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.
Wrecking Ball: Deluxe Edition
Nonesuch has released an impressive deluxe edition of the landmark Emmylou Harris album, Wrecking Ball. For those who are new to the set, this is the edition you should buy. But it’s also worth the upgrade for those who already have this set in their collection.
Produced by Daniel Lanois, this album was a stunning departure for Harris, so much so that she personally requested that it not be eligible for the country charts. That’s funny in retrospect, given that alongside legends like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, the album was anchored by compositions by up-and-coming songwriters like Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and Julie Miller. With further cuts by writers like Anna McGarrigle, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, Wrecking Ball helped set a template for what would become a vibrant Americana scene over the years that followed.
Here are three of my current favorites:
Carlene Carter, “Me and the Wildwood Rose”
from the album Carter Girl
“Me and the Wildwood Rose” was always one of my favorite Carlene Carter tracks. Back when it was released in 1990, it had a wistful nostalgia for the grandmother that she had lost. In 2014, all of the other folks mentioned in the song, including her little sister “the Wildwood Rose”, have also passed on. The new version is so heavy with grief, it is only Carter’s effervescent spirit that keeps it from being too heavy.
Eight years ago, we posted our second edition of Hall Worthy, a list of significant country music figures who we felt were most deserving of being in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Since then, a lot has changed. First and foremost, more than half of the list is now in the Hall of Fame (or, at least, headed there later this year.) An additional entry, Wanda Jackson, is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A bigger change came in 2009, when new categories were introduced to ensure that two artist inductees would be represented from different eras: The Modern Era (20-44 years of national prominence), and the Veterans Era (45+ years of national prominence.) There are also three more categories that rotate, meaning one from each category gets in every third year: Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician.
Finally, since that list was published, our readership has grown tremendously and is incredibly well-versed on country music, past and present. So in this new and now annual edition of Hall Worthy, we are going to run down the list of the most successful artists that are eligible but have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, in the order of “Hall Worthiness.”
The Modern Era:
Scoring his first hit in 1990 with “Here in the Real World”, Alan Jackson is the most successful country artist that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame. His storied career has included 25 #1 hits and 49 visits to the top ten. He’s won a slew of awards over the years, including many for his songwriting. He is the most traditionalist of all of the nineties superstars, but has managed to stay relevant regardless of how pop the genre went over the past quarter century, selling more than forty million albums in the U.S. alone. He should be the next inductee for the Modern Era.
KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
A collection of songs written by industry veteran Rodney Crowell along with bestselling author and poet Mary Karr, recorded by a who’s who of country and Americana music greats. It should be enough to set the mouth of many a roots music aficiando watering.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Ashes and Roses
Mary Chapin Carpenter could be considered an example of the rare artist who releases her best and most significant work right in the midst of her commercial heyday, or whose music might have even benefited from considering the ever-present concerns of what could be grasped by mainstream audiences. In the years since Carpenter’s hot streak ended – She hasn’t had a Top 40 hit since 1999’s “Almost Home” – she seems to have lost sight of the need to bring her thoughts down to an accessible, digestible level.