When I was growing up, female musicians seemed to fall into three categories: classic rock, country, or saccharine pop. I didn’t care much for the latter two, and for each spin of Heart, Fleetwood Mac, or Janis Joplin on the radio, you’d have seven songs by The Who alone. No offense to the guys, but sometimes you just want to be able to identify with the singer a bit more readily. I had enough issues growing up with a unisex name and getting confused for a guy by default. I wanted to know that women could have the gravity, honesty, and opportunity to take the spotlight. Fortunately I grew up, moved somewhere with better radio, and took advantage of the suggestions the Internet had to offer me along the way. Accordingly, on this International Women’s Day, I’d like to introduce you to ten ladies you may or may not already appreciate.
Bif Naked. Shameless confession: I came to know Bif Naked’s music through Buffy The Vampire Slayer. “Lucky” was one of her more delicate songs, but I soon discovered the rest of her oeuvre with its punk roots, brash condemnations of inequality, and confessional cleansing. “I Love Myself Today” is definitely the perfect tune for this holiday, and I’m going to blast it through the night.
Martha Wainwright. Here’s another musician who has Canadian roots. I’m sure you’ve heard her older brother Rufus, and you might be familiar with the rest of her musical family. Martha can go from a yelp to a purr in a moment, and she’s as comfortable with pop and folk as she is with cabaret. Though she’s released a few albums and EPs, I have to highlight “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” because it’s a fearless condemnation of her own father, even if the two have mostly resolved their issues.
Lisa Hannigan. The first time I heard Damien Rice, his video for “Volcano” was playing on VH1. I wanted to know who the female singer was and felt disappointed when she wasn’t mentioned by name. (I also forgot Damien’s name and bought Howie Day’s album by mistake about a week later, but I digress.) I remember collecting every bootleg I could before Lisa struck out on her own with her folk that places a delightful emphasis on many instruments rarely chosen for center stage. Behold “Knots,” one of the best videos ever.
Maria Doyle Kennedy. Yes, she is the delightfully evil Mrs. Bates on Downton Abbey, and no, that’s not what we’re here to cover. Maria has a beautiful, dark tone to her voice and really ought to be known for her music just as much as (if not more than) her acting. I interviewed her in January after her show here in New York (shameless link here), and she was refreshingly down to earth but committed to her art regardless of the struggles. Here is the title track of her latest album, “Sing.”
Bronagh Gallagher. Bronagh Gallagher was part of The Commitments, a musical film that also included Maria Doyle Kennedy. Like Maria, Bronagh has continued a career in acting while creating music. Her style of blue-eyed soul would do Van Morrison proud, and her lyrics take the refreshing approach of storytelling rather than just opting for a rhyme. I love this performance of “Love Will Find You” from Other Voices, and so should you.
Lissie. At a former job, I had to watch commercials all day, mostly British. In the midst of that mind-numbing tedium, I discovered an American singer by the name of Lissie who wasn’t quite as popular on her native shores. Her voice is big and rebellious, her sound taking a page from ’70s simplicity. I am very much looking forward to her next album. She seems so effortlessly cool, and I wish I could just go to a gig and do shots of tequila with her. Or maybe I’ll leave the tequila to her.
Gabrielle Aplin. To flip back to the topic of the UK just a moment, here we have a rising star. Gabrielle used to post covers on her YouTube channel. Now she has a record deal, a debut LP on the way, a hit single, and a lot of cute Instagram photos of her ferret. She’s sure to blow up as soon as her album is out, as much from her chart-topping cover of “The Power of Love” as the inevitable boost from rabid Ed Sheeran fans, who no doubt know that she has been opening for the very nice fellow in Australia. How ridiculously good are her lyrics though?
Laura Marling. I’m sticking with British ladies. Deal with it. Right from her debut, Laura has displayed a maturity and steadiness beyond her years. This is folk for the modern age, addictively honest and flawed and catchy. Her fourth LP is coming out in May, and from the sound of “Where Can I Go?”, this will be just as powerful as her previous releases.
Rosi Golan. My roommates and I have very little musical taste in common (one has a playlist that includes Nickelback), so I’m always pleasantly surprised when Rosi’s Nashville-tinged brilliance begins to filter through the apartment. Maybe it’s the New York connection. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. Rosi is spry, observant, and emotional, plus she has a voice that sounds so effortlessly beautiful that you’d be reduced to envy if she didn’t manage to write music worthy of her talent. Like with Maria, I’m lucky to have interviewed Rosi. She’s ridiculously good live, so enjoy.
Markéta Irglová. I remember that when The Swell Season won their Oscar for “Falling Slowly,” I received several texts from friends because I’d gone on and on about the film Once and the musicians who starred in it. I had no idea that The Swell Season would go so far or that a few years on, I’d see Markéta play solo material in a small Brooklyn coffee shop that could not have held more than twenty people. I’ve seen her pop up at gigs around New York, and she has transformed from a shy teenager to a woman clearly in love with music and her friends who help create it. Her material away from Glen Hansard is more piano-centric and features its own quirks (rain drum, anyone?), and I hope she releases more on her own soon.