The Country Music Association Awards air a week from today. I just lost two-thirds of my readers with that lead, but I’m not ashamed to spend the next 500 words talking about how the women of country music continued to kick ass this year.
Their music isn’t centered around anything similar to Luke Bryan shaking his butt on the bed of a pickup truck, Brantley Gilbert grunting gibberish with a red Solo cup in hand or Dierks Bentley getting drunk on a plane.
I mean, I love “Drunk on a Plane,” but it’s just about some dude getting drunk on a plane. That’s about it. It’s my go-to air travel anthem, but not exactly award-winning material.
The biggest advantage some of the women in country music have is their songwriting. With the exception of Eric Church and a few others, most of the men who’ve made it big have had their hits sold to them by up-and-coming Nashville songwriters, and they’re usually not that heartfelt or thought-provoking. Not that music needs to be poetic and complex to be good. It just gets old after a while.
Many of them are great performers and musicians, but not being the primary songwriters takes a lot away from the authenticity of their work. That’s not a problem these women have.
Next to Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris has been the latest and greatest to make her mark on country radio. She was nominated for Best Country Album at this year’s Grammy Awards for her major-label debut, “Hero,” for which she is the primary songwriter of every track.
She ended up winning Best Country Solo Performance for her song “My Church,” which features modern, relatable lyrics with a touch of irreverence that may be off-putting to older listeners. But she doesn’t really care what they think.
And neither does Kacey Musgraves, an artist who gets overlooked even after her massive critical success. Her recent album “Pageant Material,” the follow-up to her Grammy award-winning “Same Trailer Different Park,” is over two years old but still rocks. Rather than the typical lasso-swinging, honky-tonk, “yeehaw” country that comes to every non-country-listener’s mind, which is accurate a lot of the time, she bends the genre the way she wants.
Her songwriting is arguably among the most unconventional within the genre. It’s rootsy, but she’s not just another cowboy-chord country singer. She’s basically Willie Nelson’s millennial godchild. Her songs have substance, and I’m not alluding to her marijuana references.
And of course, there’s Miranda Lambert. My undying love for her should not take away from the attempted impartiality of this column.
Despite a lackluster showing on the radio, her most recent record, “The Weight of These Wings,” won Album of the Year at last spring’s American Country Music Awards. Releasing it as a double-LP was a little out of the norm for modern country, as was having primary songwriting credits on 20 of its 24 songs.
One of the album’s singles, “Tin Man,” is up for Song of the Year at next week’s CMAs. It doesn’t have the grit that everyone is used to from her, but she doesn’t have to come off as rough around the edges all of the time.
Maybe future country artists will be inspired by these women to add a little more depth to their music, though I’m not holding my breath. Not all of their work makes it to the radio, but it’s not going unnoticed. They’ve got serious chops, and their songwriting holds its own against all genres of music, not just country.