As Tammy Wynette almost once said, sometimes it’s hard to be a country music fan. Thank goodness then for the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Orville Peck and Margo Price, the Grammy-scooping, LSD-dropping space cowgirl, lonesome masked rider and hard-grafting outlaw who have taken the much maligned genre into pastures new, inspiring a new generation to dig deep into the history of classic country but also bring their own unique twist to the party.
Since the start, country music has been a place for people to share their stories with their communities. As such, women – and particularly working class women – have long been at the vanguard. It all began in the 1920s with the Carter Family, driven by innovative guitar playing powerhouse Maybelle Carter and featuring plaintive, emotion-flooded vocals from her cousin Sara, both of them paving the way for the superstar careers of coal miner’s daughter Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, one of 12 siblings raised in a single room cabin and Patsy Cline, who was born to a 16-year-old mother and spent her own teenage years plucking chickens in a poultry farm.
This lot might never have ever plucked chickens, but they’ve got their own, equally important tales to tell. Here are the country singers to look out for.
Courtney Marie Andrews
Set for release this summer, Courtney Marie Andrews’ newest album perfectly plugs into the emotion that drives the very best country music; deep, gut-punching sorrow. Old Flowers is the sound of a broken heart slowly piecing itself back together again. Unexpected, slightly odd bonus fact: Courtney used to be a defacto member of emo titans Jimmy Eat World.
Listen to: ‘If I Told’
Most country lyric: “Some days are good/Some days are bad/Some days I want what we had” – Burlap String
In her slick vintage Western suits and wide-brimmed cream-coloured Stetson hats, Jaime Wyatt doesn’t just look the part, she is country. There’s been prison time, substance abuse and coming to terms with the realisation that she was gay while married to man; experiences which all feed into her brutally honest lyricism. Jaime’s new album Neon Cross is out at the end of May and it’s as triumphant as she is.
Listen to: ‘Wishing Well’
Most country lyric: “So sad, goddamn/I’m wearing some pitiful perfume/Dark glasses, gold liquor, jukeboxes and alligator shoes” – Neon Cross
Their self-penned bio – “a country playing dragon riding angel demon” – might make Evil sound like Grimes’ honky-tonking twin, but Washington DC’s genderqueer, banjo-brandishing Evil has forged a hazy, addictive genre all of their very own; R&Bluegrass. A former member of rap collective Barf Troop, new solo material is on the way very soon.
Listen to: ‘Mice or Men’
Most country lyric: “I know I seem real tough/But every night, tears fall from my eyes/For you and only you” – Slow Dance
Katy J Pearson
You don’t have to be from the land of stars and stripes to do country music right. Recent lockdown livestreams from Bristol’s Katy J Pearson have seen her covering the tragic 1970s Texan sadboi Townes Van Zandt and in the video for debut single ‘Tonight’ she amused herself by line-dancing through a stone circle while wearing double denim.
Listen to: ‘Take Back The Radio’
Most country lyric: “Watching him through the spotlight/The song that was playing, it was alright/She said ”Do you wanna dance with me tonight?” – Tonight
Jesse Jo Stark
With her goth-rock rock roots, we weren’t sure if Jesse Jo technically counted as country, but then she went and covered the late John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’ and gained immediate access to this virtual Grand Ole Opry audition. She’s got grubby cowpunk tunes to back-up her self-styled ‘hillbilly horror’ aesthetic too and is currently working on her debut album with songwriting legend Linda Perry.
Listen to: Angel From Montgomery
Most country lyric: “I’d love to kill you, but you look like an angel still/Street lights up our faces, winding down the hill” – Lady Bird