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."
Sami Jo "It Could Have Been Me" (MGM South, 1974) (LP)
Sami Jo "Sami Jo" (MGM South, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by Jimmy Bowen)
The last album from this promising '70s singer. Sami Jo was apparently caught up in a bunch of label mergers, and despite moderate success on the charts, she wound up getting dropped in the late '70s... Maybe it's just as well, since this record was kind of awful. The first side has a bunch of overblown, heavily orchestrated countrypolitan soul songs, while Side Two veers off into country-disco territory. To be fair, Sami Jo may have been ahead of her time: she came out of the Muscle Shoals studio scene that generated a lot of white R&B and Southern Rock hits in the '70s, though her career steered towards a softer countrypolitan sound. Later on, this type of white-girl soul-sister material would top the charts in the hands of artists such as Reba McEntire, KT Oslin and Wynona Judd -- I'm not a fan, but I can see where this was coming from, and if you're into the style, this is probably a record you'd want to check out.
Les Sampou "Sweet Perfume" (1993)
Les Sampou "Fall From Grace" (1996)
Les Sampou "Les Sampou" (1999)
Les Sampou "Borrowed And Blue" (2001)
Les Sampou "Lonesomeville" (Self-Released, 2010)
(Produced by Les Sampou, David Ogden & Andy Plaisted)
A sweet, twangy set with deep blues roots... There are echoes of Delbert McClinton, Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt and various other roots-music heroes, amid a strong set of original material. Ms. Sampou might be living in Lonesomeville, but she originally hails from Connecticut... and for a Yankee, she does a nice job getting greasy and gritty... Best on the uptempo numbers, with some nice David Lindley-esque slide guitar. Worth a spin!
Crystal Sands "Crystal Sands" (Ah-Ha, 2008)
Crystal Sands "Hard Times" (2009)
Sarah "Sarah" (Hub Records, 1987) (LP)
Sarah "Sarah Too" (Hub Records, 1988) (LP)
Ann Savoy & Linda Ronstadt "Adieu False Heart" (Vanguard, 2006)
Going by the name of "the Zozo Sisters," country-rock doyenne Linda Ronstadt and cajun chanteuse Ann Savoy resume the partnership that sparkled and shone on the Evangeline Made compilation a few years back. This is a sweet set of uniformly lovely tunes, some more cajun than others, but all featuring gentle acoustic backing and wonderful vocal harmonies. Old-timey picker Dirk Powell lends his talent to the mix, as do a Balfa and Broussard or two, and the cream of the bluegrass studio crew... There's not much variety in the tempo or tone, but if pretty music is what you're looking for, this disc would be hard to beat.
Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights "If Dreams Come True" (Memphis International, 2007)
Having long since secured her place in the firmament of the modern cajun revival, Ann Savoy is steadily shoring up her bona fides as one of the finer, most confident vocalists in the roots music ouvre. On this elegant outing, she sings swing with a lighthearted authority, her command of jazz timing and old-school pop sensibility coming through loud and clear... There's a smattering of French in the song titles, but it comes from the other side of the Atlantic -- from the work of Django Reinhardt and Georges Ulmer -- and the swampy side of her sensibility is largely left behind. Crooning her way through standards by Joe Burke, Benny Goodman, Rogers & Hart, Ray Noble and Dorothy Fields, Savoy makes all that old jazz sound new and fresh, a joyful expression of her own inner muse, and not just another retro-torch run-through. It's quite a lovely record... If you've enjoyed her recent collaborations with Linda Ronstadt, et. al., you should love this album as well!
Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights "Black Coffee" (Memphis, 2010)
(Produced by Joel Savoy & Ann Savoy)
A heavy-hitter in the cajun music revival, in recent years Ms. Savoy has turned her attention to jazz, blues and swing, and this swell set picks up where her last record, If Dreams Come True left off, with another set of brisk, joyful acoustic jazz. She's probably best on the uptempo numbers (such as the snappy gypsy-jazz version of "I Cried For You,") but even on the ballads she sings with such conviction and a feeling of fun that you can't help but be drawn in. Her accompanists are in a similarly cheerful mode, and although this is a compact little quintet, they sure to make a big, big sound. A swell set of jazz and swing oldies, with a few French chanson classics thrown in as well. Fun stuff!
Martha Scanlan "The West Was Burning" (Sugar Hill, 2007)
Eloise Schwarz & Tracy Schwarz "Down Home With..." (Folkways, 1978)
Becky Schlegel "Dandelion" (Lilly Ray, 2010)
(Produced by Becky Schlegel & Brian Fesler)
A diverse, folk/alt-country set from this Midwestern bluegrasser-gone-crossover singer-songwriter... Schlegel originally hails from the Dakotas, and moved to Minneapolis in the 1990s to become part of the Twin Cities folk scene. Her first couple of albums were straight bluegrass, and it's hard to avoid the comparison with the better-known post-twang superstar Alison Krauss. I mean, really, the likeness is there in bloth her vocal tone and in the mix of musical styles, with Schlegel using bluegrass colorings amid multi-textured pop-country ballads. I don't mean this in a denigrating way: if you like Alison Krauss, you're gonna want to check this gal out as well.
Dawn Sears "What A Woman Wants To Hear" (Warner Brothers, 1991)
Dawn Sears "Nothing But Good" (Decca, 1994)
Dawn Sears "Dawn Sears" (2002)
Dawn Sears "A Christmas Dawn" (2008)
An independently-released holiday album, mainly filled with standards... Available through Dawn Sears' website, www.dawnsears.com.
The Secret Sisters "The Secret Sisters" (Universal-Republic, 2010)
(Produced by Dave Cobb)
The Secret Sisters "Put Your Needle Down" (Universal-Republic, 2014)
Jeannie Seely - see artist discography
Marilyn Sellars "One Day At A Time" (Mega, 1974) (LP)
Marilyn Sellars "Gather Me" (Mega, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by Clarence Selman)
She had a big hit on her previous album, but country stardom was steadily drifting away after that. Not hard to see why, listening to this disc: Sellars was clearly a second-stringer, imitative of Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson, but a far stiffer, more brittle vocalist, and the generic countrypolitan arrangements behind her are both bombastic and haphazard. She's trying too hard and the musicians are just punching the clock. I was also put off by the strident tone of the album's second track, "Red Skies Over Georgia," a Civil War Confederacy grievance song about the poor Southerners beset by those nasty Northerners hellbent on destroying their "way of life" -- a familiar old tune, and kind of a broken record, but I'm sure there are Confederate apologists out there who will groove on it. Whatever. Gene Dobbins
Marilyn Sellars "Marilyn" (Zodiac, 1976) (LP)
Marilyn Sellars "Raised On Country Sunshine" (Koala, 1979) (LP)
Marilyn Sellars & The Minnesota Boychoir "Take Me Back To Minnesota" (Twin Track, 1996)
Marilyn Sellars "Marilyn Sellars" (Madacy, 2006)
3-CD set of gospel and patriotic songs...
Jo Serrapere "My Blue Heaven" (One Man Clapping, 1998)
A bluesy, acoustic string-swing set from one of the co-founders of the Uncle Earl bluegrass band... This is more of a Tin Pan Alley-tinged outing, with sweet, reflective vocals, which are well suited to her high, sweet timbre.
Jo Serrapere "Tonight At Johnny's Speakeasy" (2003)
Here Serrapere 's playing with a full band behind her, occasionally with the volume cranked up to, oh, say 7 or 8, so the slide guitar gets a little grungy but not too loud... Nice mix of styles, with a hefty dose of string-swing retro that reminds me a little of old Dan Hicks. She splits the vocals with her bandmates, but you may find yourself more drawn to her songs. Pretty nice!
Linna Shane & The Sons Of The Purple Sage "Western Favorites" (Tops Records, 1958-?) (LP)
Singer Linna Shane was actually the nom-de-twang of Linna Biatress Schames (1929-1988) a Southern California cowgal who recorded with at least one edition of the Sons Of The Purple Sage, a western/cowboy act which had several permutations. Apparently, Shane's husband also plays on this album, and she may have been the "girl" singer on some of their other albums... The history of the band is a bit murky... There was one version of the group which came about when western music star Foy Willing split the difference with a guy called Buck Page who had a competing band also named the Riders Of The Purple Sage. Page started to perform as "The Sons Of The Purple Sage" although it looks like it was one of those things where various fly-by-night labels used the name to record a number of albums, either because they won it through a business contract, or because no one was able to enforce the ownership of the name. (I welcome input from anyone with more concrete infomation...) At any rate, there were about a half-dozen albums released under the Sons Of The Purple Sage, with musicians such as Tex Fletcher and Bob Wheeler, as well as the mysterious Ms. Shane. Although I suspect that this LP was cobbled together from various sources, the liner notes say that Bob Wheeler is the band's leader, and though there are a few different lead vocalists, I'm guessing he's the guy who sounds like Hank Snow. Most of the vocals are male, with Linna Shane adding some rather prissy lead vocals on a few tracks... The real draw here is the solid musicianship -- this is a fun album that's pure West Coast '40s/'50s country, mixing cowboy stuff with proto-honkytonk and western swing. Some great Hawaiian-style steel guitar, a little pedal steel perhaps, and of course plenty of chugging accordion. If you like that sound and that era, you may be surprised at how good this record is!
Sunday Sharpe "I'm Having Your Baby" (United Artists, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by Larry Butler, Johnny Slate & Larry Henley)
The lone LP by singer Sunday Sharpe, a distant also-ran in the Top Forty field who also released a handful of singles up through '77, and performed regularly on the Hee-Haw TV show. She fell just short of the Top Ten with the lead single from this album, an answer song/cover of Paul Anka's "She's Having My Baby," delivered from a woman's perspective, but no less creepy as a result... Sharpe was a bright, poppy vocalist, with a girl-groupish style similar to that of Skeeter Davis and Brenda Lee, and finds comfortable accompaniment by the (uncredited) studio pros, as well as the string arrangements by Bill Justis. She covers other pop-oriented songs such as Anka's "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," and "Mr. Songwriter," from the Tommy Boyce catalogue, though on Side Two she settles into a more country-sounding mode, where she proves herself an adequate, Donna Fargo-ish mid-'70s ballad singer. Of note among her twangier tunes is one by Linda Hargrove ("I Never Loved Anyone More") and one song that she wrote herself, "It's A Beautiful Night For Love." Nothing earthshaking, but if you enjoy this era of Nashville pop -- in between the trad and neotrad eras -- this album fits right in.
Crystal Shawanda "Dawn Of A New Day" (RCA, 2008)
Crystal Shawanda "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (2009)
Victoria Shaw "In Full View" (Reprise, 1995)
Victoria Shaw "Victoria Shaw" (Reprise, 1997)
Victoria Shaw "Old Friends, New Memories" (Taffeta, 1999)
(Produced by Jon Vezner)
Victoria Shaw "Bring On The Love" (Taffeta, 2008)
SheDaisy "The Whole Shebang" (Lyric Street, 1999)
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.
SheDaisy "Brand New Year" (Lyric Street, 2000)
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)
SheDaisy "Sweet Right Here" (Lyric Street, 2004)
(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.
SheDaisy "Fortune Teller's Melody" (Lyric Street, 2002)
SheDaisy "The Best Of SheDaisy" (Lyric Street, 2008)
Ashton Shepard "Sounds So Good" (MCA-Nashville, 2008)
(Produced by Buddy Cannon)
She's been hailed as the next big thing in neo-traditional country, and newcomer Ashton Shepard sure does deliver a fine set of steel-drenched lovin'-and-partyin', have your beer and cry in it too kinda country. It's a powerful mix of honkytonk and countrypolitan, reminiscent in many ways of the glory years of Billy Sherrill and George Jones. Comparisons to Gretchen Wilson are inevitable as well: although Shepard is a little less balls-out, AC-DC tattoo-ish about it, she still makes it a point to fight for her right to party (on songs like "I Ain't Dead Yet") but she comes off less like a biker chick and more like a smart college kid who likes to cut loose on the weekend. Never mind that a couple of songs are virtual repeats of one another ("I Ain't Dead Yet" and "Not Right Now" share almost identical themes and lyrical motifs...) What's key here is the power of Shepard's voice and the clarity of her vision. She wrote or co-wrote almost all the songs on here, and like her fellow twang-top forty teen prodigy, Taylor Swift, Shepard really seems to get -- and to love -- what is great about real deal, twangy old-school country. This is an impressive debut, and like many of this decade's crop of powerful young female country stars, I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here, and hope that the industry will allow her a long enough career for her to continue growing into her considerable talent. Check it out.
Ashton Shepherd "Where Country Grows" (MCA Nashville, 2011)
(Produced by Buddy Cannon)
Hmmm. Bummer. I really liked the simplicity of Shepard's first album, the whole back-to-basics, girl-next-door rural vibe. This follow-up, though, seems really self-conscious, overly stylized and bombastic. There's plenty of twang, but it's on top of bigger, slicker, less soulful modern production, and it sounds like an affectation, whereas before she seemed twangy by nature. It happens to a lot of artists: you get some success, followed by some show-biz advice, and then you lose your bearings. Of course, it might sell a bazillion copies; I'm often on the "wrong" side of this argument. But for my money, a gal who sounded potent and sincere a couple of years ago now sounds like a parody of what she once stood for. Oh, well. I'll check back in a couple of years and see what album #3 sounds like.
Jean Shepard - see artist discography
Dianne Sherrill "Dianne Sherrill" (NCP, 1976) (LP)
(Produced by Jim Vest & Mark Sherrill)
This was the lone solo album for singer Dianne Sherrill, though she also cut a few singles for the Monument label. Sherrill came to Nashville in 1970, performed on Hee Haw, was a vocal coach, backup singer, etc., and became born again at some point... Gospel music seems to have become her sole focus after that. Anyway, this album features a bunch of cover tunes, stuff like "Hey Good Lookin'," "Storms Never Last," "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," and "Stand By Your Man."
Michelle Shocked "Texas Campfire Takes" (Mighty Sound, 1987/2003)
Well, okay, so maybe she's not exactly an officially sanctioned, bona-fide "alt.country" artist... But then again, why quibble about 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 "Short Sharp Shocked" (Polygram/Mighty Sound, 1988)
Michelle Shocked "Captain Swing" (Polygram/Mighty Sound, 1989)
Michelle Shocked/Various Artists "Arkansas Traveler" (Mighty Sound, 1991/2004)
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.
Sidesaddle -- see artist profile
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) (LP)
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 -- see artist discography
Elena Skye & The Demolition String Band "One Dog Town" (North Hollow Records, 1999)
(Produced by Greg Garing, Boo Reiners & John Siket)
Scrappy "Americana" twang from this Hoboken-based band, who were once a bluegrass act, but have clearly leapt into a wider-ranging, indiebilly twang. Skye's voice doesn't floor me, and the production i general is a bit rough and DIY, but their hearts are definitely in the right place. The album's one gem is "It Still Hurts," a novelty number that fits well into the old honky-tonk tradition.
Elena Skye & The Demolition String Band "Like A Prayer" (EP) (North Hollow Records, 1999)
(See also: Demolition String Band.)
Hillbilly Fillies - More Letter "S"
Hick Music Index
Sisters Who Swung: Women In Jazz & Blues