Ladies Leading the Way

Rock ’n’ Roll has grown into an intergenerational entity. Since its birth from the hybrid strains of Country & Western and Rhythm & Blues, it grows the most when rebelling against the previous mixture of alleles. However, now Rock ’n’ Roll is entering another phase of singer/ songwriters to push it along the genetic line.

Bands are shrinking. Recordings can be made anywhere and anytime. Limits are being mowed down. Personal politics take precedence. Multifaceted characters are offered where you as the listener always identify with a few traits. Songs are like short stories constructed for their confession lead to empathy. An album must arouse some hidden vault of feelings. It must provoke thought. It must encourage self-examination. 

As the rules are being rewritten then erased and recomposed yet again, it is the young women taking the lead. In the generational line of Loretta Lynn, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield, PJ Harvey, Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, Courtney Barnett.

These women are next. 

Soccer Mommy is a ridiculous and innocuous name for Sophie Allison, a 20-year old from Nashville who can write the most simple songs that encapsulate a myriad of emotions. “Blossom (Wasting All My Time)” is an ingenious song about the cascading effects of love. Crestfallen now, when she repetitively rolls through all the memories – the pain of their loss can no longer be carefully stored away. “Last Girl” is a cruel “other woman” song where the narrator turns all the intimate stories shared about past dalliances and romance between two people into a composite ideal of all the details punctuated by the cry, “Why do you still want to be with me?/She’s got everything you’ll ever need.” 

In the realm of passion, Allison’s wishes on the rumbling “Skin” and the album’s standout, “Your Dog,” rank as her most powerful statements. In the age of changing social mores, professional roles and relationship identities, Allison says so much by saying so little. 

“Clean” is largely about that minimalism. Simply recorded with guitar, bass and drums, Allison plays with the tape speed and adds small weird sounds here and there. However, this is a record that hangs on her every word.  Luckily, each one is wrapped in melodies that in other hands would make a great Katy Perry or Lady Gaga record.  

Frances Quinlan leads the band Hop Along on the spritely effervescence and hidden growl of her dextrous voice. On their fourth album, “Bark Your Head Off, Dog,” producer/guitarist Joe Rinehart had the good sense to put her way up front and use the production to accentuate her terse, emotional songs. “Prior Things” leaps out with its blinding strings before Quinlan dives in with a neat poetic and slightly off-kilter verse. While Quinlan’s songs feel journalistic, she must write a lot more about nature than herself.

The charming “How Simple” rides its ’90s indie rock nostalgia while Quinlan muses on vanity (“Think I should stop checking myself out/in the windows of cars”) and how the smallest gestures have the largest impact (“Your hand was on me/It seemed like you were being sweet/Here I am again/At the reserve to drink.”) “How Simple” boasts a sweet, swishy chorus that would easily be an Alternative radio hit if Quinlan and her band were back in 1992.

In the end, while both “Clean” and “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” have their faults. “Clean” could easily have been better produced and “Bark” could be less emo and abstract. However,  these facets make these records eschew categorization and that means you really have to listen. So much like their predecessors, Allison and Quinlan’s biggest victory is speaking to a growing mass of listeners. Music is ripe for change and this pair of albums are leading the charge. 

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