There's a script for women in commercial country music that doesn't necessarily coincide with more mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about women. If you've ever heard Carrie Underwood's ubiquitous 2007 single, "Before He Cheats" (lyrics), you'll recognize the tropes.
Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn't grow up working class, and she's equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"), Jesus (Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away").
One of the newer variations on these themes is the girl group Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Check out the first single of their August LP, Hell on Heels (lyrics):
In that way that some people (read: me) obsessively decide which three wishes they'd choose if they had three wishes, I have considered carefully whose voice I would want if some fairy godmother appeared and granted me the power to actually not sound like a squawking turkey when I sing. The choice gets tougher, though, between the top two.
A few months ago, I read a lovely post on country music by Garland Grey over at Tiger Beatdown, and I was quite enjoying myself until he included Johnny Cash as a "toxic model for masculinity" and I hit the roof internally*.
Because Johnny Cash may be the only model for masculinity I turn to. (Well, aside from Springsteen, about whom more later!)
And now again, as the U.S. writhes under the weight of its own myths, I go back to Cash as well.
By the end (I'm hoping not for good, but for now, anyway) of Sleater-Kinney Corin Tucker's voice was a finely honed weapon, full of deep, slow, sexy soul and capable of an earsplitting wail, a bonechilling snarl, a rock'n'roll howl that didn't so much as defy gender as rip the guts straight out of it.
Her new record, 1,000 Years puts that voice front and center, without the thrash that made The Woods so threatening at the time.
My Bitch Tapes mix this week is a celebration of the punkest women out there: the women of country music. While other genres largely excluded female musicians, women country singers back in the day were a dime a dozen (thank god!) Not even poverty, abusive husbands and managers, substance abuse issues, or a male-run music industry could keep these ladies away from the mic. It was hard to whittle my list down to eight of my favorite songs, but here it is.