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 "R."
Tina Rainford "Silver Bird" (Epic, 1977)
(Produced by Sonny Limbo, Marty Buckins & Drafi Deutscher)
Only marginally country (or marginally successful...) German songwriter Tina Rainford scored a Top 30 hit with the title track, and then dropped out of sight, at least as a recording artist. Several of her songs were recorded by other artists in the 1970s, but her solo career never really took off. You can kind of see why -- this album sounds more like Olivia Newton-John than Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn, and the production is vaguely disco-y and 'Seventies-style scary. Then again, once you realize she wasn't a native English speaker, her American accent is pretty impressive. You can skip this album, though.
Bonnie Raitt - see artist discography
A fun, swinging set from this lively all-gal band. Fiddler Barbara Lamb and singer Jo Miller are the best known members of this short-lived Seattle quartet; Lamb went on to do studio work in Nashville and has released a few progressive bluegrass albums as a solo artist, while Jo Miller has been solo ever since Ranch Romance broke up in the 1990s. Here on their debut, they were a force to be reckoned with, updating Patsy Montana's cowgirl swing, with a mix of bouncy hillbilly bop, western swing and some sweet sentimental tunes, all filtered through a distinctly un-grungey rock sensibility... The choice of material is faultless, with a couple of swinged-up Hank Williams covers, some old-fashioned cowboy tunes, a pair of W.C. Handy blues standards and a pair of sublime ballads -- Otis Watkins' "Cowboys & Indians" and the achingly beautiful "Ain't No Ash Will Burn," which Miller later recorded along with Laura Love. This is a fine record, a self-released gem well worth searching for!
Ranch Romance "Blue Blazes" (Sugar Hill, 1993)
The band's mix of twang and swing takes a tilt towards the hyperactive... There's a definite nod towards Dan Hicks, and his mix of retro styles, but unfortunately, the mood is way too manic on this album -- there's never a moment's pause for listeners to catch their breath, or a quiet moment for any of the songs to sink in beyond the surface level. Guess they were trying to establish their bona fides as a funky-twang party band, but I wish they'd reined it in a little. Also, I can't say I'm wild about Jo Miller's vocals, either... But hey -- is that a boy in the band?? Why, yes, it is! David Keenan pitches in on a slick (but again, overly forceful) guitar... He even sings lead on one song! Producer Tim O'Brien also sits in on a couple of tunes; and Barbara Lamb's fiddle work is a highlight... Overall, though, not much that resonates with me.
Rattlesnake Annie (Anne McGowan) "Rattlesnakes And Rusty Water" (Rattlesnake, 1980)
A self-produced album by Anne McGowan (aka Rattlesnake Annie), onetime running partner with Willie Nelson, back in the day... This is a pretty stripped-down and unpretentious, bluesy set, as much influenced by Jimmie Rogers and the '60s folkies as by more modern country types. Not mindblowing, but kind of an interesting footnote to the whole "outlaw" scene... Sorta similar to Townes Van Zandt, I suppose. After recording this disc, McGowan set up shop as a "true country" heroine for the adoring twangfans in Europe; it could be argued that country listeners back here in the States were a little more discerning.
Rattlesnake Annie "Country Livin' " (1986)
Rattlesnake Annie "Rattlesnake Annie" (CBS, 1987)
(Produced by Buddy Blackmon & Rattlesnake Annie)
An all-star cast backs McGowan on this sleek major-label offering... Recorded both at Willie Nelson's maverick Pedernales Recording Studio and at several Nashville locales, this disc reprises a couple of the tracks on her independently released Country Livin' album, with Willie himself dueting on "Long Black Limosine" and folks like Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas, Johnny Gimble, Lonnie Mach and Charlie McCoy pitching in to buoy Annie's vocals. It's an iffy triumph of DIY indie-osity: the material is good, but her limitations as a vocalist are inescapable. Worth checking out, I suppose, though it didn't wow me.
A versatile, appealing singer, Susan Raye hailed from Eugene, Oregon, where she had built up a solid career as a regional performer during the late 1960s... She was plucked out of her local scene by country superstar Buck Owens when he was touring the Pacific Northwest, and became his duets partner and protege of the early 'Seventies, and was a regular on the Hee Haw TV show. She consistently charted in the Top 20 for several years, generally projecting a softer, lowkey countrypolitan image, yet she also worked well as an able foil for Owens's goofier upbeat material. While she could legitimately be characterized as a "girl" singer and a lesser light of the times, Raye had an underlying rural sensibility, a true "countryness" that seeps through even the more ornate material and that makes her work appealing even today. She was also able to put her own individual stamp on Owens's material, despite his decisively dominant influence on her career. This collection is a fair representation of her solo work, understandably focussing on the hits, although at times to the exclusion of some fine material that never made the charts. Unfortunately this doesn't also include any of the Owens-Raye duets, which were a big part of her success story, and none of the staright reissues of Buck's work seems to reissue any of that material either. Anyway, this is good stuff from the mellow early 'Seventies... It probably won't knock your socks off, but if you're checkin' the country gals out, you'll want to make sure you pick this collection up along the way.
Susan Raye "One Night Stand" (Capitol, 1970)
(Produced by Ken Nelson)
Raye's first solo album featured a predictable preponderance of material written by Buck Owens... It's interesting to hear him try and write for another artist; the Owens charm doesn't always come through and there are moments both awkward and engaging. Some of the fast songs are fun, others sound clunky, ditto with the slower material. Owens seems to have some trouble translating his pop music savvy into another person's voice, and the countrypolitanesque material seems particularly flat. Then again, it's nice to hear a real backbeat, particularly a little bit of the old Texas shuffle, in any mainstream country record that came out around this time. (And her cover of "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" is kind of fun...) In commercial terms, this disc was kind of a warmup act, with a couple of moderate hits... Raye's career would really get cooking right after this...
Susan Raye "Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That" (Capitol, 1975)
(Produced by Jim Shaw & Buck Owens)
A collection of her later work from 1973-75, this includes her last Top Ten chart hit, "Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That."
Well, I guess this is probably the one record most likely to cement my reputation as a too-serious country music curmudgeon. Red Meat are Oakland, California's premiere honkytonk novelty band, and while most folks love these guys, I find this first album to be a big disappointment, particularly since I'm such a big fan of one of the main Meat grinders, bassist and harmony singer Jill Olson. Mostly, I just don't like the endless novelty-songiness of it all, in particular the low-key redneck/trailer trash stereotypes, which aren't as vulgar here as most twangcore albums, but still drag the material down. Great picking and playing, but the songs don't have enough of an emotional core to reach me as a listener.
Again, the band's musical skill is readily apparent, but both the playing and the songwriting seem too broadly drawn, and too into kitschy novelty-isms (chicken pickin' rhythms galore, twangy songs about S&M, job layoffs and going on the wagon...) Produced by Dave Alvin, the record sounds clean as a whistle, and the instruments are all given room to breathe. It's not bad, by any means, but thematically speaking, it does seem to under-utilize depth that the band actually has at its disposal.
On another outing with Dave Alvin, the Meaties decide to emphasize their musical chops a bit more, with plenty of solidly delivered, fat-toned Buck Owens riffs -- less twang, more rhythm, producing what I think is their strongest album to date. This album emphasizes the band's considerable musical chops, with plenty of solidly delivered, fat-toned Buck Owens riffs -- less twang, more rhythm. Also, the lyrical attack is less overtly novelty oriented than on previous albums, which tended to bog down in exaggerated humor and WTS gags. There are still several funny songs, like Scott Young's genuinely hilarious car repair ballad, "Under The Wrench", but here the goal is more one of humorous wordplay, rather than rigorously enforced dopiness. There are also some timely tunes, such as Jill Olson's "Midwest Blues", and the title track, "Alameda County Line", which both reflect a growing local sense of disillusionment with a Bay Area that's shifted from a haven of alternative culture into a traffic-jammed, wildly overpriced consumerist war zone. The album also features a couple of nice live tracks, tucked away at the end of the CD, that highlight the band's charming live presence. Plus, what a treat to hear Jill Olson singing lead once again! Recommended! (Check out the band's website for more info.)
Ginger and Grant Boatwright originally hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, but when they moved up North to join the folk scene in Chicago, they morphed into RW&BG, one of the most experimental and commercially successful of the progressive 'grass bands in the early '70s. Their first album featured stellar picking by banjoist Dale Whitcomb and multi-instrumental whiz kid Norman Blake, who contributed plenty of hot licks and some sweet original songs as well, including his own "Ginseng Sullivan" (later recorded, in a much more satisfying version, by guitarist Tony Rice). Along with a few dazzling instrumentals, the album's musical highlight is a perky rendition of John Stewart's classic, "July, You're A Woman." More controversial were the band's stabs at a grass-classical fusion, heard in the oceanic orchestral prelude to the otherwise rootsy "Linda Ann," which features some fine vocals by Blake (despite an overall goopiness which makes the song seem a bit sluggish...) The CD reissue (also called Guaranteed) includes several bonus tracks which are listed as "previously unreleased," although I'm pretty sure I remember some of them, such as their lavish rendition of Stephen Stills' "Love The One You're With" coming from the band's second album, which I also owned as a kid... This album has its odd moments, but is definitely an honest document of its time, and has a lot of real charm to it.
Looking at the flashy album art, I thought, "oh jeez -- it's another Shania Twain wannabee..." but was pleasantly surprised to hear the disc's opening salvo of upbeat, semi-rowdy, rompy-stompy tunes like "Trouble Is A Woman" and "Party Down," songs that stand out like chunks of Kentucky coal amid the increasingly glossy pop fare that was passing for "country" in Nashville at the time. She's got a Tanya Tucker/Trick Pony rocker-gal thing going on, and for the most part it works pretty well. I mean, this isn't my kinda music -- I wouldn't put it on for fun at home -- but I'd still rather hear twangy stuff like this on the radio than pretty much anything Martina McBride or Garth Brooks has to offer. Midway through, Reeves changes focus and slows down to croon a few ballads, and again, while it's not completely perfect honkytonk heaven, it's still way better than average. Pity Reeves hasn't made an album since this one: she was clearly one of the most promising new artists of her day. (And, no, as far as I can tell, she was not related to Jim Reeves...)
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "R"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues