These artists from Texas have definitely put their stamp on country music. The sounds and styles are different—and in some cases slightly similar—but these ladies have been entertaining audiences and stretching the genre.
The Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks were raising eyebrows long before Natalie Maines raised her voice about a certain president. “Goodbye Earl,” a song about an abused wife who, with the help of a childhood friend, murders her no-good husband, is less exceptional for its macabre gloss on matrimony than for its rousing endorsement of the strength of female friendship. The idea is a welcome one in a genre that too often trades on narrow and unrealistic notions of love. That the Dixie Chicks managed to make all this sound like country’s version of “Shiny Happy People” speaks to the band’s intuition that postmodern reinterpretation and bluegrass-based folk are not mutually exclusive. Their reward? The Dixie Chicks remain the highest-selling female act of all time.
Watch “Goodbye Earl.”
The feisty star from Lindale does it her way. She writes or co-writes her own songs, and her fans find her lyrics about women not taking any bull from their men empowering. Read more about Lambert in “The Girl Who Played With Firearms.”
Watch “Gunpowder and Lead.”
While most of her Houston peers were fretting over science homework, a teenaged Barbara Mandrell was playing the pedal steel guitar for Patsy Cline and touring with Johnny Cash. The multitalented Mandrell started releasing country records only a few years later, but her breakthrough came with a string of pop-country hits in the seventies, including “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” and “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right).” Unfortunately, her music was dominated by a Vegas-nightclub production that did little to complement her virtuosity. “I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool),” her most famous number, revels in some of the trite characteristics of the Nashville sound like namedropping and gratuitous patriotism. One look at the Country Music Hall of Famer singing “I remember straight-legged Levis” while catwalking in a leisure suit tells you everything you need to know about Music City’s faux-authenticity.
Watch “I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool).”
Jeannie C. Riley
Jeannie C. Riley was a receptionist in Nashville when her demo tape caught the ear of Shelby Singleton, a producer who had been holding a potential single for the right vocalist. Riley had to be convinced to sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which became the Anson native’s defining hit, selling millions of copies in 1968 and spawning a motion picture of the same name. “Harper Valley” is country lyricism at its best. The song, which tells the story of a small-town, widowed mother battling a reactionary organization, is full of spunky characters and twangy colloquialisms, and void of elaborate string sections and studio spiffery. Adopting a sexy image (at the behest of her management, she later insisted), Riley released several more hits over the next decade, but she later grew disenchanted with her stage-crafted persona, became a born-again Christian, and reinvented herself as a gospel musician.
Watch “Harper Valley PTA.”
Hailing from Garland, Leann Rimes had an early start reminiscent of Tanya Tucker’s, but where Tucker’s career was enjoyably capricious, Rimes’s fifteen years of recording have been careful and, at times, woefully diluted. Rimes’s first album was released when she was only fourteen, but it immediately topped the charts on the strength of its first single, “Blue.” She quickly began a decade-long crossover effort, helped along by “How Do I Live” and “Can’t Fight the Moonlight.” Despite an avowed preference for Patsy Cline, Rimes steered her later songs strongly toward an adult contemporary sound, rendering much of her output too slick and generic. Nonetheless, she is one of the wealthiest female country singers in the world and has used her fame and funds in support of numerous causes, especially the fight against psoriasis. Rimes’s new album, Lady & Gentlemen, will be released on September 27.
Watch “How Do I Live.”
Discovered in Seminole at the age of thirteen, Tanya Tucker not only mold the template for future female, teenaged country stars, but she maintained her popularity well into her adult years. She released a string of Top Ten hits and stayed tabloid-fresh thanks to a raucous relationship with Glen Campbell and a trip to rehab. She was booed when she expanded from traditional country to blues-inflected country rock, and her overdriven album TNT is a reminder that Nashville will never go bankrupt calling something “controversial.” But Tucker’s sound was later revived by artists such as Shania Twain and Gretchen Wilson, and Miranda Lambert owes a bit of her gravel to the funky harmonica and chunky rhythm guitars of Tucker’s mid-career releases.
Watch “Delta Dawn.”