Welcome to our festive feature where the Belles and Gals team get together to bring you the highlights of their year. In today’s final piece Nick Cantwell (twitter.com/nickbelles_gals) shares his highlights of 2018!
In looking back over 2018 I’ve decided to divide my highlights into three different sections – albums of the year, my favourite live gig and what is hopefully a very important turning point in 2018.
Albums of 2018
I’m of the opinion that 2018 might just have been of the best years for female fronted country music in the history of the genre and four particular albums have rocked my world this year (if any of these four had been released in 2017, they would have won my album of the year by a distance). The first album I fell in love with was Caitlyn Smith’s ‘Starfire’, which on hearing in the early part of the year, just blew me away. Caitlyn is a rare talent who doesn’t receive the headlines of the others on this list, but if ‘Starfire’ isn’t on EVERY list at the end of this year, there will be a huge injustice. ‘Tacoma’ and ‘This Town is Killing Me’ are standouts of an incredible album for me.
The second album I’m going to shout is Ashley McBryde’s ‘Girl Going Nowhere’. This album was released in the spring, but I never got round to listening to it until the summer and it became the soundtrack to my holiday this year, sat by a pool in Majorca with the album almost on repeat. My favourite lines from the album – “Hold me baby, hold me like you ain’t mine to hold, Oh kiss me baby kiss me, like you don’t care who knows, Oh love me baby love me like Kennedy and Monroe” – just incredible. Ashley has the world at her feet and you just know she is going to grab it with both hands and become one of the true greats of the genre.
The third album on the list is Kacey Musgrave’s ‘Golden Hour’. Kacey’s career has been incredible and having loved ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ and ‘Pageant Material’ I couldn’t wait for the new release. However, this new album was so different, that my first impression was one of slight disappointment, almost longing for the same type of sound from the previous albums. Looking back now, that seems crazy. Within 2 or 3 listens I knew I was getting hooked and it’s clear that Kacey has created something incredibly special, an album that is now rightly receiving plaudits from an audience much wider than the ‘country music bubble’ we all sit in. ‘Golden Hour’ is easily my most listened to album of this year. An album that has raised the bar in the genre.
The final album I’m going to mention is ‘Interstate Gospel’ from the Pistol Annies. I still feel like I’m just getting to know this album, but right now, if I have an hour to spare, this is the first record that hits my virtual turntable. There is something very special about the mix created by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley – an original sounds (it feels like they’ve reinvented their sound for this album), that Annie’s attitude that shines through, and an undeniable confidence that comes from three artists at the top of their game joining forces to create something very special.
In talking about albums, I also feel the need to give two UK albums a special shout. I was lucky enough to be invited to a listening party for Liv Austen’s ‘A Moment of Your Time’ album, and the 12 track album encapsulates everything we’ve seen from Liv on the live scene in the last couple of years – a wonderful slice of country pop and it’s been delightful to see the fantastic reaction to the album. At the Americana end of the scene, I just have to give Martha L. Healey’s ‘Keep the Flame Alight’ a shout. I got sent the album by a publicist and had an hour window to write a review one Saturday afternoon. The album grabbed me so hard, that the window got lengthened to around five hours, as I knew a quick review just couldn’t do it justice. In that review I continually used the word ‘real’ – Martha easily my favourite new discovery of 2018!
My Favourite Live Gig
There have been some incredible live gigs this year – seeing Kacey Musgraves and Lindsay Ell live for the first time in 2018 have been real standouts, while Whitney Rose had me completely entranced when she played in London this year (one of those artists who you know, that having seen once, you’ll be first in line at every future tour).
However, I’m going to move closer to home for my favourite gig. In October, we put on a Belles and Gals showcase. On the line up were Hannah Paris, Lucy Grubb, Emily Frith and Shannon Hynes – an event where all four artists have been involved with us at the site, either by being managed by the site, an ambassadorial role with Belles and Gals, or in Shannon’s case, actually writing for us too. To put the gig on and see the incredible crowd that came out to support was an absolute joy. It was a real proud moment for me personally, and to see all four artists put on such a quality show (they killed it!) was a special moment. At the end of there was a clamour for images of all four artists together – which rounded off a special night. Perhaps my favourite event in the almost three years since I started Belles and Gals.
Gender Equality in Country Music
When it comes to gender equality in country music, it’s a fact that it doesn’t exist. In 2018 it seems like we’ve hit the lowest point of all, with country radio doing an amazing job for all men in the genre (insert sarcastic hand clapping emoji here). However, I get the feeling that in hitting that low point, we’ve actually hit a pivotal moment, a moment that will eventually see a change coming.
Belles and Gals didn’t come into being to fight this fight. I started this initiative in 2016 because I simply preferred female country artists (and wanted to shout about them), but having read the horror stories and looked at the facts and become involved with this side of the industry, I feel completely passionate about the issue now. Now it HAS become the number one reason this site exists.
Some in the industry state that the subject of gender inequality has been done to death and that nothing has changed. These voices however are from the people who have listened to the concerns and felt the unfairness, but have literally done nothing to create any change. My esteemed colleague James Daykin (who writes for the excellent Lyric Magazine and Your Life in a Song) got it right when he said that these people will be ‘on the wrong side of history’. At some stage in the future, however long it takes, there will be an equality, and all of those people who stood in the way of change will simply be looked at as dinosaurs, and sexist ones at that.
I’m going to finish this piece by asking all males who work in the country music industry to enact a change. Take a chance and put one more female artist on your playlist, sign one more female artist to your label, listen to one more female demo, put one more female on your festival line up. This isn’t about evening up the numbers for the sake of it – female artists are fully deserving of their places, they are simply being denied by an industry that is geared to make male artists more successful. That has to change. At this time of goodwill, make that change today.