DALLAS OBSERVER August 20th, 2015
By Amy McCarthy
2015 is shaping up to be the year that women in country music make a comeback, and it’s about damn time. Since the beginning of the year, many of the genre’s strongest releases — Kacey Musgraves’Pageant Material and Ashley Monroe’s The Blade, among others — have come from so-called“tomatoes” who have broken up the monotony of the mainstream country music field and its songs about trucks and fornicating in corn fields. You can add Abbi Walker to the list now, too.
In Texas country that monotony is even more pronounced. With a few very talented exceptions, the genre’s stylistic departure from its Nashville inspiration has not resulted in much diversity. Most Texas country, especially the commercially viable stuff, is written and performed by dudes. In Dallas, though, Walker is planning to shake all that up with an impressive album that could represent a turning point for the genre's women, who have been ignored for too long.
You may remember Walker from the 2012 single “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” an upbeat, pop-country track that performed moderately well on the Texas country charts, but was sorely under-appreciated by country fans and critics alike. Now, though, Walker is coming out in a much more fierce, in-your-face way, and not a moment too soon. In September, she’ll release her sophomore effort Feisty, an album that certainly lives up to its name.
On Feisty, Walker shows significant growth as an artist, one whom fans clearly wanted to see more of. The release of Feisty was crowd-funded via an IndieGogo campaign, raising more than $20,000 for the production of the album. Texas country legend Lloyd Maines lends his hall-of-fame talent on the pedal steel and dobro, in what is some of the best instrumentation on the album. Holistically, Feisty is a stratospheric leap forward for Walker, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for this burgeoning artist.
Stylistically, Walker is sort of a cross between Shania Twain and Miranda Lambert, which is a remarkable recipe for success in country music. There’s plenty of Nashville polish, slicked up vocals and a sound that has potential for real mainstream success. But there's still plenty of authenticity here: Vocally, Walker sounds as Texan as they come, and the take-no-shit Southern woman attitude is on prominent display in tracks like “Too Good A Woman” and “Well Behaved Too Long.” There aren’t any of the sweet, sappy love tracks that have brought acts like RaeLynn to prominence.
Still, fans shouldn’t expect Walker to have an easy time on the Texas country charts, and that has everything to do with the fact that she is a woman. Even some of the genre’s most talented artists, like Bri Bagwell and Sunny Sweeney, have really struggled to find their place in a musical landscape that is somehow more male-dominated than Nashville. At present, there are only two women on the entire Texas Music Chart, both of whom are well within the bottom half. There’s a reason that Lambert went off to Nashville as soon as she had the chance.
But if the changes in mainstream country, and the blockbuster successes of in-your-face artists like Lambert and Angaleena Presley, are any indication, this could be the perfect time for an artist like Walker to transform into a star, regional or otherwise. At this point, even a No. 1 single on the Texas Music Chart would be a massive success for a female artist, and there are plenty of tracks from Feisty, title track included, that are perfect candidates. Especially when you consider the big batch of same ol’, same ol’ that currently sits at the top of the chart.
Walker won’t be the singular artist that will reintegrate women back into the fabric of Texas country. But what she can do, assuming that Texas radio DJs and fans alike are ready to play ball, is make it easier for the massively talented female artists that have been toiling away across this state for the past 15 years. Walker and an artist like Madison King might be polar opposites stylistically, but once the idea that women can be successful in Texas country has been reestablished, the opportunity grows exponentially.
It goes without saying that a more diverse music scene is better for Texas country. There is too much talent in this state for it to be entirely dominated by the same 10 or 15 (male) artists who have been making this music since the 1990s, or for the (male) artists who look and sound just like them. Even if Walker’s Feisty isn’t the most traditional Texas country album, it has significant potential to pave the way for a very real change that has been needed in this music for a very long time. "