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The last year has been great for women in country music, with relative newcomers Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe releasing sublime albums, Miranda Lambert racking up awards port and starboard, and even Taylor Swift creating a surprisingly relevant, ground-breaking collection of songs that pushed the expectations of what country music is.
The trend continues on May 7, with three albums from women's perspectives debuting: the Pistol Annies' sophomore record "Annie Up," Dixie Chick Natalie Maines' solo debut "Mother," and Lady Antebellum's much-anticipated fourth record.
Lady Antebellum features two men along with Hillary Scott, but Scott's strengths as a songwriter and singer are front-and-center on "Golden," with lead single "Downtown" a song that you hate on the first listen but then love on the second, with Scott cleverly skewering her partner for being a homebody: "I'm only counting on your cancellation / When I should be counting on you at my door." Of the three country releases, "Golden" is the slickest and most mainstream, with the trio following a formula that has worked well for them before, especially songs about lost love with exquisite harmonizing between Scott and fellow lead singer Charles Kelley. The album includes both sweet, full-bodied songs that will sound great on the radio this summer, but also features a lot of filler.
Moving on, the Dixie Chicks will be touring this summer up in Canada, but the Dixie Chicks' lead singer (and firebrand) Maines is finally putting out new material after the Chicks not releasing anything new since 2006's" Taking the Long Way." Actually, only two of the songs are penned by Maines (performing at Deer Valley on July 30), with one, "Come Cryin' To Me," co-written by the other Dixie Chicks and the Jayhawks' Gary Louris. Recorded with Ben Harper, Maines sings Eddie Vedder's "Without You," the Jayhawks' "I'd Run Away," and Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over," none of the covers eclipses the original renditions. Only her version of Pink Floyd's "Mother" offers any revelation. And people looking for the fun country shown by the Dixie Chicks will find primarily rock-influenced production that is serious to the point of dry earnestness.
The best of the three albums released on May 7 comes from the Pistol Annies, the trio of Lambert, Monroe and Angaleena Presley. With Lambert and Monroe onboard, the bluegrass-inspired collection is nothing short of entertaining, even when the women complain non-stop about the men in their lives. With songs such as "I Feel A Sin Comin' On," "Dear Sobriety," and "Unhappily Married," the women are alternately lusty, boozy, and detail-oriented, and offer fresh perspectives on tales usually sang by country's redneck men."Golden" Grade: B-"Mother" Grade: C+"Annie Up" Grade: A-