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 "O."
This is one of my favorite Americana/indie country albums of the year, kicking off with a quartet of memorable, compelling songs, each one a little gem. The doleful, indie-ish "Revolver" is perhaps the catchiest song on here, with a lovely, simple acoustic riff that stands up there with the best stuff Gillian Welch has ever done. Midway through, the music shifts into more pensive, singer-songwriterish territory, and Neil Young's influence (and perhaps Joni Mitchell's) seeps into the album's end. Chicagoan O'Connor is one of those folks who has played with a bazillion other artists, including Neko Case, Jeff Tweedy, The New Pornographers and a regular gig with Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire. Now she's finally come out with an album of her own and it's really, really good. Finally an artist on the Bloodshot label who isn't striking a pose when they put on some twang! I can't wait to hear more.
I love this record! This local San Fran gal has been in a lot of great bands, from the Movie Stars to Red Meat, and many other folks, including actress Mare Winningham, have benefited greatly from her friendly assist as a back-up bassist. Still, nothing matches the exuberant playfulness of this bouncily Beatles-ed out solo album. The musical hooks are all killer -- pure melodic pop in a countrified backdrop -- and Olson's squeeky-clean vocals are a delight. Besides, anyone with the cheek to cover America's "Sister Golden Hair" and back it up with the one-two punch of her own fab original material (esp. "Oh My God" and "Conquer The World") deserves all the adoration we can heap on her. Probably won't be on the racks at your local K-Mart, but the label still has a few copies on hand.
This charming local thriftstore cowgirl is back with an album that shows off her sweettooth for treble-heavy melodic pop. The Beatles, Byrds and Belly echo through this bouncy little disc, which nonetheless has an undefinable hillbilly twist. There's also the bright trademark sound of producer Dave Alvin, who is a welcome addition to any team! This charming indie outing has its odd moments, but with perky, memorable tunes like "When You Gonna Love Me Again?" it my also be the kind of record you can't quite get out of your mind. It took me a while to warm up to this one, but now I'm into it.
Jamie O'Neal "Shiver" (Mercury, 2000)
Jamie O'Neal "On My Way To You" (Mercury, 2003) (Unreleased)
I guess I'm with George Jones: country just ain't country anymore, and O'Neal is as good an artist to pick on as any to prove the point. Oh, sure, she sort of hits an old-fashioned novelty groove on songs such as "Tryin' To Find Atlantis," and she can hit a Crystal Gayle-ish pop ballad groove (on sappy slow songs like "When Did You Know?") but her records are dominated by glitzy, overblown rock-soul arrangements, and precious little twang. The overly-obvious lyrical gestures towards an audience of presumably harried, perpetually frazzled and looking-for-love working gals are a little tiresome as well: does this sort of stuff really attract a widespread audience? I dunno. I guess as a latter-day practitioner of Judds-style country-pop, O'Neal is alright, but what's with this whole rocker wannabee thing? Can't these folks just play real country music anymore? Either that, or stop looking for airplay on the Country charts? I guess O'Neal's label ultimately agreed, since this album wasn't released commercially, even though the disc briefly went out to radio... Oh, and then they released her from her contract.
(Produced by Keith Stegall, Rivers Rutherford & Jamie O'Neal)
Well, she took her marbles and moved over to a new label... and took some of her songs with her, too. I don't still have my copy of the On My Way To You album, so I can't really remember if the mixes of "Atlantis" and the other songs are still the same or not, but I guess it doesn't really matter, since this album isn't really my cup of tea, anyway. The songs are generally high-concept pop-soul with countryish affectations -- a fiddle here, and banjo plunk there -- and lots of drums, samples and synth riffs in support of O'Neal's flat, half-recited vocals. She's trying to pull a Sara Evans or a Shelby Lynne, but it really isn't working. I can see how she'd have her fans, and they must be ecstatic that her record did finally come out, but I find it rather dreary and robotic. The would-be working girl anthem, "Girlfriends," is particularly blunt and ineffective. I'll pass.
Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers - see Victoria Williams
Honorable mention goes to erstwhile pop star Joan Osborne, who returns to her rootsy roots a little bit, on this country-folk tinged outing. Folks such as Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski drop in to sing some harmony or pick a few licks, and while this doesn't sound like her Bonnie Raitt-ish old stuff, the Americana edge is there in the mix... Maybe a bit more like Rosanne Cash or Beth Nielsen Chapman, perhaps? Overall, this is a little too slickly produced and pop-oriented for me, but fans and adult-alternative listeners will probably dig it.
A synth-laden leftover from '80s-era country production, and an eminently skippable album. Oslin fancies herself a torchy, sexy chanteuse, but the listless rhythm tracks bog these songs down, and the lyrics are pretty belabored and cumbersome. (The songs are mostly written by Oslin herself, although with a couple of odd covers, including a mysteriously listless version of Sylvia & Mickey's "Love Is Strange," a song which originally only existed to be perky and coy.) I'm sure there are Oslin fans out there who dig her stuff... More power to 'em; I just ain't one of them.
Fans complain, perhaps with reason, that this half-this, half-that collection shortchanges Marie's country career, and also doesn't have enough of their (rather dreadful) pop duets on it. I can't say I'm wild about any of their stuff (I still have sweat-drenched, teeth-clenching nightmares of seeing their TV show back in the '70s...) Still, this disc is noteworthy for including the original version of Marie Osmond's huge 1973 Nashville hit, "Paper Roses," which is, arguably, the best thing she's ever done. Heck, even I like it -- in an I'll-never-admit-it, guilty pleasure kind of way.
Ten tracks, collecting her '80s hits and not-so-much-hits for the Curb label. As usual, I find myself surprised at how cheesy and lackluster the Curb production style can be, although overall this seems to be less slapdash than, say, their work for the various Judds albums. Anyway, Marie's OK; basically soft pop, but she fit in with the synthy "country" of the times, and made it into the Top Ten several times. Silly stuff from a real country perspective... especially tracks like "Think With Your Heart," which steals its hook directly from some old Sheena Easton song or another. But hey, what are ya gonna do? Includes a so-so remake of her old 1973 hit, "Paper Roses," in which Marie sounds a bit like Patti Page... but the original was better.
Hillbilly Fillies - Letter "P"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues