Country radio may have turned its back on female artists, but without women singers and songwriters the genre wouldn’t be half of what it is today. From country-folk heroes to traditionalist pioneers, here are the 20 best country albums by female artists.
20. Iris DeMent, Infamous Angel
Americana legend Iris DeMent made her debut with 1992’s Infamous Angel. The album, a collection of gorgeous country-folk songs from the Arkansas-born DeMent, is a reminder of where country music is rooted.
19. Patty Griffin, Living With Ghosts
With her debut 1996 album Living With Ghosts, Patty Griffin proved herself to be one of the greatest songwriters around.
18. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
The early ’90s ushered in a wave of female country singers who wrote about the modern woman’s experience. Mary Chapin Carpenter became a leader of that movement with 1992’s Come On Come On, which spawned four top 10 hits on the country charts.
17. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Over the last decade, Miranda Lambert has emerged as one of the most prolific singer-songwriters in the genre. Lambert’s 2014 album Platinum is a stellar mix of signature kiss-off anthems and odes to tradition.
16. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
Released just a year after her star-making contributions to the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) became a touchstone for artists who treasured traditional mountain music with a modern edge.
15. Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
Come On Over became Twain’s best selling album (and the best selling country album of all time), but The Woman in Me was the album that first proved she was a force to be reckoned with. The 1995 album featured a combination of boot-stomping honky tonk and pop-country perfection that made us all fall in love with her.
14. Reba McEntire, Rumor Has It
Few country artists have enjoyed a career as enduring as Reba McEntire. And there’s a reason Reba has been racking up the hits for about four decades now. Her 1990 album Rumor Has It showcases Reba’s ability to tackle country diva anthems like “Fancy” and barroom weepers like the title track.
13. Rosanne Cash, King’s Record Shop
As the daughter of Johnny Cash, it’s no surprise Rosanne Cash joined the family business. But Rosanne made her own way with a sound entirely her own and with 1987’s King’s Record Shop she became a defining voice of 80s country music.
12. Jeannie C. Riley, Harper Valley P.T.A.
Jeanne C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the title track of her hit 1968 album, became a country phenomenon. The irresistible story song about small town hypocrisy made Riley into a star. Although Riley never repeated the success of the album, Harper Valley P.T.A. remains an important album in country music history that pushed the boundaries of the genre.
11. Jessi Colter, I’m Jessi Colter
Jessi Colter proved that women were an integral part of the 1970s outlaw country movement with her 1975 album I’m Jessi Colter.
12. The Judds, Why Not Me
The mother-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna crashed through the male dominated country industry of the early 80s with their debut album Why Not Me, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard country albums chart.
11. Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
Emmylou Harris is one of country music’s greatest interpreters of songs and never is that more evident than on 1978’s Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.
10. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Lucinda Williams’ spellbinding 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was a welcome respite from what many felt was an increasingly manufactured pop country sound on mainstream radio. The album solidified Williams as a new leader in the alt-country movement.
9. Alison Krauss, Forget About It
Alison Krauss was already a household name with the release of her 1999 album Forget About It. She had a smash hit with her cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” a few years earlier. But Forget About It, a collection of stripped-down, lyrics-driven songs of heartbreak, is a standout record for the music veteran.
8. Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance
Throughout the mid-90s, Lee Ann Womack stood out from the crowd as a country music traditionalist. The title track to her 2000 album I Hope You Dance became a huge crossover hit and proved the artist was set to take country music to new heights.
7. Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline Showcase (with The Jordanaires)
Patsy Cline is one of the most beloved vocalists in the history of country music. In the short span of her recording career, the legendary singer released some of the most iconic recordings of the genre, including her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase.
6. Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
In many ways, Patty Loveless defined 90s country. The neo-traditional country singer inspired countless country women with her 1994 album When Fallen Angels Fly. The album spawned for Top 10 country singles and won the CMA Album of the Year in 1995.
5. Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billie Joe
Bobbie Gentry may have mysteriously disappeared for the spotlight, but she made a lasting mark on the country genre–and music as a whole–with her 1967 album Ode to Billie Joe.
4. Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Wide Open Spaces is the album that started it all for the Dixie Chicks, one of country music’s most successful all-female bands of all time. The 1998 album won two Grammy awards and earned the Chicks five Top 10 singles.
3. Kitty Wells, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
It may be hard to believe now, but Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” sparked quite a controversy upon its release in 1952. The song, a response to the Hank Thompson song “The Wild Side of Life,” put the blame of broken families square on the shoulders of cheatin’ men. The Grand Ole Opry even forbid Wells from performing the song on the Opry stage. But it made no difference. Country fans loved the song and it became the first No. 1 single for a solo female country artist.
2. Dolly Parton, Jolene
In 1974, Dolly Parton was fresh off “The Porter Wagoner Show” with a pocketful of songs. Her 1974 album Jolene proved she was a country superstar. The album spawned two of Parton’s most beloved singles, the title track and “I Will Always Love You.”
1. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
Loretta Lynn changed country music forever when she came on the scene in the 1960s. Songs like “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin'” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough” were unlike anything country fans had ever heard. But even as she continued to perform into the 1980s and 90s, Lynn got less and less radio play and mainstream attention.
In 2004, Lynn released the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, a record as down-home country and cutting edge as anything the country superstar had ever released. The incredible album is a reminder of the doors Lynn has knocked down for female artists of every genre and proof that the reigning queen of country will always hold the crown.