Reviewed by Bill Tokash
Dale Watson’s pioneering spirit is best exemplified by his annual Ameripolitan Music Awards coming up next month on February 15th 2017 at the Paramount Theater in Austin TX. Each year, Dale nominates a total of 60 solo performers and bands across Honky-tonk, Outlaw, Rockabilly and Western Swing genres. Voting for the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Awards will take place using the free Ameripolitan Ballot Buster app until Jan. 8, 2017.
I decided it could help Dale’s efforts to highlight my take on each of this year’s batch of nominees. This review is the first of 12 installments and focuses on the Honky-tonk Female category. And with each installment, I’ll post my own Spotify playlist with a sampling of each category’s nominees.
Dale’s Honky-tonk Female nominees this year include the following artists:
Brennen Leigh, is a talented Austin, TX singer/songwriter who has applied her circa 1950s time-traveler-esque vocals on her brilliant recent release of Lefty Frizzell covers.
Karen Jonas, a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, released a mix of soft ballads and high-speed honky-tonk twangers titled Country Songs, which was recorded live in the studio and released in October 2016.
Leona Williams, a Missouri native with unprecedented Old School cred that includes a Top 10 duet with Merle Haggard, is a Branson legend who was inducted into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame in 1999. Her “instant-chills” vocals were featured on a 2012 released titled “By George, It’s Leona” where she covered songs by The Possum.
Lorraine Chavana, who also hails from Austin TX, released her first album filled with ballads featuring her tender, smoky vocals titled Free to Love in October, 2015 to rave reviews and instant radio airplay.
Vanessa “Gal Holiday” Niemann, is a New Orleans-by-way-of Appalachia based singer who fronts the Texas/Louisiana honky-tonk legends known as Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue.
I was taken aback by Brennen Leigh’s outstanding vocal range, demonstrated on a heartfelt version of Lefty’s Saginaw, Michigan and a stunning duet with Sunny Sweeney on But You Like Country. Karen Jonas has crafted a potential Ameripolitan hit with the title track to her recent release, but I felt the album reached its best on up tempo songs like Ophelia.
Having never listened before, Leona Williams knocked me flat by channeling Tammy Wynette on Yes, Ma’am (He Found Me in a Honky Tonk) and then Loretta Lynn on Country Girl With the Hot Pants On. On Free to Love, Lorraine Chavana demonstrates songwriting that likely comes from some serious personal heartbreak on tearjerker ballads like This Bed That I’ve Made and She’d Already Won Your Heart. And to close out the summary, Vanessa struck a chord with me with a version of Plastic Jesus, the song that Cool Hand Luke Jackson made famous.
This is a wide-ranging, talented group of nominees with diverse talents, so check out my playlist, and, as we say here in Chicago on Election Day, “vote early, vote often!”