To celebrate the start of “Women’s History Month,” CU Independent editors and writers share their favorite albums by women musicians.
“Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions” (2011) – Sharon Isbin
Classical guitarist Sharon Isbin plays with impeccable clarity and a mellifluous tone. Hailed as “the Monet of the classical guitar” and “classical guitar’s reigning diva,” Isbin has dominated the classical guitar world for decades and has won three Grammy awards. In her 2011 collaboration album “Guitar Passions,” the grand dame of the guitar juxtaposes classical guitar’s greatest hits with playful cross-genre works. Isbin has always been a musical pioneer, from debuting Tan Dun’s “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” in 1996 to collaborating with Joan Baez in 2007. On this album, Isbin continues to transcend the stereotypes of classical music, refracting timeless classical and pop staples through her musical vision. In canonical works, such as “Asturias” and “Adagio” to “Concierto de Aranjuez” and “La Catedral,” Isbin demonstrates her flawless technique and control, animating popular works. Then in a cover of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie,” sung by Nancy Wilson, she blends easily into metallic acoustic guitar arpeggios, waxing nonchalant, yet never compromising her silky tone. In “Chovendo na Roseira” and “Sonidos de aquel dia,” Isbin once again lets loose, jamming with jazz guitarists. That is the genius of Isbin, her profound vision of the classical guitar as a dynamic entity; she continues to reimagine the guitar’s place in music today, never ceasing to dream of its future.
Isabella Fincher – Arts Editor
“Lush” (2018) – Snail Mail
Snail Mail’s “Lush” is the album that set precedent for a new era of lo-fi indie. For a debut album to take a group of 18-year-olds on a world tour is pretty incredible. “Lush” is lead singer and guitarist Lindsey Jordan’s take on a lo-fi indie monologue. Each track is blanketed with subtle teenage angst and gentle, confessional uncertainty. The album becomes a masterful composition that takes listeners on a time trip back to age 18, when sweaty summer afternoons bled into the thick humidity of evening afterglow loneliness. Jordan’s lyrics reflect teenage simplicity, as she repeats ideas of feeling low and on the backburner. The album recreates a time period before boredom becomes a novelty; each song is innocent and naive. Sonically, “Lush” excels at not falling into repetitive song structures that fade into the next. On top of every track is an overarching heavily reverberated guitar creating multidimensionality. Every guitar lead is different but still cohesively flows together. “Lush” creates a new dynamic for indie-rock to venture into, a much-needed perspective on an over-saturated genre.
Zack Cohen – Arts Editor
“Telefone” (2016) – Noname
Noname is more of a poet than a rapper. While her most recent album, “Room 25,” racked up a spot in the top 10 of Metacritic’s “Highest Scoring Albums of the 2010s,” her project titled “Telefone” is a personal favorite of mine. The Chicago native delves her own pain surrounding life-altering phone conversations. Her distinctive lullaby rap flow is elevated by her soulful songs, filled with sounds of childlike innocence and gospel undertones. Noname’s lyrical precision along with her seasoned Ghetto Sage trio, Smino and Saba, on the track “Shadow Man,” is a surefire success. “Diddy Bop” unveils a flashback to Noname’s childhood struggles and mistakes, letting loose with famed rapper and persona P. Diddy’s dance move. The project as a whole is playful yet thoughtful, experimental and cohesive. Noname defies the genre of rap. More than a poet, “Telefone” proves she is a creator.
Benny Titelbaum – Staff Writer
“Joanne” (2016) – Lady Gaga
“Joanne” brought Lady Gaga far away from her typical dance music into a new, earthy realm focused on sisterhood and womanhood. “Joanne” received three Grammy nominations and won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’).” Song after song on “Joanne” empowers women to support one another. In the process, it literally passes the Bechdel test in the track “Hey Girl,” featuring Florence Welch. Welch and Gaga sing to each other “Hey girl, hey girl/ If you lose your way / Just know that I got you.” Unlike her past albums, Gaga channels a country twang in “Joanne.” Especially in “John Wayne” which begins with Gaga saying, “It’s like, I just love a cowboy you know.” But the most different and beautiful track is the title track. “Joanne” is a story of a young woman taken from life too young, inspired by Gaga’s own aunt Joanne, who died at the age of 19. Gaga’s vulnerability makes the track resonate with listeners, serving as a memorial for the artist and aunt she never met. Lady Gaga took the pain of loss that shaped her family and created art resulting in a beautiful, raw testament to the power of sisterhood.
Kaylyn Buehler – Staff Writer
“Ctrl” (2017) – SZA
Filled with silky vocals and soft electronic production, Solána Rowe’s first full-length project feels like a therapeutic experience. It seems as if the 26-year-old took a deep breath in, and the exhale was a 14-track examination of modern relationships and her budding self-worth as a young person. Though the project is intimate, it never comes off as a single-note. “Ctrl” is a celebration of the full spectrum of emotions. SZA seamlessly weaves between joyfulness, depression, hurt, confidence and jealousy. On tracks such as “Love Galore,” she proclaims her own worth as a woman, singing “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me? / Why you hit me when you know you know better?” On “Supermodel,” she fearlessly admits “I been secretly banging your homeboy / Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day? / Why am I so easy to forget like that?” At times introspective, at times exuberant, SZA embraces the melancholic sonic template established by modern R&B purveyor Frank Ocean, while also bringing a sense of exhilarating freedom and self-love. Ctrl takes a snapshot at a precise moment in the singer-songwriter’s life, where she gains not only awareness of the instability of love but the worth of fighting for it. In doing so, the wrenching honesty of “Ctrl” stands atop the decade’s R&B catalog.
Ben Berman – Staff Writer
“Let England Shake” (2011) – PJ Harvey
Singer-songwriter PJ Harvey has been one of the most influential artists in the genre since the early ’90s. Harvey stands out among her peers with the evolution of her sound and vision between each record. She is at her best in “Let England Shake,” which combines ideas from prior releases to form an ambitious conceptual project. Throughout the aptly named album, Harvey doesn’t hold back with her criticism of not only English but also American politics. In “Glorious Land,” she compares the two countries and delivers bold lines like, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? / Its fruit is deformed children.” She shares similar anti-war messages on tracks like “Word that Maketh Murder” and “On Battleship Hill.” Her love-hate relationship is on full display in the complementary title track and “England.” Sonically the spotlight seamlessly transitions between the melody-driven instrumentation and Harvey’s vocals. The simple, yet textured instrumentation reveals new details with every listen and adds impressive replay value to the record. Although this record deals with a diverse set of topics, the core anti-war sentiment and its consistent sound ties everything together and turns this collage of social commentary into a cohesive conceptual album.
Altug Karakurt – Staff Writer
“Lover (2019)” – Taylor Swift
“Lover” unlocked something in Taylor Swift that the world had never seen from her before. The album is whimsical and fun, yet oddly political, especially for Swift. I’ve been a fan of her since the days of “Our Song,” but there’s something about “Lover” that makes it really special. The album came out at the same time as her pivotal, raw documentary “Miss Americana,” where Swift openly talks about her rollercoaster of a career and her process in assembling “Lover.” For the first time, Swift personally owns this album, and somehow she’s more emotionally vulnerable here than in any of her previous records. All in one album, she has a feminist anthem, a song defending LGBTQ rights and a tune that talks about her mom’s battle with cancer. This record celebrates love in all capacities, giving its listeners inspiration and encouragement. It seems as though Swift finally felt free to speak her mind without anything holding her back.
Kathryn Bistodeau – Staff Writer
“LONER” (2018) – Caroline Rose
On her second album “LONER,” independent singer-songwriter Caroline Rose combines catchy pop-rock with self-aware, sarcastic lyrics to great effect. Rose is able to make the listener laugh with lines about party-goers all having “alternative haircuts,” then tell a touching story of a single mom and the anxiety associated with the passage of time. A multi-instrumentalist, Rose wrote and performed almost all of the sounds on the album, allowing her to have full artistic freedom in creating a singular work. Rose finds a perfect balance between sarcasm and sincerity, being open and honest but never taking herself too seriously. The real joy of this album, however, is its endlessly listenable quality. Perhaps, it’s something about Rose’s voice, or maybe it’s the straightforward songwriting. Nonetheless, every song on “Loner” begs to be replayed over and over again.
Cameron Markuson – Staff Writer