Tag Archives: Martina McBride

What Happens When you Take Women Out?

I debated whether or not I should write this piece because it’s really quite personal, and I’m not sure if it will be relatable or have a point when I’m done here, but it’s still on my mind after a couple of days, so I’ll try my best to be articulate as I express my thoughts.

The inspiration for this piece came after the news that Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” fell from #38 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week to #42, despite its sales and the ridiculous spike after her ACM performance. Now, as I’ve seen a lot of people point out, Miranda has never had the greatest treatment at radio anyway. There’s also the fact that “Tin Man” is stripped down, not necessarily radio-friendly, and quite traditional, so it’s got those strikes against it–although “The House That Built Me” had all of these characteristics and still gave her a #1 hit. But the glaring fact is, a big part of this simply has to do with the fact that Miranda Lambert is female, and in 2017, despite all the think pieces and supposed inclusion of more women by the country awards shows, females are still systematically ignored on country radio and by the country industry as a whole–and if you think these awards shows really want to include more women, why are there fewer nominees for ACM Female Vocalist of the Year? Sure, more women have been signed to major labels recently, but they’re not generally given the same chances to succeed; there’s a quota for females on country radio, and Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are filling it. And now it looks like Lambert will be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini, who is as non-country as Sam Hunt and the bros.

Keith Hill said back in 2015 that radio should “take women out.” The more infamous part was calling them tomatoes, but the more alarming part was taking them out. Lindi Ortega said then, “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.” And that’s what country radio is systematically doing–taking the female perspective so completely out that it’s shocking to imagine a woman’s point of view beyond the “girl” on the tailgate. Maren Morris recently spoke about this when she wrote that women in country can’t be sexual in their songs–they are supposed to be pretty and desirable but not write about their own desires. That inspired another piece which I haven’t yet written and have many conflicting feelings about writing–mostly because so many people I know will read it, and Maren Morris is a stronger person than I am–but it’s a more specific issue deriving from the same problem: take women, and their perspective, out. “Girls” are okay–and that’s why Kelsea Ballerini’s music can succeed on country radio; that, and that it isn’t country and seldom has substance.

So what actually happens when you take women out? I could go on about how it takes away their perspective in the mainstream, or how it leads to radio being one-sided and favoring music that marginalizes them, but I’m going to answer it from a personal place instead. I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and one of the first country records I ever owned was a Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. I fell in love with their music because it was country, but also because I could sing it and relate to it. They were women, and what they sang about appealed to me. I loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and later Miranda and Carrie. I sang an inordinate amount back then, so I will say that part of the appeal in their albums was that I could sing them; their ranges matched mine. But more than that, I related to them. I enjoyed plenty of music by male artists–and still do–but I naturally gravitated toward more women artists. Even today, on this blog, I can go back and look at the very few tens I’ve awarded–it’s a subconscious thing, but more of those records are by women. They have nothing in common in production, style, lyrics–but tens are set apart from nines for me because they can connect emotionally, and I have connected emotionally with more women in the history of running this blog, it seems.

The point of all this is that I fell out of love with country radio for the same reasons you all did; it lost its sound and its substance almost overnight. More than that, here in Oklahoma, radio killed Red Dirt around the same time. It had once lived on our radio stations along with mainstream music, but things like the rise of iHeart helped to destroy it. Even more than all of that, though, I became disenchanted with country radio because of the lack of women. I didn’t know then that there was all this independent music floating around just waiting to be discovered, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to anything on the radio or sing along with any of the records. I mentioned that I sang, and I will now say that I grew up wanting to be those women. And I don’t think it’s even possible to do that now. You can’t turn on country radio and hear Miranda lambert as a young girl and say, “I want to sing like her” or get that passion for country music like I did. It’s the same thing I said in my piece about genre awhile back, that it makes me sad that your average young person can’t just turn on the radio and find and fall in love with traditional-sounding country. But even that’s starting to make its way back in, (slowly), with Stapleton, Morgan, Pardi, Midland…while the women are being pushed further and further out. Sure, there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look, but you have to love country first before you go seeking out Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and Margo Price.

And I’m not saying a girl can’t fall in love with country from listening to men, or anything close to that; I’m only saying that in my case, I don’t think I’d be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t heard all those women on country radio back then, and if country radio’s systematic ignoring of females keeps even one girl from falling in love with this wonderful genre, then that’s the real problem, and the real danger of taking women out.

Album Review: Don Henley–Cass County

Rating: 9/10

Since the moment Don Henley announced that he was making a country album, much of the country music community has been wondering if, and even assuming that, this album would be another country album by a rocker seeking some cash and attention–Steven Tyler anyone? I never wondered about this; Don Henley has no reason to make a country album other than genuinely wanting to make a country album. And now that Cass County has arrived, it’s proven that this isn’t just another rocker looking to exploit the country format, this is a true country album by an artist with obvious love and respect for the genre’s roots and tradition. In short, Don Henley lived up to my expectations with this record, and if you had reservations, I’m here to tell you you needn’t have worried.

Let me say I am reviewing the deluxe version, which is important because some of the songs are not in the same order on the main version. I will state which songs are not on Cass County, but it’s important to know that the ones that are might not be in the same place on the album.

The album opens with “Bramble Rose,” and right away, you can tell this is traditional country, with steel guitar making a grand appearance on the opening beat. This is about a woman whose love has “grown as sharp as a bramble rose.” It’s a nice opener–also, it features Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert, making perhaps the most unlikely musical threesome I have ever heard. I come away from it more impressed by Miranda Lambert’s vocals than I have ever been–and this from one of the biggest Miranda Lambert fans you’ll ever meet–and wondering what Mick Jagger would sound like in country. Don Henley has several duets on this album, and this is something common to all; all the singers sound their best. It’s like Don brings out something in them that they don’t try to bring out themselves, like he believes in them more than they do. Speaking of duets, the album’s impressive lineup continues with “The Cost of Living,” a duet with none other than Merle Haggard–yes, the guy that just critiqued all modern country, so there’s an endorsement for this album in his name alone. The song itself is about living with the hand you are dealt and not letting life’s troubles get you down; “It’s the cost of living, and everyone pays.” I now want a Don Henley and Merle Haggard duets album, as this sounded better vocally than anything on the already great
Django and Jimmie.

“No, Thank You,” is a fun little country rock song saying “no, thank you” to, well, pretty much everything that is “too good to be true” because he’s “been there, done that.” “Waiting Tables” displays excellent country storytelling, as we learn about the life of a 23-year-old single mom who works as a waitress and hopes for better days. “Take a Picture of This” tells another great story, this time of a married couple who captured their life in pictures, but now they are getting divorced after many years together. “Too Far Gone,” only featured on the deluxe version, is a traditional country song rife with piano and steel. It’s about a man who knows his woman loves someone else, but he is “too far gone” to accept this. Don Henley really captures the emotion in this song and makes it one of the better tracks on a great album.

“That Old Flame,” the first song released from the album, has more of a country rock feel and features the always remarkable Martina McBride. The two sing about reconnecting with an old flame and wondering if they miss each other or simply their youth. “There is danger in the embers, you have only yourself to blame, if you get burned and try to rekindle that old flame”–this is just good songwriting, and this song is simply catchy. “The Brand New Tenessee Waltz,” only on this version, goes back to traditional country and features some of the best instrumentation on the album, including a nice fiddle appearance. “Words Can Break Your Heart” is next, a song about just that, a relationship being torn apart by harsh words. I especially love the line, “It only takes a breath or two to tear your world apart.” The cover of “When I Stop Dreaming,” featuring Dolly Parton, is one of the best songs of the whole bunch and one that I will post here. Dolly Parton sounds better than she has in years, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t hit that high note in a long while. If anyone had any doubts about this album being real country, this song should shatter them in about 2.6 seconds.

“Praying For Rain” is next, and here is where Don Henley’s vocals shine most. I have talked about the other singers, but it’s important to know that Henley himself put a lot of effort into this, and I hear it most in this song–this is where Don Henley takes Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky” and shows Aldean how to sing it correctly. The next two tracks are only found on this version. The first is a simple little song called “Too Much Pride,” about the dangers of this, and the next is a nice cover of “She Sang Hymns out of Tune,” which is probably the only song I could do without, and that’s only because I am not a fan of the song; Henley certainly does it well, though. “Train in the Distance” sees the narrator looking back on his youth and reflecting on his dreams. It’s one I can’t really explain, and you need to hear it to really appreciate it. “A Younger Man” is one of my favorites; here, the narrator is singing to a woman who is in love with him, but he tells her “You’re looking for a younger man, not me.” Apparently, she’s an “angel from the future,” while he is “an old devil from the past.” This is really a standout on an already great album. The album concludes with “Where I Am Now,” a great rocking track after all the seriousness of the last two songs. It’s an excellent way to close this album–and both versions close with it, so obviously Don Henley agrees.

okay, Cass County is a very good album, and all of you who thought Don Henley came to country for the wrong reasons should be pleasantly surprised. I highly recommend this album for traditional and contemporary fans alike–the majority is more traditional, but there are nice country rock tracks too. In fact, I’ll post one of each. Cass County is definitely worth checking out!

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