Welcome to my "Hillbilly Fillies" section, a quick look at the many women who've made all kinds of country music sound so great... Maybe back in the old days, there weren't many women country music stars, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge and there sure are a slew of them now... From the craggiest backwoods bluegrassers to the slickest gals in Nashville today... Here's a look at some of the finest gals in the hillbilly history...
Tina Adair "Just You Wait And See" (Sugar Hill, 1997)
(Produced by Jerry Douglas)
A nice mix of solid bluegrass picking and the mellow, romantic crossover material favored by fans of Alison Krauss, et al. The comparison is both inevitable, and warranted, as the teen age Adair is produced on her debut by Jerry Douglas, and backed up by slick newgrass "usual suspects" such as Douglas, Alan O'Bryant, Aubrey Haynie and Chris Thile... Yet despite the tilt towards the predictable, Adair has a certain flair and distinctive, charismatic aura to her. PLus, she chooses some interesting material... Sure, there's a limp version of Poco's '70s soft-rock oldie, "Crazy Love," but there's also a Sandy Denny cover (!) and a sizzler or two such as "My Time To Go," originally by Molly O'Day. Sometimes her vocals and the arrangements drag a bit, but overall, this is pretty good. Wonder whatever happened to this gal...!
Kay Adams -- see artist discography
Lauren Alaina "Wildflower" (Mercury Nashville, 2011)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore)
Absolutely dreadful, and completely phony. The debut album by (yet another) American Idol contestant... She's one of those dreadfully unsubtle Idol singers, wailing away inside some impenetrable fortress of studio-generated wall-of-sound production, a soulless mound of pop-hook cliches, with no margin of error or room for genuine feeling. Bleah. It's an approximation of better music -- Sheryl Crow, etc. -- but so perfectly crafted and unoriginal it's really rather disheartening. How many of these records can they make? And why?
Barbara Alan "In Nashville" (Mid Land Records, 1978) (LP)
(Produced by William Lee & Jack Logan)
A lounge singer from Saint Louis, Missouri, Barbara Alan was the runner-up in a talent contest sponsored by the Grand Ole Opry as part of its fiftieth anniversary celebrations. I guess that's kinda like playing horseshoes, though, 'cause a couple of years later, she was still playing the bar at the Best Western Inn. But what the heck? She was still a working musician, and she got to make an album in Nashville, with Buddy Emmons playing steel and Phil Baugh playing guitar. The song selection is pretty sweet and heavy on the hillbilly: a couple of tunes by Eddie Miller, one by Wayne P. Walker, another by Harlan Howard and a couple of standards for good measure (Gershwin, Irving Berlin). So who even cares who came in first??
Ava Aldridge "Frustrated Housewife" (MGM, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by George Soule)
Like a lot of folks in the Muscle Shoals scene, singer Ava Aldridge sat on the ledge, with country on one side, and soul on the other... This is really probably more of a "pop" album, but there's a twangy undercurrent, to be sure. Aldridge worked extensively as a backup singer for a wide range of artists -- including Greg Allman, Patti Austin, Jim Dickinson, Levon Helm and Hank Williams, Jr. -- and obviously had deep connections to both country and Southern rock. She was also a successful songwriter, with perhaps her best known song being "Sharing the Night Together," which was a Top Ten hit for Dr. Hook. This was her first and (I think) only solo album, packed with original material...
Daniele Alexander "First Move" (Mercury, 1989)
Daniele Alexander "I Dream In Color" (Mercury, 1991)
(Produced by Harold Shedd)
Susie Allanson "Don't Say You're Mine" (ABC, 1976) (LP)
Yikes. I mean, I guess the music's okay, but she has kind of a scary, not-that-great and somewhat irritating voice... it's amazing she had as much success on the Country charts as she did in the late '70s. Halfway through this album, I realized she had a sort of Vegas-y showtunes vibe going on, and sure enough: Allanson's previous triumphs came as a cast member of "Hair" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." It's worth noting that none of the songs on this particular album (which is kind of a trainwreck) had any chart success; maybe when she switched labels (and presumably producers), the folks over at Curb had more success getting her to shed some of the brassy Broadway affectations and learn a style more appropriate to actual country music. I dunno: when I find out, though, I'll let you know.
Susie Allanson "A Little Love" (MCA, 1977) (LP)
Susie Allanson "We Belong Together" (Warner/Curb, 1978) (LP)
Susie Allanson "Heart To Heart" (Elektra/Curb, 1979) (LP)
Susie Allanson "Susie" (United Artists, 1980) (LP)
Deborah Allen "Anthology" (Renaissance, 1998)
Her initial chart entries were "duets" with countrypolitan crooner Jim Reeves, whose death in 1964 didn't prevent the RCA label from releasing singles for decades to come. A trio of these tunes kicks off this disc, with Allen's Parton-esque vocals engulfed by a barrage of slightly piercing (and entirely egregious) string arrangements. She swiftly emerged as a solo singer, at her best fronting perky synthabilly hits like "I've Been Wrong Before" and a whole host of drippier Flashdance-y followups. This is a pretty comprehensive retrospective of her work on RCA, Capitol, and the Giant imprint... Maybe not the greatest hick music ever, but her fans will be thrilled to track this disc down...
Deborah Allen "Anthology" (Curb, 2000)
(Produced by Deborah Allen & Bobby Braddock)
Re-recorded versions of some of her old ballads... If you want the originals, you'll need to look elsewhere, but if you want to hear what Allen sounded like a little later on, then check this one out.
Deborah Allen "Delta Dreamland" (Giant, 1993)
Deborah Allen "All That I Am" (1994)
Deborah Allen "The Best Of Deborah Allen" (Curb, 2000)
Judy Allen "Especially For You" (Stop, 1972) (LP)
One of those lost, orphan albums of the early '70s... Ms. Allen actually had her chart hits a little later on, in 1978, with a brief mid-1970s stint on Polydor, but apparently those Back Forty singles weren't enough to persuade the label to put out a full album of her work... Perhaps someday she'll get a full retrospective set, combining these songs with the later stuff? Maybe... who knows?
Rosalie Allen -- see artist discography
Elizabeth Ames & The Countrypolitans "Anytime" (Ultrapolitan, 2007)
(Produced by Lloyd Maines & Elizabeth Ames)
This California-based artist brews up a mix of Neko Case-like twang, Bobbie Gentry-ish sunshine-countrypolitan and contemplative Rosanne Cash-y moping, anchored by some solid honkytonk picking. Didn't totally resonate for me -- a little too poetic for my tastes, and not enough clear melodic hooks. But it's solid stuff, certainly worth checking out.
Betty Amos "Yesterday's Sweetheart:" (BACM, 2009)
Alana Amram & The Rough Gems "Painted Lady" (Kingswood, 2010)
Alana Amram & The Rough Gems "Snow Shadows: Songs Of Vince Martin" (Kingswood, 2011)
(Produced by Mark Sebastian & Jesse Lauter)
A folkie/country set from the daughter of classical/jazz composer and Beat scenester David Amram... This album is a tribute to 1960s folkie Vince Martin, who was in the Tarriers band and also recorded with Fred Neil in the early '60s. Worth checking out if you're into introspective folk music and chamber folk/country crossovers. (For more info, here's a link to her website: alanaamram.com)
Connie Kis Andersen "Connie Kis" (Kismana, 2011)
(Produced by Doug Wayne)
Independently released mainstream-ish country from an Australian songwriter, with a mix of uptempo singalong songs ("Turn It Up") and several slower, poppy ballads, as well as a touch of inspirational music ("Angels All Around Us," "Pearls For The World"). A solid set, though with the perceptible lack of studio-perfect bombast that you sometimes hear in records by regular folks who try to emulate the Nashville sound. I'm not wild about her vocals, but she seems like a solid, craftsmanlike songwriter...
Liz Anderson -- see artist discography
Lynn Anderson -- see artist discography
Jessica Andrews "Heart Shaped World" (Dreamworks, 1999)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore)
Jessica Andrews "Who I Am" (Dreamworks, 2000)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore)
Jessica Andrews "Now" (Dreamworks, 2003)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore, James Stroud & Billy Mann)
Sheila Andrews "Love Me Like A Woman" (Ovation, 1979) (LP)
(Produced by Brien Fisher)
Things never completely clicked for Sheila Andrews -- she had a handful of chart entries between 1978-80, but no hits big enough to break her into the big time. It might have just been because she was on an indie label that didn't have enough juice to promote all its artists, or maybe her throaty, soul-tinged vocals were a little too far ahead of the curve -- she sounds a lot like Ashley Judd, K. T. Oslin and Lacy J. Dalton, '80s gals who took over the Top 40 with a mix of slick production and rootsy singing, but several years after Andrews took her shot. Anyway, this debut disc includes her first three chart songs, including the mildly scandalous "Too Fast For Rapid City" and "What I Had With You," a nice duet with Joe Sun. This is probably too glossy for most traditionally-oriented twangfans, but worth checking out if you're into the early '80s country sound.
Sheila Andrews "Lovesick" (Ovation, 1980) (LP)
Sheila Andrews "Crystal Tears" (Brylen, 1982) (LP)
Angel Band "With Roots And Wings" (Appleseed, 2008)
(Produced by Lloyd Maines)
A heartfelt, folkie effort from some gals who've recently been backing up the great acoustic bluesman, David Bromberg (who is also lead singer Nancy Josephson's happy hubby, and who plays in the backing band, along with producer Lloyd Maines.) These three-part, fine female harmonies are sung with gusto, and while I personally find the group too firmly anchored in the coffeehouse folk scene, people who are more tapped into that sound might really dig this.
Lisa Angelle "Lisa Angelle" (Dreamworks, 2000)
(Produced by Andrew Gold & Lisa Angelle)
Extremely pop-oriented material; Angelle's voice is the most interesting thing here, a husky, burnished rumble that reminds me of Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter. But the songs are dreadful, ranging from made-for-Oprah emotional handwringing tunes to dramatically flat, would-be "rowdy" material such as the "Daddy's Gun" and "Kiss This." The bouncy, uptempo single, "I Wear Your Love," is okay in a "Passionate Kisses" kinda way, but there's nothing else on the album that I found of equal interest.
Susan Anton "One Night" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
Any Old Time String Band "Any Old Time String Band" (Bay/Arhoolie, 1978, 1980)
This San Francisco Bay Area ensemble was one of the most charming -- and accomplished -- of the late -'70s string band revivalists. The 1996 CD reissue combines two LPs originally released in 1978 and 1980, and features their lovely version of the melodic oldie, "C-U-B-A," originally a hit for Billy Murray in 1920. The lineup changed between albums, but Kate Brislin and Sue Draheim were core members of the band, along with Genny Haley on guitar... and their sense of "old-time" music, including old-time jazz and Tin Pan Alley material, was right on the button. Very sweet and highly recommended.
Any Old Time "Ladies' Choice" (Bay Records, 1983) (LP)
Katie Armiger "Katie Armiger" (Cold River, 2007)
Jennie Arnau "Mt. Pleasant" (Self-Released, 2006)
Jennie Arnau "Chasing Giants" (Self-Released, 2009)
(Produced by Trina Shoemaker & Jennie Arnau)
Although there are definite elements of bluegrass and country twang, most of this album lies too far in the "folk" field for me... But some subtle banjo plucking (by Noam Pikelny) and gorgeous pedal steel riffs (courtesy of Rich Hinman) creep in on several songs, and these are alluring moments. The songs are all originals, and there seems to be a Christian/religious subtext running through the album that it took me a while to pick up on... The song that really stuck out for me was "Safe Tonight," though others might find more material here to please them, particularly fans of Jolie Holland, Abigail Washburn, et. al.
Susan Anton "One Night" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
A late-career live album for singer-actress Susan Anton, who is perhaps best remembered for her 1980 pop/country hit. "Killin' Time," a duet with Fred Knoblock. Oh, and for being on Baywatch for a couple of years... and for dating Dudley Moore. (Wikipedia, I love you...!)
Suzi Arden "The Suzi Arden Show Live At the Mint Hotel" (Mint, 1977) (LP)
Apparently originally from Colorado, Ms. Arden cut a couple of singles in Nashville and LA, and is best remembered for this live LP, recorded in Vegas in the '70s... Anyone have more info about this gal?
Charline Arthur "Welcome To The Party" (Bear Family, 1998)
A stellar collection of ultra-rare oldies by one of hard country's most elusive figures. Brassy, loudmouthed and a snarly, dynamic singer, Arthur demolished the traditional role of the passive, ladylike country "girl" singer. Back in the early '50s, when all the other gals were demurely performing in Kitty Wells-style gingham dresses, Arthur was wearing slacks, smoking cigarettes, and cussing Chet Atkins out in the RCA recording booth. It was probably the last habit that had the most to do with her swift fall from grace -- Arthur was dumped from the label in 1956, after having plugged away for several years without much commercial success. Admittedly, Arthur's bluesy, occasionally raunchy style was at odds with the expectations of the times, but it's a tragedy she wasn't allowed to grow as an artist -- her vocals and approach certainly prefigured the work of bluesy country/pop stylists like Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee, and (of course...) the rockabilly bop of Wanda Jackson. Notably, the singer whose voice most resembles Arthur is Skeeter Davis, who Atkins did succeed in taming -- you can hear similar attempts to soften and Nashville-ize Arthur's vocals throughout this disc. But uptempo or slowed down, Charline Arthur was a force to be reckoned with, and this CD should send a quiver through the hard country community -- check it out!
Charline Arthur "Burn That Candle" (Bear Family, 2009) (LP)
Charline Arthur/Various Artists "THE GALS OF THE BIG "D" JAMBOREE" (Dragon Street, 2001)
Fans of Charline Arthur will be psyched to hear these lives tracks, recorded onstage at the legendary Big "D" Jamboree, one of the Grand Ole Opry's old competitors... Also included are songs by Sherry Davis, Doreen Freeman, Helen Hall, The Lovett Sisters (...any relation to Lyle...?), Abbie Neal, Pat Smith and rockabilly legends Janis Martin and Wanda Jackson. Whew!!
Susan Ashton "Closer" (Capitol, 1999)
Hmmm. A contemporary Christian singer's big bid for commerical country success, after a decade-long career as a star at the top of her original niche market. Her bright, poppy sound, courtesy of veteran producer Emory Gordy, Jr., has a pleasantly dated sound, but her evangelical Christian reputation may have held her back in the charts. Most of these songs are romantically themed and secular, although the single, "Faith Of The Heart," was a bit preachy. Not bad, but not strong enough to break away from her old scene, and not religious enough to please her old fans.
Darlene Austin "In And Out Of Love" (Music Masters, 1986) (LP)
(Produced by Harry Shields & Dennis Ritchie)
A double LP from an aspiring Top 40 hopeful... Ms. Austin was originally a farm girl from Salina, Kansas who left home straight out of high school and headed for Nashville, where she made some ripples on radio and TV, and worked as a staff writer for some of Nashville's professional publishing companies, and was a regular on the Ralph Emery show. She eventually hit the charts in the early '80s, but her handful of singles were all strictly Back Forty material. This album was recorded in Nashville (with session players such as Jerry Shook on lead guitar, Sonny Garrish playing steel and the Cates SIsters singing backup) but was released on a label located in Charlotte, North Carolina, which may explain why it's not part of her chart success. Mostly this is an album of countrypolitan cover tunes, though Darlene Austin co-wrote one song, "Through Your Eyes," and producer Harry Shields contributed one called "Surround Yoursef In Love," with a few other tracks that were probably originals as well. The repertoire is quite diverse, with hits like "Rose Garden," "Stand By Your Man" and "Loving Him Was Easier" alongside songs by writers as varied as Burt Bacharach, Leon Payne Tony Joe White, and even one from women's music icon Holly Near(!) An interesting glimpse at the '80s Nashville sound, just below the upper tiers.
Darlene Austin "Holding On" (South West, 2000)
Blech. I'm not sure but I think this is a collection of her mid-1980s singles (all minor ripples in the Back Forty...) but I suppose some of these songs could be re-recordings. Either way... bleh. Austin's more of a husky-voiced white soul sister than a true-blue country gal, a kindred spirit to Wynonna Judd and Anita Baker, with lots of bland keyboards and drum machines and very little twang. You're not missing much with this one.
Kay Austin "The Hit Kit" (Corral Records) (LP)
Sherrie Austin "Words" (Arista, 1997)
At first glance, the chirpy, vivacious Austin seems like a breath of fresh air, but the thrill doesn't last. Her debut album opens with a twisting, Tanya Tucker-ish rebel-rock snarl ("Lucky In Love"), a mood that's somewhat sustained on the next track... And then it all goes to pot when the overly-obvious, issue-y, femme-oriented ballads kick in. Too many of those, and too many useless, distracting production touches slathered atop the uptempo tunes, which is where Austin may be at her best. Of her albums, this is probably the best, but still there's nothing on here that I'd need to come back to.
Sherrie Austin "Love In The Real World" (Arista, 1999)
Austin has a reedy, thin voice, which I guess could pass for a young Tanya Tucker or Rachel Sweet, if it weren't for her lack of ooompf in the clinch, and the generic sexy/come-on quality of the lyrics. The phony virginal lure of "Never Been Kissed" is kinda icky (and the song is really just teenieboppish bubblegum pop, worthy of Debbie Gibson, Pebbles and their ilk... ) Even a song like "Little Bird," which starts off with a promising Texas shuffle backbeat, devolves into hackneyed, blaring rock guitar riffs. And then those damn power ballads kick in! (Including one recycled from the last album... yeesh.) Austin's marginally cute, but definitely a second stringer.
Sherrie Austin "Followin' A Feelin' " (Madacy, 2001)
This disc opens with a bland cover of Dolly Parton's classic, "Jolene," then slides sideways from there. When Austin just sings, it's okay, but as soon as the songs get high-concept or take on an overly-obvious "common touch" (playing up to the harried, late-for-the-bus, working class hero inside us all...) things get kinda yawnsville. For the most part, this album just seems overly intellectualized, overly calculated and tres formulaic. Songs like "In Our Own Sweet Time" and "Back Where I Belong" function okay as glitzy '80s-ish pop, but as country...? Nope. I can't think of a single song on here, really, that caught my sincere interest.
Sherrie Austin "Streets Of Heaven" (Broken Bow, 2003)
The title track -- a shameless weeper about a little girl dying and going to heaven -- is the album's highlight. The rest of this album is pretty vapid... Embarassingly so, actually. It's like hearing the daily diary of some would-be poet in junior high put to music, with appallingly blunt, simplistic lyrics and lame turns of phrase that I'm sure she thought were the bee's knees when she first wrote 'em. And, yes, Austin (co)wrote all but one of the songs on here. So she's prolific... good for her. Too bad she's not also a little more skillful. Poppy, formulaic rock-drenched Nashville nothingness.
Axton Kincaid "Axton Kincaid" (EP) (Luster Music, 2006)
Nice, down-to-earth, twangy alt-country with a bluegrassy feel, sort of like Jim & Jennie or Freakwater -- a little more settled-down and conventional, but no less enthusiastic or lively. Nice set of original tunes, mostly written by San Francisco-based singer-guitarist Kate Howser, kicking off with a catchy honkytonk/old-timey ditty, "Who's Gonna Pour My Whiskey When You're Gone?" that sets a great pace for the rest of the record. Good, solid band with a nice grasp of country music's soulful, non-novelty side... I'm always in favor of folks who take it seriously and get things right. Lookin' forward to more from these folks! (For more info, check out the band's website at www.lustermusic.com )
Axton Kincaid "Songs From The Pine Room" (Free Dirt, 2006)
The first full-length release from this gritty San Francisco alt-grass outfit reprises some of the songs from their earlier EP, notably "Who's Gonna Pour My Whiskey When You're Gone?", a catchy mix of honkytonk and old-timey stringband stomp, and the evocative drinkin'-and-thinkin' tune, "Red Light." The group handily fits into the contemporary altbilly scene, with a particular affinity for all those folks from the Midwest who know what it's like to drink too much, too often and really not give a damn. Freakwater and Scrawl come to mind right off the bat, but maybe that's just because the main vocalists are gals, but also because the lyrics are very downer-iffic and express a distinctly female perspective, albeit one that's rather grungey, raw, urban and hip. The remnants of the band's rock'n'roll past are readily evident, both thematically and musically -- mandolin picker Jennifer Daunt takes several searching, improvvy solos that have that choppy, rockin' feel to 'em, but while she lacks the technical rigor and formalism of mainstream bluegrassers, she makes up for it by sounding like a real, live human being, rather than just another hotshot superpicker. Flaws are one of the things that help define this band -- songwriter Kate Howser paints portraits that are often desolate and unfulfilled, but also joyful and unrepentant, a mixture of moods that is reflected in the music. In true DIY spirit, the imperfections are there, but they help you notice the sparkle of the gem underneath. (For more info, see axtonkincaid.com )
Axton Kincaid "Silver Dollars" (Free Dirt, 2008)
(Produced by Axton Kincaid & Bart Thurber)
Scrappy alt-country from the San Francisco Bay Area... Led by singer-guitarist Kate Howser, this scruffy band gallops through lively original material, rollicking songs with a wry confessional edge and a sincere appreciation for old-school honkytonk country. Just how sincere is seen in the album's closer, "I Don't Need To Wear A Hat (To Prove I'm Country)," an ardent anthem for the urban indiebilly scene... On "The Saddest Story," the band lets its rock roots show, not in loud guitar solos, but in the confident embrace of a melodic power-pop undercurrent, and, as ever, there are some finely-observed verses about drinking and flirting, big city style, sung here with perhaps a slightly lighter heart tan on their earlier album. Pretty twangy.
Hillbilly Fillies - Letter "B"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues