Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top 10 Greatest Women of the Nineties, #10 - Kathy Mattea

Weren't the nineties a great decade for country music?  Country Universe just had a great celebration of the nineties with their 400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties countdown.  I am now going to have a celebration of my own on the 1-to-10.

Country music has always boasted an abundance of female talent.  But particularly in recent years, such talent has often gone unnoticed as country radio has become increasintly biased in favor of male artists.  The main purpose of this feature is to recognize the talented ladies who were the standard-bearers of country women during country's most commercially successful and culturally significant era - the 1990s.

I have created a list of the Top 10 greatest women who thrived in country music during the nineties.  Since I spend a lot of blogging time taking down one turd-pile after another (which I admit I do derive some sick pleasure from), this will be a refreshing oppurtunity to talk about the good stuff.  It also gives me a chance to write about some great artists who are no longer in the country music mainstream, some of whom have not released new music in quite some time.  My rankings takes into account which ladies had the greatest overall industry presence during the decade, as well as those who released the most memorable material.

The countdown kicks off with Kathy Mattea, who was first established as a major star during the eighties.  Her success continued well into the nineties, with her being at the top tier level of stardom at the dawn of the decade.  She hit the Top 10 in 1990 with "Where've You Been," a touching ballad about the longing a man and a woman have for one another.  Thanks to this song, Kathy netted a Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  The song also helped her earn a CMA nomination for Entertainer of the Year, a category that has always been difficult for female artists to break into.  To this day, "Where've You Been" is considered one of Kathy's signature hits.

She had another Top 10 hit that year with "The Battle Hymm of Love," a duet with Tim O'Brien.  "The Battle Hymm of Love" ranks as one of the most uniquely memorable wedding songs ever heard in country music.  The fiery conviction in the lyrics is brought to new heights by the spectacular performance of the two vocalists.

Kathy developed an impressively eclectic musical style throughout the decade.  Being partly of Scottish decent, she developed a great interest in the traditional folk music of Scotland, making several trips to Scotland in the early nineties.  She studied the links between Scottish folk and American country music.  This led to her recording the rootsy and ambitious album Time Passes By.  Though it was not a runaway success at radio, it did produce two Top 10 hits (the title track, and "A Few Good Things Remain"), and was met with critical acclaim.

She returned to a more commercial sound with her 1994 effort Walking Away a Winner.  The title track boasted a strong vocal performance and aggressive production, becoming the final Top 10 hit of her career.

Kathy's commercial success waned as the decade wore on, but she continued to deliver high-quality recordings.  Her 1997 album Love Travels found her striking a balance between folk and mainstream country influences.  It did not produce any major hits, but the title track and "455 Rocket" both cracked the Top 40.  In addition, "455 Rocket" won a CMA Award for Music Video of the Year."

After the nineties ended, Kathy continued to record.  Her new millenium efforts so far have included several more studio albums, as well as a critically-acclaimed bluegrass album, Coal.

The tenth spot on the countdown was the most difficult one to fill, as each of the other nine ladies seemed to be a shoo-in.  Though Kathy had great commercial success in the first half of the decade, it was her creative expression and exploration of styles that ultimately earned her a spot on this list.  Granted, her Entertainer of the Year nomination gave her a bit of an edge as well.