February is the dreariest month. The skies are continually grey and overcast—unless it’s raining or snowing. The wind blows in cold from the north. The days are still short. And there’s little happening at local venues because touring acts are afraid to book shows when there’s inclement weather.
Then there are the February holidays. The powers-that-be have merged Lincoln’s Birthday with Washington’s Birthday to create Presidents’ Day. Sad to say, not every former president deserves commemoration.
Next is Valentine’s Day—the most despicable holiday of all. It reminds those without a mate of what they are missing, while those with a partner have to buy something, lest flower shops, candy stores, and restaurants go out of business.
For some Iowa listeners, mainstream country music is the February of popular music—dreary and repetitious, not to mention twangy and lyrically stoopid. The airwaves are filled with “bro songs,” upbeat tunes in which the singer’s mate is an adjunct to having a good time.
To be fair, however, “bro songs” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nashville country. For the past few years, we’ve witnessed a renaissance of wonderful female artists in the field. Even if you don’t hear them much on the radio, there’s no denying the stature of artists such as Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Dolly Parton, not to mention crossover acts such as Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves.
Shueyville, Iowa’s Haley Whitters deservedly has become a national star, thanks to country radio—and there is a slew of others who have won recent Grammy and American Country Music awards because of their talents. Female country artists are no longer obscure, marginal musicians. They have become part of the familiar landscape.
Listed below are five titles by female country artists from 2022 whose main concern (which is true for all popular music) is love in all its complex permutations. The songs on these discs offer a thoughtful remedy for the February blues.
Ingrid Andress, Good Person. Ingrid Andress had a number-one country radio single last year with “Wishful Drinking” featuring Sam Hunt, but that’s only a bonus track on her most recent album. Instead, Good Person thematically is filled with songs like “Pain,” “How Honest Do You Want Me to Be,” and “Things That Haven’t Yet,” and the album’s title track exposes the hypocrisy behind self-sacrifice—the kind of thoughts one has upon reflection on one’s past behavior. The best lines: “But the last day they were on the same page / Was in a yearbook” from “Yearbook” and “I love that we forgive but hate that we forget” from “Talk.”
Kaitlin Butts, What Else Can She Do. Kaitlin Butts’s latest release made both Rolling Stone and American Songwriter’s lists for best recordings of 2022, even though her album contains only seven songs and is less than 35 minutes long. She sings about her own failures as well as those of her lover in her search for meaning in this heartless world. She reworks the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter in “Jackson” and the old murder ballad “In the Pines” to connect with past traditions while presenting new and fresh perspectives on life and love. The best lines: “I’m damned if I do / And I’m bored if I don’t” from “Bored If I Don’t” and “She walked through an open door that said, ‘Welcome all lost souls’ / Mama said it’s like losin’ a child without the flowers and the casseroles” from “She’s Using.”
Nikki Lane, Denim and Diamonds. Nikki Lane has always affected a tough persona. She lets you know she could kick your ass but does so with a wicked smile on her face. She employed rock’s Queen of the Stone Age founder Joshua Hommes to produce her latest album, which declares her independence from social conventions about male and female societal roles. The song titles that announce she was “Born Tough” and hasn’t “Faded” are accompanied by guitar-driven melodies that owe more to the Rolling Stones than Hank Williams (senior or junior). The best lines: “Well, I don’t wanna fall in love and have to hide it / I don’t wanna hurt no one or have to deny it” on “Live/Love,” and “I cried out, ‘Daddy, what if I can’t swim?’ / He said, ‘You’ll never know if you don’t dive in’” from “Try Harder.”
Ashley McBryde, Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville. Ashley McBride is not the only voice singing and playing on Lindeville. She’s employed a cast of other singer-songwriters to play the denizens of small-town America. The songs capture the bawdy aspects of love and faith. Her characters might always find themselves praying for something, but lust can be as holy as it is mundane in songs that range from “Brenda Put Your Bra On” to “Gospel Night At The Strip Club.” There are fake ads (including an announcement for two-for-one cremations) and radio segments, plus a rockin’ cover of the Everly Brothers `a la Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved.” The best lines: “They could sniff out the cheaters and point out the liars / Shit on their lawns and piss on their tires” from “If These Dogs Could Talk” and “He lost his wife to cancer and his thumb to Vietnam / He jokes he used to be a hitchhiker but not for very long” from “Play Ball.”
Amanda Shires, Take it Like a Man. Amanda Shires’s seventh album isn’t afraid to be crude as the 40-year-old performer proudly announces her desires. She mocks the stereotypes about older women and makes it clear that today’s females have to be tougher than their male counterparts. She’s not afraid to be vulnerable as well—she understands that being tough and tender are just two sides of the same coin. On songs like “Hawk for the Dove” and “Bad Behavior,” Shires declares one has to be strong to be weak. The best lines: “For worse or for better / Nothing lasts forever” from “Everything Has its Time,” and “You were smiling so much you kissed me with your teeth” from “Stupid Love.”