California Rose," a heartfelt homage to West Coast wild woman Rose Maddox. But while flexing her musical strengths inside a professional studio, with a versatile, ultramodern band to back her, Cantrell also zeroes in on unsuspected depths as a rock-popster, sounding as much like Linda Thompson as folkies such as Mary McCaslin. It's a glorious transformation, and this is an album that might floor more than a few listeners. Recommended!
Paulette Carlson "Love Goes On" (Capitol, 1991)
Paulette Carlson "Christmas Is For You" (Music Mill, 1995)
A holiday offering from the former lead singer of Highway 101... Features two originals by Carlson, "Christmas Is For You" and "Mrs. Santa Claus," along with a slew of standards... (For more holiday music, check out my Hillbilly Holiday section...)
(Produced by Paulette Carlson)
A reissue of her 2005 album of the same name (reviewed here earlier): "The former lead singer from Highway 101 soldiers on... in more ways than one. Draping herself in the flag, Carlson pays tribute to Vietnam-era veterans, on "Thank You Vets," and sings a couple of other patriotic songs... The stars-and-stripes imagery may be a little misleading, though, since most of the songs on this album are straightforward heartsongs, which she carries pretty well. Regardless, Carlson's fans should be thrilled to hear this self-produced effort... All but two of the songs are Carlson originals, and she shows herself to be a capable performer, even with her voice thinning a bit with age. It's been a while since she was in the charts, but she's still a solid, sincere singer, and this is a good independently-released effort, soulful and understated. Worth checking out!" One thing I neglected to mention back then was what a striking vocal similarity she has to Stevie Nicks... (and I mean that in a good way!) Overall, pretty durn good.
Carolina Cotton "Yodel, Yodel, Yodel" (Binge Discs, 2003)
Outstanding! This disc collects the work of Helen Hagstrom, aka Carolina Cotton, a little-remembered, post-WWII yodeler who worked extensively with Spade Cooley, Bob Wills, Merle Travis, and many of the West Coast honkytonk-swing scene elite. There's lots of accordion on here, as well as Cotton's winsome vocals -- and she was one heck of a singer! Her signature tune was "Three Miles South Of Cash (In Arkansas)," a reference to her hometown, where she was born just before the Great Depresssion... There are three versions of the song on here, two from live transcription recordings, and one from a 1952 MGM single; the material on this disc comes from a variety of sources, mostly from "Soundies" transcriptions and other radio shows, but also from various movie appearances and a handful of singles, scattered over several labels. It's all pretty good, with some stuff that's surprisingly electrified and other material that's straight out of the West Coast playbook... This disc was one of my big new discoveries of the year -- a great country gal singer, with a big, friendly voice and plenty of great songs. The only weak spot on the album is a live 1946 recording of a great novelty song, "I'd Like To Be A Cowgirl (But I'm Afraid Of Cows)," which has the hilarious chorus, "Moo! Moo! Moo! How they scare me..." A wonderful tune, but unfortunately the source material is very poor, and while you can easily enjoy the song at home, I wasn't able to play it on the radio. The rest of the album sounds fine, though... All in all, this disc is a real find. Highly recommended!
Carolina Cotton "Yodeling Blonde Bombshell, v.1" (Self-Released, 2006)
This is a real gem, a lively, long-overdue collection of prime material from one of the West Coast's most vivacious postwar country gals... Helen Hagstrom, aka Carolina Cotton, was a consummate country performer, belting out lively western swing novelty tunes, heartsongs, yodels and Western ballads, singing alongside folks like Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Spade Cooley, Joe Maphis, Deuce Spriggins, and Hank Penny... She easily kept up with all these high-power bandleaders, singing with as much gusto and guts as the style required. It's amazing, really, that she isn't more well-known -- she certainly must have cut quite a figure in California's booming country scene, and there weren't many women out there in the forefront at the time. Anyway, this is great record, self-released by Carolina Cotton's daughter, and available through her website, www.carolinacotton.org It has great sound quality, tons of fun songs and great performances... Her high energy and good cheer will win you over every time... If you're into discovering the hidden history of women in country music, this disc is a must-have! (Also check out the Carolina Cotton website, which has tons of historical info and archival photos...)
Mary Chapin Carpenter -- see artist discography
Anita Carter -- see artist discography
Carlene Carter -- see artist discography
The debut album of singer-songwriter Deana Carter, daughter of legendary Nashville session guitarist Fred Carter... This is a pretty strong effort, at its best, a spunky summation of the upbeat rock orientation of the mid-1990s "young country" scene. She dips into the same corny turf as other Nashvillers on the slow stuff, but she's still a cut above, in my opinion, and definitely worth checking out.
In the it's-all-up-for-grabs stylistic shift of pre-Millennial Nashville, it was hard to tell if Deana Carter's brash, depth-ridden braininess would work or not... She certainly provided a strong voice to field-test introspective songs by the likes of up-and-coming songwriters such as Matraca Berg and Leslie Satcher, but in the long run her track record seems mixed. Some tunes, like the tinkly ballad, "People Miss Planes," seem like standard enough fare, although others, like her loopy, Little Feat-inspired cover of Norma Tanenga's novelty oldie, "Brand New Key," or the soft soul of "Never Comin' Down" stand out like Humvees in a corn field. Mostly it doesn't work for me, but I'm pleasantly surprised by the songs that do draw me in, and though ultimately Carter's appeal turned out to be fairly limited, her brand of Nashville genre-bending seems much more intelligent and nuanced than most of her misguided contemporaries. Worth checking out, though it has its clunky moments.
A remarkably understated acoustic Christmas album... Usually when Top 40 country stars do a holiday record, they tend to blast away at the songs -- I guess it's a chance for them to wail away on a different type of material? -- but Carter prefers to croon, and the results are low-key and kind of nice. Backing her up on acoustic guitar is her father, '50s session picker, Fred Carter... as an interesting family-oriented bonus, the disc also includes an interview she conducted (as a little kid) about his old days in Nashville. Worth checking out, if you're in a holiday mood. (For other Christmas records, see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)
(Produced by Deana Carter)
I like Deana Carter, and I was happy for her last year when her I'm Just A Girl album got her back into the top country charts... Still, Carter's relationship with Nashville is always a little tenuous, since she likes to tilt towards a bright pop-rock sound that Music City tastemakers don't seem to appreciate, and this time around she's indulged that pop sweet-tooth to its fullest. Even I have to confess I was left a bit adrift by the brash twanglessness of this album's opener, "The Girl You Left Me For," which sounds just like the perky, sugary pop of teen singers such as Britney Spears, Hillary Duff and Lindsey Lohan. Carter wrote and produced this entire album, and its overt pop leanings couldn't be more purposeful... Still, one can't help but wonder if she hasn't simply squandered her newfound capital as a credible Nashville chart artist in a questionable pursuit of a less-charitable Pop god. In the past, I thought her balancing of pop and country was somewhat admirable and at times effective -- she seems to have a fresher take on rock music than many of the by-the-numbers Music Row songsmiths who tend to make everything sound like a bad soul ballad -- but she might have gone a little overboard on this one. Still, if you like the sound of contemporary Pop music, but wish it had deeper, more mature lyrics, this album might be an eye opener...
The Carter Family -- see artist discography
Maybelle Carter & The Carter Sisters -- see artist discography
June Carter Cash - see artist discography
Rosanne Cash - see artist discography
Caitlin Cary "Waltzie" (EP) (Yep Roc, 2000)
A 5-song EP that heralded Cary's independence from her defunct-ish band, Whiskeytown.
A surprising, poppy outing for Ms. Caitlin... As a Whiskeytowner, Cary had a tendency to be a bit shrieky -- here, she takes a smoother path, following in the footsteps of Mekons frontlady Sally Timms who moved out of her twangcore phase into mistier pop balladeering. Like Timms, Cary appears to be chasing the ghosts of June Tabor and Linda Thompson, and likewise, it suits her well. The songwriting is also an improvement over her country-themed Whiskeytown material; without the WTS baggage, Cary proves capable of crafting fairly smooth, haunting pop material. She even dabbles in Phil Spector-style Brill Building pop. All in all, a nice record, although longtime fans may be a bit mystified. The CD also comes (or came?) with a 4-song mini-CD with much country-er material, including an excellent duet with Ryan Adams. Good record, worth checking out.
Cary delves even deeper into her Pop muse, chasing the spectres of Linda Thompson and Natalie Merchant, and leaving the country stuff almost entirely behind. Ex-DB Chris Stamey produces and writes some of the material... Not totally my cup of tea, but you can see where she's going on this one. If you liked the general direction of her previous album, While You Weren't Looking, then you're probably gonna love this one!
Caitlin Cary "Begonias" (Yep Roc, 2005)
Neko Case - see artist discography
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "C"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues