NASHVILLE SKYLINE: The Year of the Woman

Granddaughters of Hank Williams and Tex Ritter Make Significant Musical Contributions

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

In a year that looks to see a dramatic return of female artists to a place of prominence, we’ve already experienced the sounds of Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves , with continuing music from Miranda Lambert and such other artists as Caitlin Rose . And coming soon are the latest songs from the spirited Pistol Annies .

There are two other projects that have really caught my ear. Interestingly, both are by granddaughters of Country Music Hall of Famers. Hank Williams died in 1953, so his granddaughter Holly Williams (born in 1981) never got to know him. Similarly, Tex Ritter passed away in 1974, so his granddaughter Carly Ritter (born in 1982) never met him. But both are carrying on the family tradition.

Hank Williams, of course, was the meteoric Alabama songwriter and singer who totally changed the face of country music before his untimely death at the age of 29. Tex Ritter began his pioneering career as an early radio country music star in the 1920s and moved into acting on Broadway, on television and in movies. He also unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.

Holly Williams is by now a music veteran who has toured extensively. Her first album The Ones We Never Knew was released in 2004 and the second Here With Me in 2009. I will be greatly surprised if her current CD The Highway doesn’t show up on some 2013 best albums list — and not just of country albums. It’s the work of a mature and very credible talent. Background singers on the music include Jackson Browne, Dierks Bentley and Jakob Dylan. Williams wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the CD. Her voice is plaintive and expressive, and the songs are introspective and very personal.

She also has some pretty amazing videos. If you’ve never seen the video for the song “Three Days in Bed,” you owe it to yourself to watch it.

Carly Ritter has credited her grandfather’s warm voice that she actually first heard when she was in college. (Her own family had heard it enough, apparently.) But listening to Tex’s warm voice on records and on TV and in movies inspired her to take up music relatively late in a young life. She also thanks her father, the late actor John Ritter, with passing on his own critical eye and love of beauty.

Her self-titled debut album will be released later this summer. The four songs I have heard from it are sparkling in an infectious folky pop-country sort of way but with a fresh voice. She wrote or co-wrote three of the four songs. They evoke the bright pop songs of Los Angeles and London of the 1960s and 1970s. With Carly Ritter, that’s a good thing.

Ritter wrote or co-wrote “It Don’t Come Easy” (not the Ringo Starr song), “Storms on the Ocean,” (not the Carter Family song “The Storms on the Ocean”) and “It Is Love.”

The fourth song, “Save Your Love,” was written by Jerry Lynn Williams. Ry Cooder plays acoustic and electric guitar on the album. Cooder’s son Joachim and Joachim’s wife Juliette Commagere co-produced the album and also play on it.

So, we’ve got two very impressive works from country’s third generation.