Unlike the male singer-songwriter, a rarely discussed boxed convention in and of itself, women are expected to occupy a certain space as artists. They can only be so sexy, so smart, so accessible, and in some instances, they can only be one color and age. Being a male feminist and a longtime admirer of female artistry in popular music, I sat down and thought about which female singer-songwriters move me? Which ones are likely not to be mentioned, which ones usually are (rightfully so), and which ones normally wouldn't intersect in discussion?
The list presents at least 22 of my favorite female singer-songwriters across a spectrum of music. These women all work with words and music to translate their experiences, and those of others, into real aural pieces that people can step into. It goes without saying that all of these ladies are beyond exceptional, they're extraordinary.
Y Kant Tori Read, 1988). Later, she forged ahead to her own truth and with her debut Little Earthquakes (1992), Amos helped reintroduce the piano back into popular music for women. Amos' works are noted for their fascinating, if difficult inclusions of folklore, modern day politics, religion, and sexuality, all allusions to the general human experience. Keeping her piano as the center of her music, her sound has transformed through the years.
Performing "Black Dove (January)," Circa 1998
Pulled off of from the choirgirl hotel (1998)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Scarlet's Walk (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Tori Amos' Works
Along with Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton became one of the bright faces to characterize the decidedly girlish approach to the Venus songwriting archetype in the early '00's. "A Thousand Miles," from her first album Be Not Nobody (2002), will be forever remembered. Label politicking cost her dearly when her second album, the fine and fair Harmonium, released in 2004 to little fanfare. Undaunted, Carlton continued to put out records as recently as last year with the mind blowing Rabbits on the Run. With her tender, youthful vocalizing matched with her virtuosic piano playing, Carlton's sound is instantly recognizable.
Performing "White Houses," Circa 2007
Pulled off of Harmonium (2004)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Rabbits On the Run (2011)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Vanessa Carlton's Work
Performing "Good is Good," Circa 2005
Pulled off of Wildflower (2005)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Wildflower (2005)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Sheryl Crow's Works
Melissa Etheridge released a trio of intense rock recordings from 1988 through
1992, all hailed for their power. Etheridge then broke into the mainstream with her fourth long player Yes I Am (1993), a title that played on the question of her sexuality. Etheridge did come out the same year as Yes I Am, becoming one of the great GLBTQ figures in popular music. Surviving cancer in late 2004, Etheridge is a fierce artist whose music deals in the complexities of human attraction and the consequences of said attraction.
Performing "Your Little Secret," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Your Little Secret (1995)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Lucky (2004)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Melissa Etheridge's Works
The daughter of jazz great Mary Stallings, goddaughter of saxophonist Pharaoh Saunders, Evans seemed destined for greatness when she started working the music scene in Los Angeles. There, she met her musical/romantic counterpart Dred Scott, the co-producer of all her output. Her eponymous first album, that dropped in 1997, held a lush mixture of bright hip-hop and vintage, melodic R&B. It got lost in the neo-soul shuffle. Her experimental second affair Nomadic appeared in 2004. Television and film director Patrik Ian-Polk ushered in the next phase of Evans career. "Remember the Love," from Nomadic, became the theme to Polk's Noah's Arc, the first black-gay drama in 2006. Exposure from Noah's Arc helped bring this stimulating soul chanteuse to more ears.
Performing "Seein' Is Believing," Circa 2011
Pulled off of Adriana Evans (1997)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Walking With the Night (2010)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Adriana Evans' Works
India Arie Simpson, to become India.Arie, used her reflective brand of R&B to fight ahead of the pack 11 years ago with Acoustic Soul (2001). The Grammy winning LP set expectations high for Arie, who consistently met the bar she created with the three follow-ups to Acoustic Soul: Voyage to India (2002), Testimony Volume 1: Life & Relationship (2006), and Testimony Volume 2: Love & Politics (2009). The acoustic guitar is a principal player in Arie's sound, but she dabbles in other musical templates along the three mentioned records.
Performing "Ghetto," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Testimony Volume 2: Love & Politics (2009)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Testimony Volume 1: Life & Relationship (2006)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of India.Arie's Works
Now known for straight ahead country-pop and children's recordings, when Jewel Kilcher arrived in 1994 she was a fresh faced neophyte. The female singer-songwriter movement was doing quite well by the mid-'90's, but her first album Pieces of You (1994), became one of those hit records many only dream of. The singles "Who Will Save Your Soul?," "You Were Meant For Me," and "Foolish Games" became instant staples.
Eager and natural, Jewel's voice held a power that demonstrated she'd be more than just a one-genre ingenue in waiting. She quickly followed up Pieces of You with Spirit (1998), an ambitious recording with a cache of influences. Although the road from Spirit fell fraught with criticism of her authenticity, (2003's excellent 0304 remains divisive among fans), Jewel showed no fear to take her voice and heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics to new horizons.
Performing "Intuition,"Circa 2006
Pulled off of 0304 (2003)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: This Way (2001)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Jewel's Works
Carole Klein, known as Carole King, created the blueprint for women in songwriting in the modern music world. Originating as one of the "Brill Building" writers with her first husband Gerry Goffin, King helped create the American songbook by writing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," "The Locomotion," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Later, relocating to Californian shores from New York, King began the tentative steps to her solo work with the (still) under appreciated starting point LP Writer (1970). Its follow-up, one of, if not the leading record of the female movement, Tapestry (1971) became one of those larger than life albums. Think Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977) or Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982).
Though the bulk of the albums that came after Tapestry were accomplished (most superior to Tapestry), the unending success of King's sophomore recording led to an impromptu halt to her work in 1983. After spending the '80's in relative obscurity as an eco-political actvisit, King returned with City Streets in 1989, and embarked on a still continuing trail of recognition and celebration of her earthy-pop talents.
Performing "Jazzman," Circa 1981
Pulled off of Wrap Around Joy (1974)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Fantasy (1973)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Carole King's Works
Performing "Sisters of Avalon," Circa 2008
Pulled off of Sisters of Avalon (1997)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Hat Full of Stars (1993)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Cyndi Lauper's Works
Performing "I Do," Circa 1997
Pulled off of Firecracker (1997)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Cake & Pie (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Lisa Loeb's Works
Performing "Casanova Brown," Circa 1990
Pulled off of Robbery (1983)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Robbery (1983)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Teena Marie's Work
Performing "Coyote," Circa 1980
Pulled off of Hejira (1976)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Hejira (1976)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Joni Mitchell's Works
An unlikely candidate for inclusion to this list when considering that Moore had materialized as one of the four blonde bombshells to assault pop at the tail end of the '90's. Careful reinvention birthed Coverage (2003), a stellar set of covers from the '70's and early '80's with emphasis on the songwriter medium. Moore's sweet and sturdy voice fit the covers better than the dance-pop she'd peddled prior, with an exception issued to the blasting Canto-pop of "In My Pocket." In the wake of Coverage, Moore revealed her talent at writing her own music with Wild Hope (2007) and the awing Amanda Leigh (2009). Barring where she started, Moore has come into her own.
Performing "Merrimack River," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Amanda Leigh (2009)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Amanda Leigh (2009)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Mandy Moore's Works
One time dance-popper, Morissette issued her third long player Jagged Little Pill
(1995) to acclaim critically, commercially, and creatively. Morissette had been quickly acquired to record Jagged for Madonna's now inert label Maverick, a branch-off from Warner Brothers. Morissette had the misfortune to be immediately pigeonholed after Jagged's win. Fearless, Morissette tracked her own travels based on her emotional integrity. It did not always win her favoritism, but it allowed Morissette to escape the traps that a few of her colleagues fell into in the last decade.
Performing "In Praise of the Vulnerable Man," Circa 2008
Pulled off of Flavors of Entanglement (2008)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Under Rug Swept (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Alanis Morissette's Works
Performing "Fool of Me," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Bitter (1999)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Comfort Woman (2003)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Meshell Ndegeocello's Works
Performing "Every Day," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Stevie Nicks' Music
Laura Nigro (reconstructed to Nyro), a reserved New Yorker, penned tunes for other artists, notably the pop-soul quintet The 5th Dimension. Nyro shone when she decided to step out on her own path. Nyro's demure position was endearing, often bringing across her innate shyness. The crop of records Nyro recorded from the late '60's through the late' 70's are cherished by critics and fans alike. Cancer claimed Nyro in 1996, but her music stays immortal.
Performing "Save the Country," Circa 1968
Pulled off of New York Tendaberry (1969)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (1970)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Lauro Nyro's Music
Like a brush of spring air, Rae's laid back phrasing and folk-soul propelled her to heady heights internationally. Rae, while riding high on the success of her self-titled debut, was struck down by an unimaginable blow: the sudden, tragic death of her husband. Rae took a few years off to realign herself before returning with the soul solid The Sea (2010), her follow-up to Corinne Bailey-Rae (2005/2006). Stronger in its artistic arc, despite its mild selling point, Rae's lyrical and vocal poignancy enthralled. Rae also bears an impressive interpretive stroke, having covered works by the likes of Prince ("I Wanna Be Your Lover"), Bob Marley ("Is This Love?"), and Björk ("Venus As a Boy").
Performing "Feels Just Like the First Time," Circa 2011
Pulled off of The Sea (2010)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: The Sea (2010)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Corinne Bailey Rae's Works
One of the women building bridges between mainstream R&B and jazz, Brenda Russell is a well kept secret in music. Brenda Russell (1979), a stunning stroke of a first album, laid bare Russell's quirky and impassioned voice. Musically, Russell's concoction of the aforementioned jazz/ R&B notions but with elements of European pop showed Russell's music, like the woman, is well traveled. Russell's pen has done well by other artists like Diana Ross ("Let Somebody Know"), Luther Vandross ("If Only For One Night"), Donna Summer ("Dinner With Gershwin"), and Oleta Adams ("Get Here"). Russell's compositions sometimes stand stronger, musically, than the cover as heard on her stark take of "If Only For One Night."
Performing "She's In Love," Circa 2000
Pulled off of Paris Rain (2000)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Between the Sun and the Moon (2004)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Brenda Russell's Works
Daughter of Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster Publishing, Simon had to break out on her own to become the woman she is known as today. 1971 was the year Simon announced her presence with the single "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," an intimate look at the whispers of a ruined relationship and an emergent feminine call-to-arms. Starting in 1975 through 1983, Simon shed her folk-pop beginnings and embraced stylistic shifts that highlighted her songwriting in hues of reggae, jazz, disco, standards, and rock rhythms. That kind of pop palette play allowed the ladies listed here (Sheryl Crow and Jewel) to take risks similar to the ones Simon did first. Her intellectual, sexual, and tender way with music carried Simon into her fifth decade of recording.
Performing "We Have No Secrets," Circa 1995
Pulled off of No Secrets (1972)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Spy (1979)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Carly Simon's Works
Vega's appearance in 1985 was odd as the type of music she was waxing wasn't making ripples then. The sometimes solemn, but riveting story songs that lined Suzanne Vega drew acclaim and cult status. In 1987, seemingly out of nowhere, Vega's second album Solitude Standing hit big on the back of its singles "Luka" and "Tom's Diner." The latter song in its 1990 chill edit, courtesy of the dance production unit DNA, placed Vega before even larger audiences. Vega preceded the female singer-songwriters boom of the
'90's by several years, recording as recently as 2012.
Performing (I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Songs in Red and Grey (2001)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Nine Objects of Desire (1996)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Suzanne Vega's Works
Performing "Lolly Lolly," Circa 1989
Pulled off of Fruit at the Bottom (1989)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Eroica (1990)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Wendy & Lisa's Works
[Editor's Note: Artwork concept created by Quentin Harrison, artwork created by Travis Müller & Andrew Bird. It has to be said that the All Music Guide, which I often use for information on this space, does not wholly represent The QH Blend's views of the women featured here. I do find them to be an excellent resource for people who need a good overview of an artist and their music's history, because of that they are used as the hyperlinks for overall discographies of the artists. Note, they (All Music Guide) are not always complete. An apt example is Wendy & Lisa's 2008 effort White Flags of Winter Chimneys, amongst others, is not featured on All Music Guide. Additional research may be required. Please contact me if you'd like more information on this work. Not all of the records by these women mentioned are in print, visit Amazon or iTunes for further information on availability.-QH]