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 "S."
Jeannie Seely - see artist discography
A second-string country-pop band that came up during Nashville's pre- and post-Millennial flirtation wth the glitzy production of the "boy band"/Brittney era. These gals were marketed as "country" almost by default, and derided as Dixie Chicks wannabees. Like many of their contemporaries, they dip into soul-style vocals and cluttered, overly-complicated pop arrangements. Nonetheless, the band's bright sound and earnest presentation -- as well as their wholesome image, a product of their Mormon upbringing -- won them a sizeable and devoted fan base. I'm sure there are folks who dig their sound, though for the most part it doesn't do much for me.
A holiday album, with pretty much the same high-gloss production approach as their secular records. For more Christmas music, see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)
SheDaisy "Knock On The Sky" (Lyric Street, 2002)
(Produced by Dan Huff & SHeDAISY)
I read somewhere about how this disc marked a turn towards a more "country" sound, away from the perky teeniebopper pop of their earlier albums... Dunno so much about the "more country" part of that equation, but this is certainly a more mature-sounding album, with the 'Daisy gals tackling social issues and reflecting on their life in the Nashville biz. Musically, this didn't wow me -- not my cup of tea -- but I was intrigued by the lyrical content. Some of it's the same old prefab profundity that's seeped into mainstream country, but some of it stands out as more personal and heartfelt. In particular, I was intrigued by their willingness to take a playful poke at their own core audience -- Christian evangelicals -- in the song "Love Goes On," wherein they roll their eyes at a nosy, Bible-thumping neighbor: "...Mrs. Jones next door is still extreme/Goes on and on about the Bible/What comes around still goes around..." It's not, like, the heaviest social satire ever, but given the current level of spiritual pushiness in this country, it's refreshing for a band known in part as religious role models to acknowledge a little give and take, and to let us know they don't go for the super-uptight, dogmatic version of Christianity. Fans who have been following this band over the last few years should like this album a lot -- it's very "pop," but it's also a record than feels like we're watching the artists growing up, right before our eyes. More power to' em.
Jean Shepard - see artist discography
Well, okay, so maybe she's not exactly a bona-fide "alt.country" artist... But then again, why quibble with labels? Shocked was certainly there when the current "Americana" boom was just getting underway, and I've always thought of her as having a strong, positive influence on its growth. This is an interesting set of informal, live performances by this intelligent, unassuming alt-folkie, made at the start of her career, when she was making the rounds of various "women's music" gatherings. Shocked was particularly cool, though, for opting to emulate Woody Guthrie rather than lesbian folk icons such as Tret Fure or Holly Near, who often tended to be a bit dreary and un-fun. These solo acoustic recording aren't completely electrifying, but they are a nice, unpretentious look at her early work. It's especially charming when you hear some truck whiz by on the freeway while she's crooning out a tune... now, that's authenticity!! The new 2-CD edition expands greatly on the original, single-disc set, and has been re-released on Shocked's own Mighty Sound label.
Michelle Shocked/Various Artists "Arkansas Traveler" (Mighty Sound, 2004)
An expanded, updated reissue of Shocked's 1991 guest-fest extravaganza. She sure scored as far as the cast of thousands she was able to assemble for this far-reaching project... Roots music luminaries such as The Band, Alison Krauss, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, Dan Crary and Norman Blake join old-timers like Pops Staples and Jimmy Driftwood (wow... he was still around??), as well as rock bands like The String Cheese Incident, Hothouse Flowers and Uncle Tupelo... Quite a lineup! The album never really catches fire as far as my ears go, though... Dunno exactly why; their hearts all seemed to be in the right place, but there's not a lot of snap, crackle or pop to the songs themselves.
Jenny Simpson "Jenny Simpson" (Mercury-Nashville, 1998)
(Produced by Garth Fundis & Ray Methvin)
This starts out okay, with a couple of prefab, uptempo girl-powerish singalong twang-tunes, notably the single, "Ticket Out Of Kansas," which might even get you nodding your head and tapping your toes to the chorus. You think, aw, this ain't bad at all, and then it all goes downhill from there. Simpson soon sinks into bland, awkward, overreaching pop arrangements, and the country side of the equation falls away before some rather misguided crossover dreams. Oh, well. It started out kind of fun.
Nancy Sinatra & Mel Tillis "Mel & Nancy" (Elektra, 1981)
Um, yes... it's that Nancy Sinatra, singing duets with lanky honkytonk veteran Mel Tillis... And it's a pretty scary record, even though there were a couple of minor hits on it. She's, well, passable when they keep the material uptempo, in a sort of sub-Loretta Lynn way, but the slower songs are pretty painful. The same is true with Mel, but less so -- he's good, but given to cheesy excess. Plus the upbeat/novelty numbers aren't really strong enough to make up for the schmaltz... The football-themed "Play Me Or Trade Me" is a nice idea, but kind of a clunker, and the ballads are sheer torture. This one you can skip.
Margie Singleton & George Jones "Duets -- Country Style" (Mercury, 1962)
Margie Singleton "Crying Time" (United Artists, 1965)
(Produced by Kelso Herston)
The first solo album by 'Sixties also-ran Margie Singleton, a Louisiana gal who was once married to label head/music promoter Shelby Singleton... She's best remembered as a duets singer; her album with George Jones is a little-known gem, while later duets with Faron Young, particularly the lively "Keeping Up With The Joneses" flung her towards the top of the charts. Considering the rural, hillbilly charm of those early recordings, this album is a bit of a letdown. I like her voice, but the soft arrangements and slow tempo holds her back and frames her as a somewhat mannered ballad singer, rarely letting her personality come through. Still, it's worth checking out, particularly as Ms. Singleton, a successful songwriter, composed about half the songs on here.
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "S"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues