Favorite Females’ Covers of Females’ Songs

We can thank the shortsighted radio consultant Keith Hill for one thing: drawing attention to the women of country music in a year where so many of them are making outstanding music. As their mainstream counterparts cycle through a series of one-note styles and themes, female country artists are putting out diverse and decidedly more progressive music, even as they draw influence from previous generations. That they do so while supporting each other makes it all the more impressive.

As the resident female writers at Country Universe, Leeann and I are paying homage to the women of country music with a list of our favorite female artists’ covers of songs that were originally performed by or associated with other female artists. Surprisingly, while there are entire albums dedicated to females covering male artists (most recently LeAnn Rimes’ Lady and Gentlemen), it was a challenge to compile a master list of females covering female artists. Though limited, the ones we found and ultimately chose —listed below, unranked— embody the reverence, joy and thoughtfulness with which these artists observe their peers.

Passionate Kisses

#1
“Passionate Kisses”
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Originally performed by Lucinda Williams

Carpenter turned Williams’ already catchy song into a big radio hit that even received crossover attention. While Carpenter was faithful to Williams’ original version, she managed to make the song her own.  – Leeann Ward

standbyyourman

#2
“Stand by Your Man”
Dixie Chicks
Originally performed by Tammy Wynette

The perceived dichotomy of the famously strong-willed Natalie Maines covering the classic that espouses standing by your man despite his shortcomings, because he’s just a man after all, is absolutely delicious. The Dixie Chicks brilliantly cover and accentuate the strength of the song, which calls for powerful pipes like Maines’. – LW

Dixie_Chicks_-_Home

#3
Dixie Chicks, “Top of the World”
Originally performed by Patty Griffin

Once again, the Dixie Chicks cover a song that has already been nailed by a powerful vocalist in her own right. While Maines’ distinctive twang is quite different than Griffin’s voice, she covers this heartbreaking song of regret with the same powerful emotion that it requires. – LW

chicks

#4
“Truth No. 2”
Dixie Chicks
Originally performed by Patty Griffin

A standout from their celebrated album Home, “Truth No. 2” is at once razor sharp and irresistibly catchy. If Maines’ blistering interpretation of Griffin’s lyrics doesn’t pull you in, the superb picking surely will. – Tara Seetharam

Up To The Mountain

#5
“Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)”
Kelly Clarkson
Originally performed by Patty Griffin

Clarkson is certainly not a country artist, but she has covered many country songs in her live shows. The introductions to her various country covers demonstrate her love for and knowledge of country music. She sang Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain” for an American Idol charity special in 2007 and raised it to the roof. I can only hope that she will make an official recording of it someday. – LW

Kree-harrison

#6
“Tennessee Waltz”
Kree Harrison
Associated with Patti Page

The American Idol graveyard is a frustrating place, but few former contestants are as staggeringly gifted as Harrison. She knows her way around and through the heart of a melody, and she’s exceptionally skilled at demonstrating strength through vulnerability. Her version of “Tennessee Waltz” finds her at her bluesy, lilting best. – TS

EasyFromNowOn

#7
“Easy From Now On”
Miranda Lambert
Originally performed by Emmylou Harris

In her breakout years, Lambert’s reputation was that of gunpowder and rebellion, the tender parts of her voice often overlooked. “Easy From Now On” was one of the earliest reminders of her interpretative abilities, with its languished, delicate performance and hints of doubt: When she sings “And I’ll be ridin’ high in a fandangled sky / It’s gonna be easy from now on,” she’s far less believable —and beautifully so— than Harris is in the original. – TS

Honky_Tonk_Angels_(album)_cover_art

#8
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”
Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton & Tammy Wynette
Originally performed by Kitty Wells

It’s interesting how a song from 1952 with commentary on the double standards for men and women is still so relevant in 2015. It met resistance from media outlets and venues, including being banned at the Grand Ole Opry, but it still spent six weeks at No. 1 in 1952. In fact, the queen of country music made history by being the first solo female to top the charts. So, who better to cover this song than three other women who are also considered country music royalty? – LW

fancy

#9
“Fancy”
Reba McEntire
Originally performed by Bobbi Gentry

Whether you prefer Gentry’s original version or McEntire’s cover, there is no arguing that McEntire doesn’t give this raw empowerment anthem its due. Her gritty interpretation matches the song’s difficult story. It was a hit 46 years ago for Gentry, despite its dark content, and then again 25 years ago for McEntire in the ‘90s, but it’s hard to imagine such a song avoiding serious backlash now, not to mention even having a chance of becoming a hit. – LW

tennesseemountainhome

#10
“My Tennessee Mountain Home”
Ashley Monroe
Originally performed by Dolly Parton

Monroe grew up in a different type of Tennessee home than Parton, but her ode is just as lovely. She paints Parton’s memories with more nostalgia, giving each detail a sweet, lingering sadness that’s absent from the spirited original. – TS

pony

#11
“Pony”
Ashley Monroe
Originally performed by Kasey Chambers

Monroe’s first album contains this yodeling gem! While Monroe’s voice is more palatable than that of Chamber’s decisively nasal vocals, her voice is very distinctive as well. The fact that Monroe covered this song for an intended major label album is one example of her country gravitas. – LW

mama'sopry

#12
“Mama’s Opry”
Originally performed by Iris Dement

Sweeney does a wonderful job of covering Dement’s tribute to her mother and the Grand Ole Opry. Dement’s version is heartfelt and great in its own right, but Sweeney’s confident take makes the song sound even more fully developed. Both women have distinctive, hard-core twangs, which makes Sweeney’s cover an inspired choice. – LW

coatofmanycolors

#13
“Coat of Many Colors”
Shania Twain
Originally performed by Dolly Parton

There are songs that are covered and songs that are borrowed, and “Coat of Many Colors” is perhaps the best example of the latter. Twain preserves Parton’s treasured story with humility and painstaking earnestness. – TS

illstandbyyou

#14
“I’ll Stand By You”
Carrie Underwood
Originally performed by The Pretenders

In the years following this cover, Underwood would prove surprisingly savvy at performing songs outside her comfort zone, including the ‘80s power ballads that influenced The Pretenders’ hit. But she did something more remarkable when she re-invented “I’ll Stand By You” for an Idol Gives Back charity single: Without using an ounce of the original’s ferocity, she rivaled Chrissie Hynde’s conviction by simply leaning into the lyric and using the shades of her voice to convey the titular pledge. – TS

womanwalktheline

#15
“Woman Walk the Line”
Trisha Yearwood
Originally performed by Emmylou Harris

Yearwood’s voice is one of country music’s finest storytellers, and in her cover of Harris’ mournful “Woman Walk the Line,” it digs deep into a bruised woman’s psyche as she indulges her loneliness. – TS

27 Comments

  1. 1. Till I Gain Control Again – Crystal Gayle (Emmylou Harris)
    2. Top Of The World – Lynn Anderson (Carpenters)
    3. She’s Got You – Loretta Lynn (Patsy Cline)
    4. Starting Over Again – Dolly Parton (Donna Summer)
    5. Sweet Dreams – Emmylou Harris (Patsy Cline)

  2. The MCC and Sunny Sweeney covers are my favorites of the 15 listed.
    Here’s a few more:
    Seven Year Ache – Trisha Yearwood (Roseann Cash)
    I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Suzy Bogguss (Patsy Montana)
    You Ain’t Woman Enough – Amy Black (Loretta Lynn)
    Forget About It – Alison Krauss (Suzy Bogguss)
    Leavin’ On Your Mind – Rissi Palmer (Patsy Cline)

  3. Kathy Mattea brilliantly covered many female folk artists on Calling Me Home – my favorite is “West Virgina, My Home” by Hazel Dickens.

    Trisha Yearwood, “Lying To The Moon” – Matraca Berg gifted us her version first.

    Trisha Yearwood, “You Can Sleep While I Drive” – Melissa Etheridge wrote and recorded it. TY took it to a whole new level in its definitive version.

    Reba McEntire, “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia” – courtesy of Viki Lawrence

    Dixie Chicks, “Landslide” – Because a countdown cannot have enough Dixie Chicks covers

    Ashley Monroe, “I Buried Your Love Alive” – Matraca Berg sang it first on Love’s Truck Stop

  4. My five:

    1. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU–Linda Ronstadt (Linda’s was THE first cover of Dolly Parton’s mega-classic)
    2. TRY ME AGAIN–Trisha Yearwood (which Linda recorded AND co-wrote back in 1976)
    3. WALK ON–Linda Ronstadt (Matraca Berg)
    3. AM I THE ONLY ONE (WHO’S EVER FELT THIS WAY)?–The Dixie Chicks (Maria McKee)
    4. DON’T TOSS US AWAY–Patty Loveless (Lone Justice [Maria McKee, lead singer])
    5. COME SEE ABOUT ME–Martina McBride (Diana Ross and the Supremes, from late 1964)

  5. To Daddy- Emmylou Harris (Dolly Parton)
    Harper Valley PTA- Kelly Willis (Bobbie Gentry)
    Let Him Fly- Dixie Chicks (Patty Griffin)
    Fist City- Norah Jones & The Little Willies (Loretta Lynn)
    Crazy- Linda Ronstadt (Patsy Cline)
    The Night’s Too Long- Patty Loveless (Lucinda Williams)
    I Need You- Lee Ann Womack (Julie Miller)
    No Time To Cry- Kasey Chambers (Iris DeMent)
    Stealing Kisses- Faith Hill (Lori McKenna)
    Dry Town- Miranda Lambert (Gillian Welch)

  6. So glad to see this feature! I love Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “Up to the Mountain,” and the Trisha and Miranda cuts are two of my favorites here. As for The Dixie Chicks, I think “Am I The Only One (Who Ever Felt This Way)” and “Cold Day in July” would also be good choices.

    I also love Neko Case’s covers of Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X,” Buffy Sainte-Murray’s “Soulful Shade of Blue,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Runnin’ Out of Fools.”

  7. This is a wonderful topic. I love hearing different takes on the same song, and I haven’t yet heard a great many of these. Here are the few that I could think of –

    Look at Miss Ohio – Miranda Lambert (Gillian Welch)
    Sleeping With the Devil – Lee Ann Womack (Brennen Leigh)
    Dark Side of Town – Kelley Mickwee (Eliza Gilkyson)
    Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert (Audra Mae)

  8. Speaking of female country singers and Maddie & Tae, when can we expect a review of their (excellent) full-length album?

  9. Huge round of applause to Tara and Leeann for putting together such an awesome feature. Seeing new CU writing from Tara feels like the return of an old friend. Great topic, great selections, and I love how the two of you brought a female perspective to it.

    Another selection that comes to my mind that hasn’t yet been mentioned is Mindy McCready’s cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time.” Even though McCready did not have Ronstadt’s pipes, she really brought a certain earnestness of her own to the song which causes her version to hold up well. Certainly not many of today’s artists could come out that well covering Linda Ronstadt.

  10. @Ben. Agreed but I thought that Carrie Underwood did a very good cover of “Different Drum” at Linda Ronstadt’s REHOF induction ceremony and I remember a Trisha Yearwood cover of “Try Me Again” that was impressive.

  11. “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” – Linda Ronstadt (Wanda Jackson)
    “Break It to Me Gently” – Juice Newton (Brenda Lee)
    “Blue Kentucky Girl” – Emmylou Harris (Loretta Lynn)
    “Piece of My Heart” – Faith Hill (Janis Joplin)
    “A Lesson in Leavin’ ” – Jo Dee Messina (Dottie West)

  12. Leslie Tom – Devil on the left (Jamie O’Neal)
    Ashley Abshire – It didn’t look like alcohol to me (Rebecca Lynn Howard)

  13. Most of these are okay although I think the covers of “Stand By Your Man” and “Tennessee Waltz” were second rate

    Tennessee Waltz was not actually a female song. It was written by Redd Stewart & Pee Wee King. Pee Wee King and Red Foley had competing versions of the song in 1949 that made the top five 1949

  14. Paul,
    We are aware that “Tennessee Waltz” was not originally by a female, which is why we specifically changed our wording to “associated with”, instead of “originally performed by” for that song.

  15. Congratulations to Tara and Leeann. This is a great, comprehensive list and you have sparked a great discussion. Many of the titles mentioned are some of my favorite songs. The discussion has also led me to some new discoveries.

    This theme of celebrating songs written by or made famous by female artists – and inspiring other female artists to sing their versions – is at the heart of one of my favorite albums released this year, Rhiannon Giddens’ Tomorrow is My Turn. CU’s Jonathan Keefe wrote a great review of the record in February:

    http://www.countryuniverse.net/2015/02/17/album-review-rhiannon-giddens-tomorrow-is-my-turn/

    Giddens offers gorgeous cover versions of “She’s Got You” (written by Hank Cochran, made famous by Patsy Cline) and Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind.” On “She’s Got You,” Giddens further enhances the soul/vintage-R&B qualities suggested in Cline’s version. On “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind,” she sounds like a hybrid of Dolly, peak Joni Mitchell and an opera singer.

  16. And how could we forget – Three cigarettes in an ashtray.

    Patsy Cline covered by k d lang amongst many others.

  17. Quote by Ben Foster re. Mindy McCready’s version of “Long Long Time”:

    Another selection that comes to my mind that hasn’t yet been mentioned is Mindy McCready’s cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time.” Even though McCready did not have Ronstadt’s pipes, she really brought a certain earnestness of her own to the song which causes her version to hold up well. Certainly not many of today’s artists could come out that well covering Linda Ronstadt.

    I too though Mindy’s version was exceptional. Doing that song with even a fraction of the same intensity as Linda did it in 1970 would have been an incredibly daunting task for anyone, but Mindy managed to pull it off.

    I would also say that the same goes for how Carrie handled “Different Drum” on the 2014 RRHOF ceremony, given how far outside what some might see as her comfort zone it was, and also just how strongly it is identified not only with Linda but also the entire Los Angeles folk-rock movement of the late 1960s.

  18. I am partial to the Suzy Bogguss cover of Outbound Plane, originally by Nanci Griffith (with co-writing credit to Tom Russell).

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