It’s been a big year for women in country music. Between the rising career of Margo Price and promising releases from artists such as Kelsey Waldon and Michaela Anne, country women are making their voices heard with or without radio play. You can add Tami Neilson to that list.
The Canadian born singer has drawn comparisons to both Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson, but she’s no throwback novelty act. Neilson is pure country down to her bones. Her soulful, powerhouse voice moves seamlessly between western swing shuffles, rockabilly wailers, countrypolitan ballads and barroom weepers.
On her latest album, Don’t Be Afraid, Neilson explores her musical roots and her adopted homeland of New Zealand, which she relocated to in 2007.
Neilson teams up with fellow New Zealand rising artist Marlon Williams on the gorgeous, slow burning torch song “Lonely.” The song has a particularly special meaning for Neilson. Her father, Ron Neilson, started writing the song in 1972. After his death in early 2015, Tami found her dad’s unrecorded demo of “Lonely” and finished writing the song with her brother. The result is a shattering glimpse into how our everyday lives, down to the most mundane activities, are impacted by lost love.
Neilson grew up performing with her father in the Neilson Family Band in the 90s and his influence weighs heavy throughout the album. “The First Man” is a heartbreaking goodbye and tribute to the man Neilson describes as “the first man to ever hold me in his arms.”
Even the album’s title track comes from a Ron Neilson demo, the last song he ever recorded. Neilson was inspired by another father-daughter duo during the making of Don’t Be Afraid: the gospel, soul and R&B legends Pops and Mavis Staples.
While those of us in the states may be new to Neilson, New Zealand’s surprisingly vibrant country music scene has long embraced her. In 2014, Neilson was awarded New Zealand’s prestigious APRA Silver Scroll for her song “Walk (Back to Your Arms).” She also won “Best Female Artist” at the New Zealand Country Music Awards.
In the video below, Neilson performs two stand out tracks from her 2014 album Dynamite!, the irresistibly sweet “Texas” and the hurts-so-good anthem “Cry Over You.”
This is only the beginning for Neilson and with a voice like hers, you’re going to want to listen.
What she sounds like: Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline sitting at Tammy Wynette’s kitchen table drinking cocktails.
Required listening: “Holy Moses,” an impossibly fun, high heel stomping, rollicking rockabilly number for the scorned woman.