Spend any time at all listening to country radio these days and the gender gap becomes clear. With the occasional exception of Miranda or Carrie, you’ll be hard pressed to find a female voice on the air – or a song about something other than drinking on a dirt road/in a field/on the beach/in a truck.
And that gap on country airwaves seemed all the more vast after listening in at Keith Urban’s All 4 the Hall benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last week. From hard-rocking Brantley Gilbert to Reba McEntire’s traditional twang; from Urban’s pop stylings to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Americana vibe; from Underwood’s pipes to Kacey Musgraves’s storytelling, the lineup was a reminder of how big a tent country music can be.
In that spirit, here’s our call to country radio’s gatekeepers: Keep that tent open wide! It’s not just about getting more women’s voices out there (though we should), it’s about remembering how good the genre can be when it tells the many, nuanced stories of our lives rather than reducing everything to the bottom of a Dixie cup.
Here are six artists we want to hear more of:
Yes, she’s been hyped – and deservedly so. But despite the Texan’s meticulously crafted songs like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow” – and a sound that can only come from a honky-tonk-loving heart – country radio continues to look the other way.
Check Out: “It Is What It Is,” a beautiful shrug of a song (co-written by Brandy Clark and Luke Laird) about resignation in a doomed relationship.
Like Musgraves, she had one of last year’s best releases with her Vince Gill-produced Like a Rose, but even with her pal Miranda Lambert singing praises and some Pistol Annies cred (she and Lambert form two-thirds of the group), Monroe still hasn’t found a place on radio as a solo artist. It’s our loss – just listen to her album’s title song or the wicked humor of “Weed Instead of Roses.”
Check Out: “Two Weeks Late,” heavy on the pedal steel, it takes on “woe-is-me” with a wink.
Already a hit-maker for other artists – she co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” (with Musgraves and Shane McAnally) and The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” – Clark saved some of her best work for last year’s debut, 12 Stories. Lyrically witty (have a listen to her single “Stripes”), Clark has a voice that’s rounded and rich. Her songs are ready-made for country radio, but you won’t find her voice there.
Check Out: “Hold My Hand, ” a vulnerable ballad about that moment when you meet your partner’s former lover.
As the granddaughter of Hank Williams (and daughter of Hank Jr.), she’s country royalty, but has zero pretention in her person or her music, which can stand proudly on its own against the backdrop of that lofty family legacy. Her voice is plaintive and her song stories (like the tear-jerker “Waiting on June”) are layered.
Check Out: Title tune “The Highway,” an ode to the road, from her third album out last year.
Natalie Stovall and The Drive
With her high voltage live show, Stovall and her fiddle (she’s been playing professionally since she was 12) prove country chicks can rock as hard as any guy. Her band, which has played together since 2006, has just released its first single – here’s to hoping it gets airtime.
Check Out: “Baby Come On With It,” the band’s debut, in which Stovall puts her own spin on the ubiquitous drinking tune.
Rose has flown under our radar until recently, but what a haunting voice hers is. She comes by her country writing chops naturally – her mom is Liz Rose, who co-wrote several Taylor Swift hits including “You Belong with Me” – but Caitlin is cut from a different cloth. Her second album, The Stand-In, mixes vintage country (think Patsy Cline) with indie pop and old-school jazz. We’re not sure she even has country radio in her sights, but we know we’d love to hear her there.
Check Out: “Waitin’,” a Rose tune from The Stand-In, which was covered by Scarlett (Clare Bowen) on ABC’s Nashville.