Written by Dan
From a list that seemed endless came the tough task of narrowing it down to our Top 30. There is the obvious choices, the new and rising stars, the unexpected and the "who?" You'll have choices that we missed, as always. There will be some you've never heard of that you may be inclined to check out on your own and discover something new and exciting. At any rate, here's The Alternate Root Top 30 Female Vocalists...right now!
1. Emmylou Harris - Emmylou Harris probably tops most of the list of top female vocalists, at least in the roots music world. We thought about that. We also tried to think of who would be above her. We couldn't think of anyone either. Her angelic pipes have graced the country and alt-country world for over 40 years and still sounds great.
2. Norah Jones - A successful solo career as one of the great voices of the last couple of decades, Norah Jones made our list because of her work with The Little Willies and her ability to meld pop, jazz and country elements to create her unique roots sound. The daughter of the late great Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones has used her pedigree well.
3. Carrie Rodriguez - She burst onto the scene as sidekick to legendary songwriter Chip Taylor and then launched into an equally compelling and successful solo career. Rodriguez is master on the fiddle as well as having the beautiful voice that places her among the very best singers right now.
4. Alison Krauss - Alison Krauss is the most decorated singer and most awarded female artist in Grammy history. Normally Grammy awards don't mean much here but in this case they actually represent something substantial. her work with Robert Plant on the album 'Raising Sand' is fodder for debate but her work with longtime mates Union Station places her near the top of the heap.
5. Bonnie Raitt - A few years ago Bonnie Raitt may have been at or near the top of this list. She still has one of the best and most distinctive voices out there and she hasn't lost much through the years. She's had an effect musically on damn near everyone that's come after her as a singer, writer and guitar player.
6. Patty Griffin - Patty Griffin is one of the key players in the Boston folk revival of the 1990's but her career has revealed a singer with a variety of styles and the accompanying accolades for many of them. She can sing rock, gospel, country, folk with amazing range. She's performed with a who's who of the roots music world including Buddy Miller, Robert Plant, Shawn Colvin, Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch and many others.
7. Christine Ohlman - "The Beehive Queen" could easily be at the top of this list just based on her performance on her latest release 'The Deep End.'. She has spent 20 plus years as the front woman for the Saturday Night Live band, performed with Big Brother and The Holding Company in Central Park, performed at Bob Dylan's 40th Anniversary show and seemingly turns up wherever an amazing blue-eyed soul singer is needed. With her band Rebel Montez she has established herself as one of the great voices in American roots/soul music.
8. Shemekia Copeland - Daughter of the late Johnny Copeland, Shemekia Copeland is now the defacto "Queen of the Blues." Like Koko Taylor, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Helen Humes and a host of women who have worn that crown, someone will have to unseat Shemekia. Figure on her being at the top for some time to come. Her voice is the best pure blues voice of the last 30 years.
9. Rebecca Loebe - If there is a "reality show" with some substance out there it's probably The Voice. Rebecca Loebe first surfaced to a National audience as a contestant on that show but was already known in and around Boston since 2004. After receiving a degree in recording engineering from Berklee, Loebe concentrated on a music solely as a performer in 2005. Her latest effort, 'Circus Heart,' stands as proof she made the right decision.
10. Eilen Jewell - Eilen Jewell's jazzy, country tinged voice is the most uniquely recognizeable voice on this list. Ever the experimentalist, Jewell's catalog represents her broad range of style and immense ability. Her albums range from gospel, lounge, country, folk and pop with solid performances on each. Eilen Jewell will find more things to play around with out there and you can be sure she'll nail those too.
11. Grace Potter - Grace Potter has it all. The looks, the voice, the chops and the attitude. The gifted singer and front woman for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals has been compared to everyone from Koko Taylor to Janis Joplin to Aretha Franklin and may actually have long lost genes from all three packed into her powerhouse voice. She's the best thing to come out of Vermont since maple syrup and cheddar cheese, Phish included.
12. Shawn Colvin - Shawn Colvin has been around since the 1970's in a variety of forms from folk to western swing to off-broadway and has been one of the more influential voices in the singer / songwriter movement. She brings a sophistication and grace to her music that has changed the way thousands of singers and songwriters that followed her approach their craft. Her voice has carried her to heights that include Grammy's for Album and Song of the Year in 1998 and Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991.
13. Sarah McLachlan - Canadian singer / songwriter Sarah MacLachlan has kept a low profile over the past few years making her a bit lower on this list than she could be but with a new album due this year she'll be right back at the top before long. The founder of Lilith Fair, a travelling festival that showcases women artists, she's done a lot for female singers both from an influential as well as philanthropical perspective. Her mezzo soprano voice is among the most recognizable in the world.
14. Sarah Mac - For a complete unknown (outside of her Florida fanbase) to make this list at number 14, Sarah Mac had to have something really special. She turned up for a taping of Alternate Root TV in East Nashville and we've never looked at female vocalists the same. In the same vein as Adele, Aretha or the late Amy Winehouse, Sarah Mac has a booming voice that feeds on elements of jazz, soul and blues and refreshes like a cool breeze blowing through a hot smokey nightclub.
15. Gretchen Peters - Gretchen Peters has received more critical acclaim as a songwriter than a singer which says something substantial about her songwriting ability. That injustice should be rectified with the release of 'Hello Cruel World,' her latest effort. Peters has a moody, dark tone to her voice which bodes well for her sophisticated lyrics and complex music. She's been a staple in and around the Nashville scene but finds a much more rabid fanbase in London and throughout Europe.
16. Shannon McNally - Shannon McNally's blues tinted, soulful country vocal style has landed her along side some pretty impressive company including Ryan Adams, John Mellencamp and Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women. She cut her musical teeth busking in Paris in the 1990's and now fronts the successful band Hot Sauce.
17. Rhiannon Giddens - The co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has incredible range and flexibility in her voice. Prowling through libraries for old sheet music and century old recordings to find material to perform might not be the way most of the singers on this list find their groove but Giddens is a special case in more ways than that. She can sing most anything, keeping it traditional with a modern flair.
18. Nanci Griffith - Long considered one of the most beautiful singers on the country / folk music scene or, just about any scene, Nanci Griffith still sounds great even after nearly forty years of recording and performing. There are more than a few people on this list that walked down paths paved by Nanci Griffith. She's probably influenced a million singer / songwriters that have found her music through the years.
19. Sharon Jones - Like many great souls singers, Sharon Jones got her start as a singer in church singing gospel. Unlike many great soul singers, however, her path to prominence took a strange twist. While working as a prison guard on Rikers Island in NYC and keeping on foot in the door as a part time backing vocalist, Jones got her career break in 1996 at a session backing Lee Fields. From those sessions the band the Soul Providers were born, later to become Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings.
20. Tift Merritt - Tift Merritt has always been an interesting study both as a writer and singer. Her writing reflects a vast, real world experience and knowledge of music resulting in a substantial body of work. Vocally she has become more mature with each critically acclaimed album. Her voice leans more into the traditions of country music than just about anything seeping out of Music Row these days.
21. Gillian Welch - Gillian Welch, like Patty Griffin, was part of the Boston folk revival of the 1990's. While attending Berklee School of Music she started performing with fellow student and future partner Dave Rawlings. Preferring the old time sounds of traditional country and bluegrass they took their music on the road and were inadvertantly discovered by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett. The rest, at least for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, is history. her voice is stark, beautiful and beyond it's years.
22. Aoife O'Donovan - Often understated, the voice of Crooked Still lead singer Aoife O'Donovan is what roots music is all about. She has great range in a broad variety of styles. Often jazz tinted, sometimes a sparse folk sound, other times an alt-country, pop feel but always delivered with immaculate tone.
23. Ruthie Foster - Ruthie Foster is a central character on the contemporary blues scene along with Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi but her smart, sophisticated writing and ability to push the boundaries enables her to create her own folk / blues / soul niche. Her voice, like her art, is powerful, soulful and covers great depth.
24. Jamie Wilson - An original member of the influential Austin based alt-country band The Gougers, Jamie Wilson now spends her time as one of the four outstanding vocalists in The Trishas. A muti-instrumentalist with a great voice in a band with three other multi-instrumentalists with great voices, Jamie Wilson has the most distinctive roots sound but truthfully, any of the other three members of The Trishas could be here.
25. Lucy Kaplansky - One of the central figures in the New York / Greenwich Village folk revival of the late 1970's and early 1980's, Lucy Kaplansky might have had a much deeper history had she not left the music world for a time to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist. She spent much of her early career with folk stand-outs John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne vega and Richard Shindell. Once a highly sought after backing vocalist, Lucy Kaplansky has developed into one of the top folk singers on the folk circuit.
26. Susan Tedeschi - Susan Tedeschi started out in Boston playing the local blues circuit at age 13. After attending Berklee School of Music she formed her first blues band and released her debut album, 'Just Won't Burn,' in 1998. Vocally she drifts between Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt with boosts of raw power and graceful, smooth soul. After a successful solo career she teamed up with husband Derek Trucks to form Tedeschi Trucks, one of the top bands in the country.
27. Bonnie Bishop - Known predominantly as a songwriter, Bonnie Bishop has garnered some high praise for her singing and performing over four solid solo albums. Her voice is raspy and soulful but matches her performance and writing style perfectly. She sings and writes from the heart and while there are imperfections there is no lack of authenticity to anything Bonnie Bishop does.
28. Sara Petite - Sarah Petite hails from the bluegrass, country hotbed of San Diege, CA...OK we're kidding, it's not a hotbed of country or bluegrass but it is the home of one of the rising stars of the alt-country, bluegrass world. Sarah Petite has infused the influences of her youth, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and local San Diego heroes The Beat Farmers, into her own unique vocal style. She's a strong songwriter and dynamic performer.
29. Amy Black - A newcomer and a late bloomer on the alt-country, roots scene Amy Black is developing a solid following around the country and in her hometown of Boston. her debut album, 'One Time' garnered a huge amount of critical acclaim for it's songwriting and vocal performance and landed Amy Black on opening slots for Rodney Crowell and Chris Isaak. She is a fabulous performer with a booming voice and a drive that will move her past many of her contemporaries in short order.
30. Sarah Lee Guthrie - The granddaughter of Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee is part of a duo with husband Johnny Irion. Her voice stays true to the folk and country traditions she was raised to understand and her writing stays tru to the familty tradition of challenging social injustice.