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 "H."
Densely-produced, but fairly rootsy, rock-flavored Nashville country, with more than a nod or two towards roots-rock foremothers Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crowe. Hanson's best on the upbeat numbers -- the ballads just don't fly -- and she's got several catchy tunes here that might get her into the Top Country stratosphere. I like "Half A Heart Tattoo," myself. Her dad, by the way, played guitar in the Top Country supergroup, Alabama.
This perky family act from out Arkansas way was sort of like a modernized version of the Browns -- two sisters and a brother, but with more rockin', popped-out arrangements on a couple of tunes. The catchy title track, "Tippy Toeing," had a pop-rock kookiness to it, as did a couple of other tunes on here, though for the most part it's a softened country-folk vibe that predominates. The band put out at least one other record that I know of; sister Arlene Harden also had a fairly successful solo career, in which she pursued a more serious artistic image, albeit in a soft, weepy kinda way.
The Harden Trio "Sing Me Back Home" (Columbia, 1968)
Gus Hardin "Fallen Angel" (RCA, 1984)
(Produced by Rick Hall)
Synthy country, or twangy pop? Well, that raspy, Tanya Tucker-ish voice is what tips the balance, but this may be a little rockin' and 'Eighties-ed out for most twangfans. he's almost rootsy enough, but the clumsy, thudding arrangements all start to sound the same, and there's not a lot here that's terribly distinctive. There were three singles off this album, which all fell just short of the Top 40... Hardin hit the Top Ten, though the next year, and made a couple of albums after that; she apparently died in the 1990s, in a car crash.
Gus Hardin "Wall Of Tears" (RCA, 1984)
(Produced by Mark Wright)
Horrible! Basically this is tacky '80s synthpop, ala Bonnie Tyler, just not as much fun. And, yeah, that's not saying much. Not a single song on here stood out as memorable, although a duet with Earl Thomas Conley, "All Tangled Up In Love," amazingly hit the Top Ten. That was about it, though. Yeesh. Not my cup of tea, for sure.
A delightful album from an Oregonian gal who had a real feel for old-style country singing, but applied it to the new stuff really well. She was lucky, in a sense, that her debut came out when the whole neo-trad hard-country sound was "in": they let her make the record, didn't they? The downside was that this album didn't make a dent on the charts -- two songs had been previously released as singles, with the novelty song "I Need A Wife" barely cracking into the Top 40. Regardless of how well it sold, though, this album is a winner. Harms delivers uptempo material and weepers with equal ease, and her voice is in peak form. After this flopped, she dropped from sight for a while, then years later recorded several independently released albums (see my Alt-Country section) with more of a Roy Rogers-y "western" theme; if you've heard some of those albums, which have their shaky moments, you might be surprised by the solidity and pleasant poppiness of this disc. It's worth searching for!
Western-style music, modernized and given a little country kick, with a dash of western swing thrown in for good measure... Harms is kind of like a fish out of water -- a real-live country gal hailing from rural Oregon, she may not have a "pretty" enough voice for most folks, but she has a directness and simplicity that may make her appealing to the indie crowd... Some of the modern touches -- synths, even sparingly used -- are a distraction; though I'm sure it must be hard to get the tone right when you're being retro and cutesy, but doing it for a major label.. Upbeat, goofy tunes like "Swing" and "That's The Way I Feel About You" seem to be her strong suit; the slower songs tend to sound a bit too serious... Still, this might be worth checking out, if you're feeling kinda cowgirly and ready for roundup time...
Moving to an indie label, Harms seems to have hit a more relaxed groove; she still has her clunky moments, and while she has undeniable weak spots, she also has a nice jes-plain folks charm. The Nashville touches of her earlier album are thankfully absent; this feels more like the record she wanted to make... Again, "western" music is kind of a hard sale in today's country scene, but here's an artist who has a lot to offer those folks who do like the style. Personally, I prefer Harms when she sings straight-up honkytonk (like on the title track, "After All") and this disc has a couple of nice songs along that line... The character sketch of "Mille" -- about a cafe waitress who passes on the secret of a happy life -- is the album's highlight, a nice song with a nice message. Worth checking out.
Ms. Harms has a heartwarming faith in the cornball romantic sentiments and good, old-fashioned, goofball novelty songs. For example, both traits combine in "Murphy's Law," a cute tune about a self-reliant country gal who meets the love of her life -- a highway patrolman named Murphy -- who stops to help her out when her old 4x4 breaks down outside of town. That should give you a pretty good idea of what's in store on this album -- the title track is a battle cry to her fellow unreconstructed hicks to renew their faith in the old-style music; other highlights include "Cowboy Up," about the value of picking yourself up when a horse (or life) bucks you off, and "We Work It Out," which imparts the secret to a happy marriage, with a beat you can dance to. This isn1t an album I would have on in the background and get all caught up in, but there are several songs on it that are just so sweetly unpretentious and un-Nashville that you just gotta love 'em. Definitely worth checking out -- fans of, say, Gail Davies might find this album similarly appealing.
Emmylou Harris - see artist discography
Ginny Hawker & Kay Justice "Come All Ye Tenderhearted" (1995)
Ginny Hawker/Carol Elizabeth Jones/Hazel Dickens "Heart Of A Singer" (Rounder, 1998)
That's Bristol, as in, "the Bristol Sessions," the famous 1927 Ralph Peer recording trip which brought to the wide world both Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, laying the foundation for the growth of commercial country over the next decade. This Carter Family tribute is about as rootsy and true to the original wellspring as you could imagine, especially with for New Lost City Ramblers members Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwartz pitching in on autoharp and guitar. Highly recommended!
With old-timey gospel numbers, bluegrass heartsongs galore, and even a bit of Emmylou-ish country harmony, this disc's another real winner. Although Hawker's loyalty to the raspy old-timey melodic structure may make it hard for some folks to get into her work, these are recordings that will richly reward your time. Recommended!
As fine and understated a set of old-timey ballads as you're likely to hear... Really fine stuff! Tracy Schartz has, of course, been one of the great champions of old-timey music ever since his days in the New Lost City Ramblers, and Ginny Hawker has been rising through the ranks in recent years... Together they have made one of the prettiest, simplest, most emotionally direct records of the year... The accompaniment is a delight: straightforward and no-frills, but also very melodic and sweet, a perfect match for their plainspoken vocals. Dirk Powell pitches in playing mandolin on a couple of tunes, but fancy picking isn't the point of this new record, the songs are and that's the way it should be. Includes some standards such as "Poor Willie" and "Katie Dear," as well as a bunch of well-chosen obscurities, and some wonderful gospel tunes. Highly recommended!
Hazel & Alice -- see Hazel Dickens, and/or Alice Gerrard
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "H"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues