“Music, like water, often moves and shapes us without ever realizing it; let this be an opening for your own consideration.”
—Holly Gleason, from Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives.
Writers find inspiration everywhere, and music is no exception. In Woman Walk the Line, the impressive cast of twenty-seven women writers, artists, musicians, and music executives consider deeply the ways in which their country music heroines have shaped their own lives.
I grew up in South Texas, and country music was the first genre I was exposed to. That is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book though. In fact, many of the contributors write about coming to country music in adulthood and sometimes reluctantly. They write about the roots of country music, the women behind the successful male artists, and the women of color who, until now, didn’t receive full credit for their contributions.
Former rock critic and music editor turned singer-songwriter Kandia Crazy Horse writes about willowy mother of the “Cactus Rose” style, Rita Coolidge. Writer, independent radio producer, and mother Ali Berlow writes about how Emmylou Harris led her through early motherhood, grief after the loss of a friend, and the beginning of her writing career. Singer-songwriter Grace Potter reflects on Linda Rondstadt as a comfort and a role model of authenticity. Current Country Music Association vice president and former Miami Herald reporter, Wendy Pearl, riffs on Patty Loveless as a light during a period of transformation and uncertainty that called for the type of boldness so many women in country music seem to exude effortlessly.
Each contributor focuses on a single artist and digs into what about that artist’s music and life resonates. What inspires. What the lesson is. There is much crossover in these lessons too. The themes that emerge include grit, moxie, and confidence despite the odds or one’s roots. Many of the writers in this collection write some version of “a girl like me wasn’t supposed to end up here, but I did” – and the “here” changes from essay to essay, from singing on a stage, bearing an impressive job title at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or being a music critic—dream jobs all of them. “Here” for all twenty-seven of these essayists is also right here in this book, participating in a discussion about female artists, their unique challenges, their personal and musical aesthetics, their relationships with men, and their interaction with fans and the public. Reading one essay after another, suddenly dreams seem more attainable—and it’s all set to a soulful soundtrack. You will likely be prompted to stop and listen to the songs mentioned, as I did.
The collection editor herself, Holly Gleason, contributes two essays, one about her unlikely admiration of Tanya Tucker. Another, written under her songwriting pen name, Lady Goodman, explores the emergence of her friend and the formidable legend Lucinda Williams as a light for the author: “Honest and real. It felt good when you put the record on, heard a life you were living described with simple eloquence. Realized your mundane was poetry, and someone you knew was great, just because they were. And just because you knew them, because your lives were mundane, that didn’t mean there wasn’t magic there.”
Indeed, the magic of this essay anthology is that the women writing the essays inspire the reader in the same ways their country music heroines inspired them. These writers may have, at one time, been afraid to take chances, switch careers, enter male-dominated fields, but thanks to the inspiration of women in country music, they are now doing, being, writing, and dominating.
As a writer in the middle of my own series of recent breakthroughs (sorry to be vague, but I’ll leave it right there), I cannot recommend this book enough to women in every creative field.