Estrogen, euphony and domestic ennui

I have been slowly dragging music off my CD shelves and into my iPod for the past couple of weeks. Between my past (and future) life as a music reviewer and Dan’s history as a music promoter, this process is bound to take awhile.

As I made tall stacks of favorite CDs yesterday, I began to realize that the percentage of recordings I grabbed made by women was significantly smaller than I imagined. That’s strange because I think we listen to more music by women in this house than many families do. It’s also strange because for the years that I regularly wrote CD reviews, I was one of the only female music writers in town, and assigned a disproportionate number of albums by women. I didn’t mind this for two reasons – I felt it was important that a wider number of female musicians got some press exposure, and it just so happens that solid, worthwhile female songwriters and performers have been coming out of the woodwork for the last 15 years.

As I listen, I’m amazed that while some of these women are still thriving (or struggling) in the music game, a few have fallen off the map entirely. I’ve scraped together a few links of songs I find worthwhile by the critically acclaimed and the obscure for your listening and viewing pleasure. There are 30 second samples on iTunes, full videos on YouTube and a free little playlist with the same title as this post that I may grow as I can (although getting my first song choice isn’t always feasible). The process has made me consider podcasting, but we’ll see.

My rule as a reviewer has always been to listen to a recording three times. Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with records I hated the first time through, other times things that I liked on the first listen bored me to tears by the third. I hope you enjoy these:

Sam Phillips
One of my favorite songwriters and performers, period. Although her lighter stuff had its ultimate life on the TV show “The Gilmore Girls,” her records are dark, Gothic and gorgeous.
A Boot and a Shoe, “Reflecting Light”: Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe - Reflecting Light (Or “I Need Love” on YouTube)

Amy Rigby
Known as the “Mod Housewife” with pigtail braids and striped stockings back in the when, a lot of her songs are domestic ennui personified. She’s now living in France.
Diary of a Mod Housewife, “We’re Stronger Than That”: Amy Rigby - Diary of a Mod Housewife - We're Stronger Than That

Angela McCluskey
I just like this woman’s voice. She has also apparently expatriated to France, where she sings with a band called Telepopmusik.
The Things We Do
, “It’s Been Done”: YouTube video, Angela McCluskey - The Things We Do - It's Been Done

Caitlin Cary

A member of alt country band Whiskeytown, her bandmate Ryan Adams went on to bigger fame, while she’s cut a few fairly well-received records.
I’m Staying Out, “Empty Rooms”: Caitlin Cary - I'm Staying Out - Empty Rooms

Rosanne Cash

I realize that she’s part of a major musical dynasty, but the emotional catharses she she shared on Rules of Travel and Black Cadillac about life, illness and death are just timeless.
Rules of Travel, “Beautiful Pain”: Rosanne Cash - Rules of Travel - Beautiful Pain
(Or, from the same record, the haunting duet with her father, “September When It Comes” on YouTube.)

Iris DeMent

I didn’t like her old-timey voice at first, but it grew on me and I love her songwriting.
The Way I Should, “The Way I Should”: Iris DeMent - The Way I Should - The Way I Should
(Or DeMent’s video on YouTube of Let the Mystery Be.)

And here is a woman who was in alt country band The Blood Oranges and had a solo record called “The Northeast Kingdom” that I adore, but it’s nowhere on iTunes or any playlist I can find. Sadly (for us anyway, probably happily for her)
, I understand that she’s making soap and raising flowers in New England, far from the turmoil of the music industry. Her name is Cheri Knight:


Here’s another woman who did some interesting things by blending music and slam poetry. She went for some easy laughs, but when I saw her live, I found her to be better than a novelty. She’s dropped of the map, but of you ever watched MTV when they actually played music, you may remember this video: Maggie Estep’s “Hey Baby“.

And here’s the playlist, with the songs I could find from these and some other artists:

What female artists do you love or feel haven’t gotten enough exposure?

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6 thoughts on “Estrogen, euphony and domestic ennui”

  1. I listen to way more female singers than male singers and I read more female writers than male writers. It just ends up that way.

    I LOVE telepopmusik so I’m excited to hear that Angela McCluskey has solo work! Yippee!!!!

  2. Love me some Roseanne Cash, and I do remember the Blood Oranges, vaguely.

    I know what you mean about having SO much music that it takes a while. I just had to buy a TERABYTE (I know, that’s just so incomprehensible) of storage because my music collection is out of control.

    Here’s one that I wish had gone farther with a recording career – Tracy Ullman! She’s got a fine voice. Maybe she was already so successful at the other stuff, she didn’t need to go there, but I wish she had.

    Tink *~*~*

  3. I see another blog on the horizon for you, Tracy!

    Thanks for the music tips. I do listen to way more men than women, but that’s kind of a sexual thing. As for female artists, I love the band Gjallarhorn (Finnish?) and one of my all-time favorites is Sally Oldfied, Mike’s sister. What ever happened to the Oldfieds? In your new blog, you can investigate such things. I love Kate Bush and Patti Smith, too.

    And speaking of Ryan Adams, I’ve been lukewarm to him lately because of his rivalry with MY Jeff Tweedy. I’m told by Tweedy’s neighbor (whom I met at a bar) that Adam’s has a t-shirt ‘I am trying to bore your heart.’

  4. Great recommendations, Tracy. I tend to listen more to folk music, yodeling, and some of the she-goat supergroups, but these ladies aren’t bad at all. I actually have several Sam Phillips albums, and they haven’t lost their appeal over the years.

    One of my favorite female artists is Poe, whose album Haunted is awesome. It’s closely related to her brother’s book House of Leaves, and experiencing them together is pretty amazing.

    Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Canadian indie music, and one my favorite new artists is Basia Bulat. You can see a trippy video here or visit her Web site here. I also like Jill Barber. Check out her song “When I’m Making Love to You” in particular.

    Happy listening!

  5. I’m loving these recommendations…

    Dawn – that Angela McCluskey solo record is really nice. I hope you enjoy it!

    tink – That is a LOT of storage space! If I ever undertake a bigger conversion to digital than just favorites, we’ll probably be in the same boat. For now, I’m too attached to booklets and lyrics and stuff. Loved that Tracey Ullman recording too – put her one lonely single on my playlist.

    meg – Yes – some changes and a new blog (and possibly this one revised) should be forthcoming! I have much to say about Patti Smith and Kate Bush (I. LOVE. THEM.), but I think each may deserve their own post. You should also really enjoy the next playlist I am working on… Added Gjallarhorn to my playlist here, but couldn’t find any SO track.

    Goat bomb – Wow, goats have a seriously hip side! That Basia Boulat video is going to chase me into my dreams. I added a song by each of the artists you mentioned to the playlist.

  6. Nice! I’ll have to check those links out. I am always looking for more female artists to listen to.

    I made a Red Tent mix for friends with only female artists. It was a lot of fun.

    Who do I like?

    Neko Case, Madeleine Peyroux, Michelle Shocked (pre gospel), Norah Jones, the Sounds, the Donnas, Throwing Muses (and Kristen Hersch solo), Concrete Blonde, Lovage

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