A few 4fortyfour readers made contact with me over the last couple of weeks asking if I could feature some ladies of the country music persuasion on my feature Nothing But The Girl(s). I first assumed this was as a result of Lady Antebellum reigning supreme at the recently held 2011 Grammy Music Awards, but then I got thinking about the huge success of ladies and bands in this particular genre of music, as well as the country pop phenomenon in general. I am not the first Irish music blogger to write about this either; Ronan over at Swear I’m Not Paul admits to being a big fan of certain country pop artists and bands, even naming Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now and Taylor Swift’s Speak Now as two of his favourite albums of 2010. After further pondering, I felt my readers were right and this particular topic deserved a feature post, so I started exporing.
Country pop, a subgenre of country music, was first seen to emerge in America in the 1970s. Many people would describe music that belongs in this genre as songs and albums that have their roots embedded deeply in country, yet cross over and gain mainstream popularity through the US music charts. Popular artists who are considered, among many, to be the first and most significant country singers to emerge in this genre are Patsy Cline, Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, Anne Murray and Glen Campbell, among others.
It was the success of new artists such as Gareth Brooks, Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw in the 90s, however, that saw country pop music experience a massive surge in popularity. Who doesn’t remember Brooks’ ‘Friends in Low Places’, ‘The Thunder Rolls’ or ‘The River’ flooding through the airwaves when they were growing up? Who can’t recall hearing Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ featured on the Top 40 Chart on a Sunday afternoon (admit it- you probably sang along too!)? And how many of you can honestly say you can’t form a visual in your head of the blue-tinted video for LeAnn Rimes’ version of ‘How Do I Live’, which she released when she was just 15 years old? Thought so.
While the noughties has seen the continued success of many of the artists mentioned above, in the last few years there have been further releases from even more emerging artists that has allowed the country pop genre to thrive. In particular, many female singer-songwriters and female bands/female-fronted bands have taken their place centre stage, a few of whom I have chosen to mention in this post.
In the wake of their sweeping win at the recent 53rd Grammy Awards, which included the coveted Song of the Year and Record of the Year, it seems only fitting to begin with this Nashville trio. Lady Antebellum made its debut in 2007 as guest vocalists on Jim Brickman’s single ‘Never Alone’, before signing to Capitol Records Nashiville and releasing their self-titled debut album in 2008. Lady Antbellum featured the hit singles ‘Lookin’ for a Godd Time’ and ‘I Run To You’, the latter of which became the group’s first number one in America, catapulting the band into the mainstream pop spotlight and eventually the album to number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.
Last year the band released their follow-up record, the hugely successful Need You Now, which has altogether garnered them three Academy of Country Music Awards, two Country Music Association Awards, two American Music Awards, four American Country Awards and an impressive five Grammy Awards, as I have already mentioned above.
Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of pop music, but considering I would rate the Dixie Chicks as one of my favourite female country pop bands, I decided to give Need You Now a few spins last year on its release and was pleasantly surprised. Filled with infectious tunes that contain the perfect mix of pop and country twinges, the album quickly had me belting out notes and tapping along with feet I almost wanted to adorn in cowboy boots for the occasion. The album’s title track was easily one of the catchiest pop tunes of last year and deservedly so; with a chorus that’ll have you swaying at 2am in the morning, waving your glass of wine in the air and only wishing you had written something as delicious for your lost love, ‘Need You Now’ will continue to stand as one of the best country pop singles ever released.
Taylor Swift’s always been a funny one in my book. I’ve never actually admitted I like her, yet when I went to see that dreadfully shite Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana movie with my little cousins (I didn’t enjoy it- I swear…), Swift’s song ‘Crazy’, which she performed in the film, stuck in my head. I may have even listened to it on YouTube a few times. And downloaded the soundtrack…
Anyway, while I may not rush out and buy her albums (and Kanye has his reservations), the country pop singer-songwriter and musician is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary music scene. Since the release of her debut self-titled album in 2006, the pretty young songstress has sold over 19 million albums and 33 million singles worldwide making her the most commercially successful country/pop crossover artist in music history. Impressive no?
Swift’s 2010 offering, Speak Now was released to hugely positive reviews and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 Chart. The album featured songs that tackled the subjects of love, heartbreak and relationships in general, themes you’d think she would know little about considering her brief spell on this earth. But by jaysis is this girl able to document her feelings; John Mayer (check out ‘Dear John’ below) and the ridiculously buff Twilight werewolf kid are both referenced by the little firecracker. She may be slightly melodramatic in her ponderings (and sometimes blatant put-downs) on relationships, but Swifts lyrics are ballsy, clever, intimate and downright fearless. Don’t be fooled by her sweet voice and innocent face- this lady means business!
Court Yard Hounds/Dixie Chicks
Last summer, I was lucky enough to catch the Lilith Fair Music Festival while I was travelling across the States. On the festival’s New Jersey stop-off, I sat myself down in the grass under the gorgeous July sunshine with a giant cold beer in hand (everything in America is bigger- even the peas…) to revel in the loveliness of acts like Sarah McLachlan,Missy Higgins and Court Yard Hounds (check out my snap of the full line-up below).
Court Yard Hounds are two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, a band who successfully made the crossover from country to pop in the mid-90s, most notably due to the addition of Natalie Maines as lead singer in 1997. The Dixie Chicks, made up of Maines along with sisters Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire, achieved massive mainstream success following the release of their 1998 album Wide Open Spaces, which was certified Diamond in the US. The band went on to release three follow-up albums- Fly, Home and Taking the Long Way– the latter of which included a song entitled ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’, which addressed the political controversy that had surrounded the group for the previous three years, after they slammed President George W. Bush on stage at a concert in London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre. Referring to America’s invasion of Iraq, Maines stated in the introduction to the band’s song ‘Travellin’ Soldier’: “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Maines’ remark sparked intense criticism and, once the US media picked up on the story, controversy erupted propelling the Chicks into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. The band experienced harsh treatment from huge numbers of the public (including death threats) and were largely ignored by U.S. country radio stations on the release of Taking the Long Way. Despite many attempts to resolve the matter (including donations of profits to a number of US charities), the Chicks felt that they needed some time out of the public eye for a bit, leading to their 2008 hiatus.
In 2009 it was announced that sisters Maguire and Robison had planned to release new music the following year without lead vocalist Natalie Maines, although it was insisted that the trio were still very much an entity. Under the name Court Yard Hounds, the duo released their self-titled debut in May 2010 and toured with Lilith Fair later that summer.
Court Yard Hounds sounds exactly what a Dixie Chicks fan would expect it to sound like- it sounds like the Dixie Chicks minus Maines. The same pleasing crossover country pop sound is apparent, supported by Robinson’s typically impressive songwriting skills as well as the sisters’ exceptional musicianship, but it’s a little too tame in places, largely down to the fact that Court Yard Hounds are operating minus their feistiest member. While I enjoyed the album and the band’s live set at Lilith Fair immensely, Maines absence can be strongly felt and, like any Dixie Chicks fan, I am eager to see the trio record together again. And, having supported The Eagles on their 2010 US Summer Tour, perhaps a new studio album from the Dixie Chicks isn’t so far off.
Rounding up my exploration of the country pop genre are Sugarland, a charming duo from Atlanta, Georgia consisting of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, who released their fourth studio album, The Incredible Machine late last year. On its release, the album entered the number one spot on the Billboard 200 Chart, also earning them a 2010 Grammy Award Nomination for their efforts.
The Incredible Machine is, in a nutshell, an unashamed and fun venture into the genre of pop. Filled with upbeat, uplifting bubblegum belters and sweet, well-written ballads all supported by country foundations, Sugarland are probably one of the best male/female vocal bands on the American pop scene at the moment. Again, as with young Taylor Swift, I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy their albums or anything, but if you like the sound of country pop then this duo will most certainly be your cupán tae.
Here’s ‘Stuck Like Glue’, the lead single from The Incredible Machine; this is just a little bit adorable:
Once again, both 4fortyfour and I would like to thank our readers for their fantastic suggestions for ‘Nothing But The Girl(s)’. If any of you other readers out there would like any particular female artist, female-fronted or all-girl band featured here, please give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to oblige.