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 "T."
San Francisco's reigning mid-1990s alt.country diva, Paula Frazier's approach to the whole "twangcore" equation is much like a softer, more controlled version of Freakwater -- but instead of channelling some speed-crazed version of the Carter Family, Frazier's sound is more like a mix of Patsy Cline and Lee Hazelwood. The slowcore drone winds up being a good foil for her voice, which, despite its ardent devotees, is a somewhat limited instrument. Tarnation is/was an artsy band that made good use of its own strengths and judiciously sidestepped its shortcomings. I always liked their earlier stuff best, where awkwardness was still a virture, and the twang slightly more bouncy. "Game Of Broken Hearts," which opens this album, is still a stunning ballad... as this disc grinds on, though, into more Red House Painter-y terrain, I find my attention starts to wander...
Holly Tashian -- see artist discography
Mary Taylor "Mary Taylor's Very First Album" (Dot, 1971)
(Produced by Joe Allison)
Despite the humiliatingly banal album title, this old LP has some interesting touches, although overall it hints at a sad story. The blonde, beaming Taylor was an early-70s also-ran who sang at county fairs and apparently was a cast member on Hee-Haw -- for one season -- but she also was a talented songwriter and a fine singer. This album seems to have been cobbled together from various studio sessions and what must have originally been demo recordings (the sound quality on the sessions run by Billy Mize is rather muffled, although the rest of the album is not...) On a few tunes, Taylor's heart hardly seems in it, but on others she's perky and quite fun... One track made me laugh out loud: in the middle of a so-so rendition of "Flowers On The Wall," she stops cold and tells the band, "give me an 'A'," then segues into "Hava Nagila," which is as funny as it is absurd. Taylor also apparently wrote "Queen Of The House" (a minor hit for Jody Miller) as well as "The Bridge I Tried To Burn," which is a first-rate country weeper. I'm not sure, but i suspect that Taylor's full story would be rather interesting to hear... And was there ever an album #2?
Apparently Tennison has real working class roots and admirers from within the rootsy end of the country community... I've heard her hailed as a return to the good old days, a rural-voiced throwback to the days of Melba and Dolly, and wil admit that in her rootsier moments, she sounds sort of like Reba McEntire did in her early years. But the arrangements on the opening tracks undercut her claim to the new roots throne; some songs like "Handful Of Water" and "It Ain't So Easy" are quite nice, but the drippy ballads ("I Can Feel You Drifting," "Leave It At That," "Someone Else's Turn To Cry") are absolutely dreadful. Midway between these two points are a few decent Tammy Wynette-ish countrypolitan ditties like "Just Because She Lives There," where she brings the lyrics home with a heartfelt delivery. On the whole, though, even with the rugged, rural voice, Tennison is wa-a-a-ay too popped-up for me. Mostly, this is the same old overproduced Nashville stuff.
Blech! A slow-paced, lethargic, Wynonna-esque set of glossy high-tech weepers packed with swelling synthesizer lead-ins and bombastic, rock-tinged drums and electric guitars. Way too overproduced, monotonously introspective and far too serious. Humorless in the extreme, as a matter of fact -- the most interesting song on here is "Makin' Up With You," about a couple that likes to fight (and have make-up sex afterwards)... This track is followed, figuratively, by "We Don't Have To Pray," about the aftermath of a family splitting apart when the no-good dad hits the highway. (Interesting lyrics but terrible, crashing, clamorous musical backdrop...) I suppose there is an emotional rawness to this album that redeems it, but the music is so overblown I can't stand to listen to it. Not my cup of tea.
Chalee Tennison "Parading In The Rain" (Dreamworks, 2003)
I simply can't find anything nice to say about this record... I don't like her voice, the music is super-generic and prefab, the songs mostly sound alike, and the lyrics are artless and bluntly crafted. I suppose this album is inoffensive in a muzak-y way, but that's about as much praise as I can muster for this one. I don't get her appeal.
Sue Thompson "Greatest Hits" (Curb, 1991)
Even though she was nominally a "country" artist, the squeeky-voiced Sue Thompson was really much more in a teen pop and girl group singer, whose work in the early 1960s skirted the edges of rock'n'roll and pop, very much modeled after Brenda Lee and her highly successful crossover formula. For fans of the style, Thompson's early singles offer a swell "new" set of teenpop tunes outside the usual Brill Building standards by Carole King and her pals. John D. Loudermilk wrote most of these tunes, which were recorded for the independent Hickory label, and they are actually pretty fun to listen to. Not very country, but fun. This disc also includes a few later (early '70s) singles such as "Big Mable Murphy," a uniquely unamusing Dallas Frazier ditty about a big, big woman who constantly beats up her little, little man. (Domestic abuse in reverse... ho, ho, ho. How funny.) Still, a nice, quick 12-song overview of an interesting pop-country career.
Sue Thompson "Golden Classics" (Collectables, 1995)
This disc concentrates more exclusively on Thompson's early 1960s work on the Hickory label, with plenty of great girl-groupish tunes written for her by John D. Loudermilk. The tighter focus, and more generous heaping helping of songs (eighteen total) may make this a better buy for those interested in her pop career.
A far superior collection, highlighting Thompson at her poppy, chirpy best. This collection, an update of an earlier Varese release, really gives a full sense of her career, and has lots of great material on it, including a handful of her '70s duets with crooner Don Gibson. Again, this is better suited for folks more into girl group pop than actual country music, but the Nashville influence is there as well. Recommended!
Nice stuff from the San Francisco folkie contingent. A relaxed set which ranges from backporch acoustic folk-blues to soft-edged cajun waltzes and a bit of old-timey music thrown in for good measure. Not earthshaking, but that's kinda the point.
A nice, soulful offering from fiddler Suzy Thompson, a veteran of bands as diverse as the Any Old Time String Band, The California Cajun Orchestra and the Klezmorim, whose repertoire ranges from old bluegrass and old-time stringband music to acoustic blues and a touch of klezmer and cajun. She's joined here, on her first solo album, by a talented battery of (mostly) SF Bay Area musicians -- the esteemed Mike Seeger, banjoist Bill Evans, Maria & Geoff Muldaur, Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher, Eric Thompson, bassist Steven Strauss and others. It's a nice, understated set, with plenty of fine performances. Recommended.
Following up on her previous solo album from 2004, veteran Bay Area fiddler Suzy Thompson leaves the 'grass behind and sticks to the blues, cutting loose on this fine live set, with pickin' that leans towards the Delta... It's an open-ended love letter to the folkie/blues in-crowd... Thompson has worn many musical hats over the years, but this disc highlights her at her bluesiest, in sort of a Maria Muldaur mode, backed by longtime partner Eric Thompson and the Thompson String Ticklers... Nice rapport with her hometown crowd, too, down at Berkeley, California's fabled folk club, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.
Well, yes, the title track actually is a cover of the old 1970s Doobie Brothers hit... But let's not hold that against them. (It coulda been worse: they could have done "China Grove"! ) Anyhoo, 3 Fox Drive are a swell progressive bluegrass outfit from upstae New York, bulit around the vocal and instrumental work of Kim, Barb and Joel Fox (on guitar, vocals and banjo, respectively...) These Foxes are continuing the legacy of their earlier band, the Fox Family bluegrass band, which put out a couple of albums in the '90s... This is fine music, with strong picking and innovative, yet solidly rootsy, arrangements... I think most contemporary 'grass fans will enjoy this album quite a bit.. There is an occasional sluggishness to their tempo and meter, but overall, this is pretty nice stuff. Folks who like Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis and even Dolly Parton's recent acoustic outings will probably want to check this out.
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "T"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues