100 Greatest Women, #54: Sara Evans

sara-evans100 Greatest Women


Sara Evans

A pure country singer with a sweet tooth for pop hooks. Sara Evans has been one of the most prominent female artists during the male-dominated 21st century, thanks not only to her talent, but also to her ability to adapt to changing times.

She sounded like something out of another era when she burst on the country music scene in 1997, only two years after moving back to Nashville after a stint in Oregon. While she had recorded some sides in the early nineties with E and S Records, she was pretty much starting all over again when she returned to Music City in 1995. But songwriting legend Harlan Howard heard her take on his classic tune “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” and was so impressed that he worked actively to get her noticed. Eventually, his efforts led to a deal with RCA Records.

When she released her debut album, Three Chords and the Truth, it was widely praised for its classic country sound. It was produced by Pete Anderson of Dwight Yoakam fame, and while it featured a handful of covers from the Nashville Sound era, the album was most notable for establishing Evans’ gifts as a songwriter. The haunting title cut was as pure a country song as anything released to radio that year, and Patsy Cline would’ve had a field day with Evans’ ditty “Shame About That.”

However, radio didn’t bite, so Evans was sent back in the studio to prep her sophomore set, No Place That Far. It featured a more contemporary sound, and while first single “Crying Game” barely dented the charts, the title cut was her breakthrough hit. It featured a soaring harmony from Vince Gill. The song went to No. 1 and pushed the album to gold status. Evans was nominated for the CMA Horizon Award in 1999 and 2000 on the strength of the hit and its follow-up, the lower-charting “Fool, I’m a Woman.”

Evans finally hit the big time with her third album, appropriately titled Born to Fly. The title cut was also the lead single, and it topped the singles chart in the fall of 2000. She followed up with her first bold pop move, a cover of the Edwin McCain hit “I Could Not Ask For More.” It went to No. 2 and helped push her album to double-platinum status. At the 2001 CMA awards, she was a five-time nominee, including nods for Female Vocalist and Album of the Year. She took home the trophy for Video, honored for her Wizard of Oz-themed “Born to Fly” clip.

When Evans returned in 2003, she attempted to further mine the big pop sound on her fourth album, Restless. However, first single “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” stalled at No. 16, and while she recovered with the incessantly catchy “Perfect”, a No. 2 hit, album sales were still well below expectations.

The market had switched back to a more traditional sound, with female crossover artists suddenly out of fashion at country radio. But Evans had included a pure country rave-up at the end of her Restless set, almost as an afterthought. When “Suds in the Bucket” was released, sales for the album exploded. The song became her third No. 1 single and pushed her once-struggling album to platinum sales.

In 2005, Evans released her fifth album, Real Fine Place, and led off with “A Real Fine Place to Start,” a Radney Foster song that topped the charts for two weeks, and its follow-up “Cheatin'” also went top ten. The album hit a stumbling block when third single “Coalmine” faltered in the wake of mine disasters, but her consistency over the past few years was honored by the ACM when they named her Top Female Vocalist in 2006. A fourth single, “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” went top twenty later that year, and Real Fine Place became her third platinum album.

Meanwhile, Evans raised her visibility in an unorthodox way, becoming a highly popular contestant on Dancing With the Stars. She left the show for personal reasons, and dropped out of the spotlight for a few months to tend to them. But she came back with a batch of freshly written material to add to her first Greatest Hits record, released in October 2007. “As If” just missed the top ten, and was followed by the single “Some Things Never Change.”

Most recently, Evans paired up with pop act Maroon 5 for a CMT Crossroads Special. Even more impressive this year has been her partnership with the American Red Cross, as she has donated her time and talents to help raise disaster relief funds and encourage volunteer service across the country. She is currently working on her sixth studio album, which should be released in the next year.

Sara Evans

Essential Singles

  • “No Place That Far” (with Vince Gill), 1999
  • “Born to Fly”, 2000
  • “Perfect”, 2004
  • “Suds in the Bucket”, 2004
  • “A Real Fine Place to Start”, 2005

Essential Albums

  • Three Chords and the Truth (1997)
  • No Place That Far (1998)
  • Born to Fly (2000)
  • Restless (2003)

Industry Awards

  • CMA Video of the Year – “Born to Fly”, 2001
  • ACM Top Female Vocalist, 2006

==> #53. Jo Dee Messina

<== #55. Jeannie Seely

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List


  1. I love Sara’s voice. I didn’t really get into her music until I heard the Real Fine Place album on cmt.com. Then I was hooked and went back to her old music as well. It’s too bad Coal Mine stalled, because I really loved that song. I think there were other good songs that could have been released from that album as well.

  2. Love, Love, Love Sara. She’s great, would liked to have seen her up higher on the list, but oh well. I must say, Leeann, I loved “Coalmine” too. I really thought it would be a hit, That and “Tonight” are my two favourite Sara songs.

  3. A lot of Sara’s best songs don’t get released, or if they do they don’t do well for her. Tonight being the perfect example of this. It’s also a shame that her first album was ignored because I believe that some of her bet writing was on there.

    I was waiting for her to show up, I knew it would be around the mid fifties because though she’s great, she hasn’t had enough success to put her higher. Though she’s in my personal top 20 females.

  4. Jordan,

    Picking up on your comment about her best songs either not being released or not doing well: I’m a big fan of her No Place That Far album, where I loved “Time Won’t Tell” (Harlan Howard song) and “I Thought I’d See Your Face Again.” My favorite song of hers overall might be “Rocking Horse” from Restless.

    “Tonight” should’ve been a big hit, but radio was still playing the heck out of “Suds in the Bucket” and I think it was too thematically similar to “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” I actually think her first album would’ve gotten more press and attention if Womack’s debut hadn’t beaten it to the market, too, since Womack got all of the new traditionalist female hype.

  5. I’ve enjoyed most of her recordings. Other than a few televised Opry appearences, I’ve not had the chance to see her perform but if the Opry appearences are any indication, she may sound better recorded than live

    When she first arrived I thought she and Womack might help kick off another “New Traditionalist” movement, but that hasn’t yet happened

  6. I became a bigger fan of Sara’s following her amazingly trashy divorce. Is that wrong to say? Before, she was so sanctimonious — she actively supported laws that would make it tougher for people to divorce, for instance. Who wants that kind of righteousness in a country singer? Now that she’s been a little beat up by life, she seems more real.

  7. Doug,

    It looks as if Sara’s divorce was for good reason. Someone did wrongdoing and when her husband blamed her, he was more than likely pointing the finger at himself too. After all, he is/wants to be a politician.

    As for her music, I’ve been particularly fond of Sara’s Marcus Hummon co-writes like “Rocking Horse.” I also love when she does torch ballads like “Niagara.”

  8. I was so hoping that Sara would place a little higher in the rankings…nonetheless, I agree that her voice is PURE COUNTRY and I would love nothing better than for her to do a bluegrass/gospel compilation. If you’ve ever seen her rendition of “Muleskinner Blues,” you’ll see what I’m talking about. Also, I’m still waiting on a Christmas album from her. 10+ years in the biz and still no Christmas album…blame RCA/SONY for that one…which, by the way, has NEVER promoted Sara in the way some of their other artists have been PUSHED DOWN OUR THROATS continuously.

    No Place That Far still remains my fave album, with Restless a close second. Her versatility as an artist is apparent in her song choices, ranging from the bluesy “Big Cry” to the road worthy “Great Unknown.” Her gloriously twangy alto is a cross between Patty Loveless and Patsy Cline and I never tire of her humor…sarcasm is her bag and she does it well. As for the sanctimonious side that she often displayed…I am glad to see that go as well!!!


  9. Rodney: She’s talked about doing a bluegrass album before, I don’t remember where I read that, but she is thinking of doing one someday.

    Oh and my favorite song from her is “Restless” from Restless. Something about that song makes it sound so beautiful.

  10. I’m listening to the No Place That Far album right now and it is pretty great. I guess the problem I have with three chords and the Truth is that there’s so much reverb on it. It’s traditional, but it’s not the quality I like as far as production goes. I think No Place That Far isn’t quite as traditional, but the production improves a lot.

  11. probably one of the most sub-optimal managed careers in contemporary country music relative to the potential of the artist.

    her album “no place that far” has been outstanding, the song “three chords and the truth” from her beautiful debut could easily serve as a perfect example for country music, if you had to introduce this genre to an alien from outerspace. On the other hand, her “born to fly” album to me is country’s equivalent to water-boarding.

    whenever she has stuck to her country roots it more often than not resulted in a hit. going down the pop alley she becomes unremarkable or worse….

    contrary to kevin, i don’t think she and the people around her showed great ability in adapting to changing times. really smart people do not chase the toothpaste-cap all around the basin when dropping it – they put the hand right where the hole is and wait till it comes their way. in the end, it’s either country or pop or being shania or carrie, these days.

    i keep my fingers crossed that this gifted and charming artist will eventually leave industry ceremonies with more than a bag full of nominations or second rate awards. #54 is not a bad place to start from.

  12. Sara Evans is possibly one of the greatest female
    vocalist’s of our Genre…If you pick up one of her
    CD’s. You’ll see why she should be winning and collecting
    more nominations and awards than any other female
    out there. The songs on her albums, are absolutely one
    of the best songs I’ve ever listened too. She deserves a
    higher rank then this, But still, I’m glad to see her on the

  13. Sara is lucky she got this far, weak albums and VERY pitchy award show performances. She tries too hard to be something she is not

  14. Leeann, I was sorry to see Coalmine stall as well. I wonder if it has to do with lack of video support? (Or the WV coalmine disaster which happened some time after Coalmine was recorded, but before it was released as a single.) There does seem to be a synergy if not a direct correlation between a song’s supporting video and radio airplay, so it makes me wonder..

    Jorday and Kevin touched on another Sara single that stalled, “Tonight”. No video for that one either. Co-incidence or cause and effect? Not sure.

    I love Sara Evans. I hope she is able to return to her roots and get back to her New-Traditional and Bluegrass style. Something she really excels at.

    I agree with Kimberly Williams Paisley who once said that Sara had “one of the purest voices in Country music”

    I would add Patty Loveless to that statement…I think that Patty Loveless and Sara Evans have the purest COUNTRY voices in Country music!

    -Steve from Boston

  15. Sara Evans is my favorite singer, and I’m thrilled to see that she was given a well-deserved spot on this list. It’s a shame that she’s lately taken a backseat to Carrie and Taylor. I hope she gets some new singles out soon, and that she is put back on the radio where she belongs. She is long overdue for another number-one smash.

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