DISClaimer: Music City’s Female Pop/Rock Queens Make Some Noise

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Emily West

Nashville’s country gals are having a tough time, but their pop/rock sisters in Music City are doing just fine, thank you.

Even without the presences of Taylor Swift, Amy Grant, Hayley Williams (of Paramore), Erin McCarley, Ashley Cleveland, Bonnie Bramlett, Butterfly Boucher, Jessie Baylin, Kim Carnes, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Marshall Chapman, Bekka Bramlett, Sheryl Crow, Benita Hill, Janis Ian, Ruby Amanfu, Brooke Waggoner, Tracy Nelson, Kim Richey, Kesha or Meghan Trainor, Nashville women completely dominate this pop/rock edition of “DisClaimer.”

Two divas are at the forefront. Emily West and Kelly Clarkson share the Disc of the Day prize with entries that are showcases for their respective volcanic vocal talents.

The DisCovery Award goes to the punk-rocking Bully and its leader, Alicia Bognanno.

EMILY WEST/Bitter
Writers: Emily West/Julian Emery/Jodi Marr; Producer: Dustin Ransom; Publisher: none listed; Portrait (track)
-Former Capitol country starlet Emily West should have been the next Faith Hill. Instead, she rose to national TV fame as a reinvented, stunningly glamorous, pop singer on last season’s America’s Got Talent. Her new All For You CD features tunes she has torched on the show, including “Nights In White Satin,” “Chandelier” and “Sea of Love.” This standout original is torrid and passionate in all the right places, with an hooky chorus that gives her space to shout her fierce soprano power. Superbly done.

ANGEL SNOW/Secret
Writers: Angel Snow/Perrin Lamb; Producer: Sorted Noise; Publisher: EmmettTill, ASCAP; AS (track) 
-A throbbing electronic backing frames her clear, soulful, resonant alto delivery. I love the way this is mixed with such perfect balance. Enthralling from start to finish. Snow could be Nashville’s next stealth pop weapon.

BEBE BUELL & THE NASHVILLE ACES/Secret Sister
Writers: Bebe Buell/Jon Tiven/Jimmy Walls; Producer: Jon Tiven; Publishers: Musesque/Unconrolled Composition, BMI; AmerEclectic
-Recent Nashville transplant Buell is famed in rock circles for her modeling career, relationships with superstars (Steven Tyler, Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, etc.), being the mom of Liv Tyler and penning the infectious 2001 memoir Rebel Heart. She has long been a music maker, as well. Her single pairs this snappy punk rocker with the autobiographical, alt-country ditty “Hello Music City.” Welcome home.

JOY WILLIAMS/Woman (Oh Mama)
Writers: Joy Williams/Matt Morris/Audra Mae; Producers: Matt Morris/Daniel James; Publishers: Here’s To Me/EMI Blackwood/Music of Big Deal/Mass Transit/BMG Rights/WB/AMAE, BMI/ASCAP; Columbia (track)
– Former CCM record maker and Civil Wars co-star Williams has a new solo CD called Venus. Its lead-off single is a tribal, earth-mother chant celebrating women as the cosmic center of everything. Rhythm crazed.

BUZZ CASON & STEELISM/Record Machine
Writers: Cason/Cason; Producer: Buzz Cason; Publisher: none listed; Plowboy (track)
-Back in 1955, Cason became the frontman of The Casuals, Nashville’s first rock ‘n’ roll band. Wonderfully and astoundingly, he is still at it. The title tune of his latest CD is a bluesy salute to his family’s record player. Amid dandy electric guitar work, he adds his own harmonica solo. There’s even the sound of a vinyl needle drop. A smile a minute.

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson

KELLY CLARKSON/Invincable
Writers: Sia Furler/Jesse Shatkin/Stephen Mostyn/Warren Felder; Producer: Jesse Shatkin; Publishers: EMI/EMI April/Aidenjulius/Oxmod/Nana’s Hands/Sony-ATV/Crow’s Tree, ASCAP/BMI; RCA/19 (track)
-Clarkson’s new single from her Piece By Piece album is an echoey, thunderous, power ballad. She enacts a wronged woman who becomes a courageous warrior, and boy does she have the pipes for it. How refreshing to hear someone who can actually sing, in a pop sea full of autotuned, electronic drones. Sing on, sister.

LEIGH NASH/Spider and the Moth
Writers: Leigh Nash/Jesse Hall; Producer: Brendan Benson; Publishers: BMG Silver/Woman Hollering/Jesse Hall, SESAC/BMI; Thirty Tigers/One
-The former Sixpence None the Richer pop princess (”Kiss Me,” “There She Goes”) still has her charming, pixie-like soprano. But her forthcoming CD, The State I’m In (due Sept. 18), replaces some of her pop sheen with country-influenced tracks. The set kicks off with this piano-backed waltz. Her little vocal breaks are delightful. Recommended.

SHEILA LAWRENCE/Little Bit of Lovin’
Writers: Sheila Lawrence; Producer: Greg Foresman & Sheila Lawrence; Publisher: She Songs, SESAC; Fallen Tree (track)
-Lawrence tours as a backup singer with Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Brenda Lee. Here at home, we know her as part of the nuclear stage attraction Kentucky Thunder, alongside Vicki Carrico, Etta Britt and Jonell Mosser, all of whom join her for two performances on her solo CD, Down 1297. But this blue-eyed soul inferno goes it alone on this ferociously rocking album opener. Get up and dance.

Alicia Bognanno Bully

Alicia Bognanno of Bully

BULLY/Trying
Writers: Alicia Bognanno; Producer: Alicia Bognanno; Publisher: Alicia Bognanno, BMI; Columbia/Star
-The Nashville four-piece Bully is nominally a band, but Alicia Bognanno is its singer, songwriter and producer. Her quasi-strangled pleas are shouted over a thrashing, punk track that is just pop enough to make her/them mainstream. This is one of two videos from the debut CD, Feels Like, the other being “Brainfreeze.” Young, scrappy and energetic.

JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD/Melting Place
Writers: Jeff The Brotherhood; Producers: Joe Chiccarelli & Jeff the Brotherhood; Publishers: Automatic Bzooty/Otissery/WB, ASCAP; Infinity Cat (track)
-Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall are back with a new album titled Wasted on the Dream. Its debut single begins as a deliberately stomping audio elephant, then morphs into a nervous, buzzing, electric-guitar mosquito. Nouveau psychedelic rock.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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