Category Archives: Female Fridays

Female Fridays: Featuring Maddie & Tae

Their first full-length album is available today, so today is all about Maddie & Tae. As usual, the album review will come later.

How You Might Know Maddie & Tae

Unlike the others I have featured, most of you probably do know Maddie & Tae, and if you’re just a casual mainstream country listener, you should still know their breakthrough hit “Girl in a Country Song.”

Bio

From Maddie & Tae’s Web site:

“We are Country,” says Maddie. “We love all music, but we’re girls from where Country comes from. It’s who we are; it’s how we live. And that’s the music we want to make. It makes us happy, but like what we write about, it’s also who we are.”

“Honesty’s always the best policy,” says Tae. “We’re telling our stories and hope people can relate.”

Madison Marlow (born July 7, 1995, from Sugar Land Texas), and Taylor Dye (born September 18, 1995, from Ada, Oklahoma), became Maddie & Tae when they met in high school through a mutual vocal coach. After high school, they moved to Nashville and gained a publishing deal with Dot Records, which is, shockingly, an imprint of Big Machine. That’s right, the duo who released “Girl in a Country Song” is on the same label as Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, Maddie & Tae sat down to write “Girl in a Country Song” after Maddie expressed a heartfelt sympathy for the girls mentioned in bro country songs who are good for little more than sitting on tailgates in cut-off jeans. Together with Aaron Scherz, the duo wrote what would become an anti-bro-country anthem and a breakout hit for Maddie & Tae. It went to #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in December 2014, becoming the second debut single by a female duo in history to do so.

Maddie & Tae released an excellent EP in November 2014, featuring the songs “Sierra,” “Your Side of Town,” and the current single, “Fly,” which has reached #12 on Billboard Country Airplay and will most likely go recurrent shortly after the album release. It is worth noting that Maddie & Tae came on the scene during a time when I had all but alienated myself from country music. I talked about this in my
Random Thoughts column this week. The Maddie & Tae EP, with its fiddles, banjos being used correctly, and country lyrics, was the thing that started to bring me back to country. I hoped an EP was not all we would get from them, and thankfully, now we have a full-length album. Their long-awaited debut album, Start Here, is finally here today, and a review is coming.

Why Maddie & Tae Belong on Country Radio

I’ll keep this short, since they’ve already had radio success. Mainly, I just want to see that success continue. They deserve to be on country radio because they bring a youthfulness and relatability, the kind that Kelsea Ballerini and Taylor Swift bring. However, Maddie & Tae are actually country, as Maddie points out in her quote. Kelsea Ballerini is “calling dibs” on being the girl in the truck; Maddie & Tae are calling out the bros for their sexist lyrics. Kelsea Ballerini is using slang and straight pop instrumentation; Maddie & Tae are using catchy country lyrics backed by fiddles and mandolins. Most of all, Tae talks about honesty in the above quote, and isn’t that what country is all about? These two are going to be integral in bringing the teenage fan base back to country, and they have the ability to make actual country cool.

Tracks I Recommend

I recommend the entire Maddie & Tae EP. But all those songs are on the album, so just wait for the review.

Here’s a song which I hope will be a single and which could probably do a lot better at radio than “Fly.”

Female Fridays: Featuring Gwen Sebastian

She is an underrated artist that could have potential as a pop country artist, so this Female Friday I have decided to feature Gwen Sebastian.

How You Might Know Gwen

She was a contestant on Season 2 of The Voice, but many more will know her from singing with Blake Shelton on his hit “My Eyes.”

Bio

Gwen Sebastian (born May 3, 1974, in Hebron, North Dakota), has had a hard time getting consistent recognition. After dropping out of nursing school to move to Nashville, she was eventually signed to a record deal in 2009. She released the single “Hard Rain” and the EP “V.I.P.” Both the single and the EP struggled for chart success, but Gwen was named by Country Weekly as a new artist to watch in 2010. During this time, Gwen also released a Christmas album titled Christmas in July.

Sebastian participated in the second season of The Voice, where she met Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. She was eliminated in the battle round, but she toured with Shelton after the show. In 2013, she released a self-titled album. Singles from this album include “Suitcase” and “Annie’s New Gun,” a duet with Miranda Lambert. She is best known, however, for her appearance on Blake Shelton’s hit “My Eyes.” To me, this proves Blake can and does help talented people, and it’s not always the RaeLynns of the world getting that privilege. “My Eyes” made me want to figure out who Gwen Sebastian was, and when I discovered her music, I was interested and wanted to hear more. I do think she needs more recognition, or she could be in danger of losing her label in the next few years.

Why Gwen Belongs on Country Radio

Firstly, she’s been there. “My Eyes” hit the top of the airplay chart just like “Lonely Tonight.” Gwen Sebastian should have the same name recognition that Ashley Monroe should, yet neither of them get airplay when they are not connected to Blake. Gwen is more on the pop country side, so not the best choice for traditionalists, but there’s room for good pop country too, and Gwen fits that role. Radio is more willing to accept pop country, so it should be easier for her to get airplay than it has been thus far. She also has a perfectly unique alto; similarly to Lindi Ortega, if you turn on the radio, you would know immediately that it is Gwen Sebastian singing. So she’s got originality, pop country leanings, and name recognition, along with her talent, and yet she can’t get on the radio…seems like a major problem.

Tracks I Recommend

I haven’t actually listened to much of the earlier Gwen Sebastian material, but her 2013 album is mostly good. I’ll highlight my favorites, but you should give the whole album a listen.

1. I’m Not Who You Think I Am–Gwen Sebastian
2. Annie’s New Gun (featuring Miranda Lambert)Gwen Sebastian
3. Bring it to Me–Gwen Sebastian
4. SuitcaseGwen Sebastian
5. One Like ThatGwen Sebastian

Listen to Gwen Sebastian’s self-titled album

Female Fridays: Featuring Lindi Ortega

Her new album, Faded Gloryville, is available today, (expect a review shortly), so today the Female Friday spotlight is on Lindi Ortega.

How You Might Know Lindi

If you watch ABC’s Nashville, you may have heard Lindi–she has had several song placements on the show. (Interesting that a TV show would help promote her, but radio won’t…)

Bio

From a 2013 interview with
Saving Country Music
in reference to her motivation to make music that might not have mass commercial appeal

But my motivation comes from my influences, and people that have stuck to their guns. I read a lot of biographies. If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.

From one listen to Lindi Ortega, I can tell she means every word she says. She easily has the most unique female voice in country music today.

Lindi Ortega (born May 28, 1980, from Toronto, Ontario), wrote her first song, “Faded Dress” at the age of seventeen. She spent many hard years in the Toronto music scene, where she gained the nickname “Indie Lindi.” Her struggles as an artist, as well as the universal struggles of musicians, are often referenced in her songs. The best example of this is the title track from her 2013 album Tin Star, where she sings of the “tin stars” who are “lost in the shining stars of Nashville, Tennessee.”

After struggling for about a decade and eventually moving to Nashville, Lindi signed with Last Gang Records in 2011. She has released three albums since then, including Little Red Boots, (2011), Cigarettes and Truckstops, (2012), and Tin Star (2013.) She is known for her unique soprano voice, wich has been compared to the voices of both Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. When I first heard her sing, I heard Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks, but in other songs I can hear Emmylou Harris as well. Her albums have received much critical acclaim, and she has been nominated for several awards by the Canadian Country Music Association. In 2014, Lindi won the CCMA Award for Roots Artist or Group of the Year and was nominated for Female Artist of the Year. She has also been nominated by the CCMA for 2015’s Roots Artist or Group of the Year.

Since this column is dedicated to promoting females, it should be noted that my first exposure to Lindi Ortega came shortly after the “tomato” incident in May. Lindi spoke out about the comments in an article called
“I Say, Include Women”
Lindi comments,

Women have had to fight to be treated as equals in society. We have had to fight for equal pay. We have had to fight against sexism, harassment, misogyny. And as if we don’t have enough battles, now we have to fight to get equal play on the radio. The entertainment industry has got to be one of the most difficult industries for women, because we are faced with so many double standards. We decide to have children and suddenly we are asked about how we can handle having a child and a career. Or the public is more concerned with who designed our dress rather than what inspired our craft.

But circling back to “take women out,” just think of those words: “TAKE WOMEN OUT.” I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us . . . make it so we don’t exist.

I highly recommend reading this; when I read it, I immediately wanted to check out her music. When I did, I found songs from each of her first three albums that I enjoyed. I would not have known about her if she hadn’t spoken up about this. Her fourth album for Last Gang Records, Faded Gloryville, comes out today, and I will have a review soon.

Why Lindi Belongs on Country Radio

Lindi Ortega is not seeking airplay at all. Up to this point, she hasn’t released anything with widespread mainstream appeal and seems to stick to her “individuality” that she values so much. I would argue that that is exactly why she belongs on the radio. I have seen comments on other sites by Canadians who say she doesn’t even get played up there. What do we hear every time we turn on a show like The Voice? They want uniqueness, originality, individuality, etc. I hear Blake Shelton talk all the time about turning on the radio and immediately recognizing someone’s voice. If uniqueness is what we’re going for, Lindi Ortega should be getting radio airplay. She has the most distinct female sound in country music.

Tracks I Recommend

Lindi has a lot of dark material, and I am not always a fan of dark albums, so I don’t prefer to listen to everything on all her albums. Having said that, most of it is good, and if you have a taste for it, you will like most of it. These tracks are my personal preferences. Also, just like with Ashley Monroe, her new album is off limits.

1. Murder of Crows–Cigarettes and Truckstops
2. Little Lie–Little Red Boots
3. Cigarettes and Truckstops–Cigarettes and Truckstops
4. When all the Stars Align–Little Red Boots
5. Angels–Little Red Boots
6. Bluebird–Little Red Boots
7. The Day You Die–Cigarettes and Truckstops
8. Tin Star–Tin Star
9. I Want You–Tin Star

Listen to Little Red Boots

This was my first introduction to Lindi’s remarkable and distinct voice. Like I said, I hear Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks. Certainly not a bad comparison.

Female Fridays: Featuring Angaleena Presley

Last week, I featured her fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe, so this week I thought I would introduce Angaleena Presley.

How You Might Know Angaleena

As mentioned above, she was a member of the Pistol Annies, along with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe.

Bio

Angaleena Presley’s career has been considerably shorter than those of my previously featured females, so naturally her bio would be shorter. However, while digging for Angaleena info–I also knew less about her than the others I have featured–I found two things that together paint a far better and more accurate picture of the Angaleena I listen to than a long list of facts about her career ever could. From Angaleena’s Web site:

If there’s a pedigree for a modern country music star, then Angaleena Presley fits all of the criteria: a coal miner’s daughter; native of Beauty, Kentucky; a direct descendent of the original feuding McCoys; a one-time single mother; a graduate of both the school of hard knocks and college; a former cashier at both Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie. Perhaps best of all the member of Platinum-selling Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) says she “doesn’t know how to not tell the truth”

From an interview with Rolling Stone, in reference to her musical influences:

When I was in college, I was in my dorm and I heard Patty Griffin singing “Sweet Lorraine.” I rose up and was like, “Whoa, she just said a bad word!” Loretta Lynn, she was forthcoming in her songs, but Patty Griffin was just like, “This is how it was: ‘My dad called me a [slut] and [a whore] on my wedding day.'” It opened some kind of Pandora’s box in my creative psyche. I think about a month later I wrote the first song that I thought, “OK, I think I might have something here.”

Angaleena Presley (born September 1st, 1976 in Martin County, Kentucky, and raised in beauty, Kentucky), has indeed gained a reputation for telling “the truth” in her songwriting. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University, she moved to Nashville in 2000 and soon gained a publishing deal. Through her publisher, she later met Ashley Monroe, which would eventually pay off–but not until 2011, with the formation of the Pistol Annies. As I mentioned last week, they released two excellent albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) I have already introduced Ashley and Angaleena, and everyone knows Miranda, but I have debated doing an entire Female Friday with Pistol Annies as well, as their music is remarkable in its own right. One of my biggest disappointments last year was the news that Pistol Annies had broken up.

However, the breakup of the Annies was mostly due to the revival of Ashley’s solo career and the beginning of Angaleena’s. Angaleena’s debut album, American Middle Class, was released on October 14, 2014, under Slate Creek Records. It is a traditional country album with some elements of blues and bluegrass mixed in here and there. It does indeed tell the “truth,” containing songs about pregnancy, drug abuse, the bad economy, etc. The album was met with much critical acclaim, and Angaleena finally proved that she could succeed on her own just as Ashley and Miranda had done.

Why Angaleena Belongs on Country Radio

While I do not feel that she is “radio ready” in this current climate like the other women I have featured–they all have songs that lean slightly toward pop country or rock country–she would be ideal for radio if it actually played country instead of everything else. She would benefit if country split into different genres or if Americana started gaining a wider influence and stealing more country artists (this is the direction Kacey Musgraves is heading.) She is a modern day Loretta Lynn, penning songs about real life that she actually lived. I read the quote from her site above and immediately her songs and songs she wrote for Pistol Annies come to mind. She was a coal miner’s daughter from Kentucky, (“American Middle Class” and “Dry County Blues,”) a single mother (“Trading One Heartbreak for Another” and “Housewife’s Prayer” by Pistol Annies and her own song “Drunk,”) a cashier (“Grocery Store,”) etc. I’ll be honest here and say that she was an acquired taste for me both in the Annies and as a solo artist, but there is no question she is a talented singer and songwriter and deserves more recognition. I will also say that while I just described her as an acquired taste, I am glad I took the time to acquire it, because I truly enjoy Angaleena Presley music and am looking forward to her sophomore album.

Tracks I Recommend

Last week, I didn’t want to pick apart Ashley Monroe’s excellent album Like a Rose, feeling that to do so would be a disservice. Many would say the same about the picking apart of Angaleena’s American Middle Class as well. So before I do it, I will say that if you like more twang and/or bluegrass influence, you will like the whole album. There is not a bad song on it lyrically. The purpose of this highlighting of tracks is more to ease newcomers into Angaleena’s style.

1. American Middle Class–American Middle Class
2. Better off Red–American Middle Class
3. All I Ever Wanted–American Middle Class
4. Life of the Party–American Middle Class
5. Drunk–American Middle Class

Listen to American Middle Class

Also, if you are a Texas country fan like me, you should check out JB and the Moonshine Band’s “Black and White” featuring Angaleena Presley. There doesn’t seem to be a YouTube video of that, or I’d post it here. But it’s worth a listen, especially if you don’t end up liking Angaleena’s style.

Female Fridays: Featuring Ashley Monroe

Her new album, The Blade, is out today (I will have a review of it shortly.) In light of that, it seems natural to feature Ashley Monroe on this Female Friday.

How You Might Know Ashley

She’s the beautiful voice that completes Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight.” Also, she was one-third (my favorite third) of the Pistol Annies–other Annies include Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.

Bio

Ashley Monroe (born September 10, 1986, from Knoxville, Tennessee), has been paying her dues for many years. At age eleven, she won a talent competition in Pigeon Forge singing “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and landed a job in a theater performing several nights a week. Her idyllic life was turned upside down two years later, when her father died suddenly. Ashley mentions her father’s death often in her songs (“Like a Rose,” “Monroe Suede”.) Music was her outlet, and she became a very talented songwriter as she dealt with his death.

Ashley moved to Nashville soon after, and after a long search for a major label, Columbia Records finally took a chance on her, allowing her to start work on her debut album at nineteen. Two Singles were released, “Satisfied” and “I don’t Want To”–a duet with Ronnie Dunn–but neither charted well, and Ashley’s album went unreleased. Ashley and Columbia parted ways in 2007. (The album, Satisfied, was eventually released in 2009.)

It would be six years before Ashley would release another solo album. During those years, Ashley worked both as a songwriter and backing vocalist. Chances are, if you like country and listen to it often, you know a song that Ashley Monroe worked on. Songs that bear her writing include Jason Aldean’s “The Truth,” Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” Her backing vocals can be heard on Miranda’s “Me and Your Cigarettes,” and Wade Bowen’s “If We Ever Make it Home,” among others. In addition, she independently released an EP with Trent Dabbs (with the unoriginal title Ashley Monroe and Trent Dabbs), sang with Jack White’s Third Man House Band, and collaborated with The Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs on a single called “Old Enough.” In 2012, she even performed a song called “Bruises” with Train and toured with the group.

The most pivotal event in Ashley’s career during this time was the formation of the Pistol Annies in 2011. Miranda Lambert and Ashley, now friends, formed the group with Angaleena Presley, making their surprise debut at the ACM Girls Night Out on April 22, 2011, with “hell on Heels.” They were an instant success and produced two remarkable albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) The success of the Annies rebuilt Ashley’s solo career and sparked Angaleena’s, unfortunately leading to the disbanding of the Annies in 2014. However, Ashley was signed by Warner Bros, and finally released her second solo album in 2013. The album was titled Like a Rose and was produced by Vince Gill. Like a Rose was one of the best albums I have heard in the last five years, and it was met with much deserved critical acclaim. She finally got the breakthrough she had worked so long to achieve with Like a Rose, proving that hard work and dedication really can and does pay off. My only complaint with it was it ended too soon–it only contained nine tracks, and I immediately wanted to hear more. Today I get that wish, as her third album, The Blade, is finally here. I will reserve comments on that for the review, although I will say it was also produced by Vince Gill, so one would expect it to be awesome.

Why Ashley Belongs on Country Radio

Now would be the perfect time to start playing Ashley Monroe on country radio. Everyone knows her from “Lonely Tonight.” Plus, a commenter on another site described her voice as “pure gold” and that’s the best way to put it. She is a great songwriter, but even when she didn’t write the song, she has a way of telling a story when she sings. It’s probably from dealing with the pain of her father’s death and having to grow up so young. At any rate, when Ashley Monroe sings, you want to listen, to sad songs especially, but really to anything. I have praised other women for their songwriting, but with Ashley, the strength lies in her voice. Not to mention her voice is authentically country. She could put pop beats or rock beats or whatever behind it–she doesn’t, she generally stays traditional with traces of pop here and there–but she would still sound country. We need a woman like that on the radio.

Tracks I Recommend

This is not counting The Blade, as I am doing an entire album review over that. In light of that, I feel it would be a disservice to pick apart Like a Rose, as it is all awesome. So just go listen to it. As for Satisfied, everything on it is great as well, but it is more of an acquired taste, especially for those who like less twang or are just starting with Ashley. So just go listen to Like a Rose and proceed from there. With that album you cannot go wrong.

Listen to Like a Rose