Country music’s rich legacy of women singers and guitarists is as old as the genre itself, dating back to Maybelle Carter and other radio stars of the 1920s.
The genre’s well-worn terrain has shifted immensely over the years, and with each change, a new wave of talented women has found commercial and critical acclaim.
Whether they are continuing a family legacy, transitioning from songwriter-for-hire status to solo stardom, or chasing pop-oriented sounds, these eight guitarists and songwriters have what it takes to navigate Nashville in 2016. Read on, press play, and discover some new favorites in country.
Ashley Campbell: Carrying on Her Father’s Pop-Country Legacy
One of the bright spots in I’ll Be Me, the heartbreaking 2014 documentary that chronicles legendary hit-maker Glen Campbell’s ongoing struggle with Alzheimer’s, is the vocal and banjo-picking talents of Campbell’s youngest child, Ashley. The 29-year-old’s solo career has been off to a steady start since the film debuted her heart-wrenching tribute to her ailing father, “Remembering.” Since then, Ashley has focused on sharpening her live show, including at June appearance at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Live shows are a family affair for the Campbell’s—Ashley’s first tastes of life on the road came playing in her dad’s band for his final tours. Ashley’s current backing band includes her brother, Shannon. Together, the second generation of Campbell’s is chasing the successes of their father, who was one of the original pop-country crossover stars.
Mickey Guyton: Pop with a Regional Twang
For those seeking an artist who straddles the line between country and pop without sacrificing regional twang for danceable grooves, look no further than Mickey Guyton. She first showed a penchant for both melancholy ballads and upbeat pop on two digital E.P.s issued by Capitol—2014’s Unbreakable and 2015’s Mickey Guyton. Her recent single “Heartbreak Song” has a danceable vibe that suits the current country, pop, and alternative airwaves, and its lyric video’s colorful, meme-ready imagery looks like something you’d expect more from party punks Tacocat than a country crooner. Both song and video add a sense of fun to modern country that’s sometimes overshadowed by sad songs and bro-country clichés.
Becca Mancari: Nashville’s Hidden Treasure
Becca Mancari is a traveler who accidentally wound up in Nashville, TN—a city that perfectly compliments Mancari’s guitar style and storytelling techniques. Songs like “Summertime Mama” incorporate classic country twang accented by slide guitars and vocal breaks met with an array of guitars that create a type of call and response reminiscent of both Jenny Lewis and Johnny Cash. As a solo performer, Mancari keeps a tight grip on the listener with heart wrenching lyrics of travel and love, stories that feel personal yet relatable—the juxtaposition of longing and love is effervescent in Mancari’s country tunes.
Lilly Hiatt: The Bleak Side of Country Storytelling
Lilly Hiatt, the daughter of accomplished songwriter John Hiatt dialed in to the more depressing end of the country music spectrum on 2015 country-rock breakthrough Royal Blue. Hiatt’s musical approach is more rock ‘n’ roll than country. She cites Pearl Jam as her all-time favorite musical act and many of her melodic soundscapes are reminiscent of indie-folk singer-songwriters like Neko Case. Lyrically, Hiatt’s fearless deconstructions of life’s downswings capture the unrelenting sadness of Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham.”
Lori McKenna: Another Songwriter Flies Solo
In recent years, veteran songwriters such as Chris and Morgane Stapleton, and Brandy Clark have found widespread success performing their own material instead of writing songs for established country singers and vocal groups. Massachusetts-based Lori McKenna may be the next in line when her ninth solo album, The Bird and the Rifle (CN Records), arrives on July 29. Since 2005, McKenna has been a go-to songwriter for other artists, including Faith Hill, Sara Evans, and Alison Krauss. With the chart-topping success of Little Big Town’s 2014 hit “Girl Crush,” which was co-written by McKenna, fresh on listeners’ minds and a renewed mainstream interest in roots-based artists, this may be the year McKenna’s solo material finally gets its due.
Margo Price: Modern Day Outlaw
Third Man recording artist Margo Price is a modern day Music City outlaw. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, issued March 25, captures the spirit of the strong-willed women who over the years have prospered on their own terms in a male-dominated field. The songs and attitudes of Wanda Jackson, Jeannie C. Riley, Tanya Tucker, and countless others laid the groundwork. Now it’s Price’s turn to sing about an independent way of living that shatters outdated misconceptions about a “woman’s place” in country music.
Aubrie Sellers: Garage-Country Songwriter Sings the Blues
Aubrie Sellers is another famous daughter looking to make her own impact on Nashville. Her mom is pop-country superstar Lee Ann Womack, and her dad is singer, songwriter, and session musician Jason Sellers. Instead of recreating “I Hope You Dance” in her own voice, Sellers has charted her own creative path. The January release of Sellers’ debut album, New City Blues, unveiled a sound that incorporates elements of garage rock and the blues into the classic country revival. One of the more rocking tracks is “Magazines,” a critique on mass media that oozes punk attitude.
Tara Thompson: Loretta’s Cousin is a Potential Pop Star
Like Campbell, Hiatt, and Sellers, Tennessee native Tara Thompson is related to country royalty—she’s third cousins with famous sisters Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle. Thompson’s debut EP, Someone to Take Your Place, arrived June 10. It takes cues from both famous relatives. Lynn’s innate ability to craft believable and relatable stories about life as a young Southern woman can be heard on the title track. There’s also a pop sensibility to Thompson’s signature tune. It’s a riskier and more rewarding take on Gayle’s adult contemporary hits, following the same irreverent approach to pop-accessible country that has made Miranda Lambert a superstar.
Alice Wallace: Furthering California Country
California’s country music legacy tops that of most Southern states. Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, and numerous others achieved mainstream success from the Golden State instead of Tennessee or Texas. Alice Wallace is a contemporary product of California with a throwback sound reminiscent of Owens’ seminal Capitol Records output from the ‘50s and ‘60s—a time when the future Hee-Haw star’s talent as an energetic vocalist and breakneck guitarist reenergized country music for a growing rock ‘n’ roll audience. Last October’s Memories, Music, and Pride LP casts Wallace as a rock guitarist with the powerful voice of Wynona Judd and a growing arsenal of songs that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Grand Ole Opry stage at any point over the past 50 years.
Alynda Segarra: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Alynda Segarra bridges the gap between Indie and Country music—using traditional country instruments such as violins, an upright bass, and acoustic guitars, among others, Segarra is well loved by an array of musicians and music lovers across many genres for her blend of Country/Folk/Americana/Riot Grrrl/Doo Wop and Motown. Originally from the Bronx, Segarra currently resides in New Orleans and releases records under ATO records.