Book review: “Her Country”

Fingers on the second, third, and fourth strings.

Placed correctly, that’s how you make a chord on the guitar; the joke is that you only need to know three out of five chords to sing country music. Get ’em right, and you could be a star – unless you’re a woman and then, as in “Her Country” by Marissa R. Moss, your entire career could make you fret.

Twenty-three years ago, little girls in the back seat of their parents’ vehicles might have listened to the country music coming from the radio up front, and dreamed of being singers like Shania and Mindy and Jo Dee. Those women joined legends like Loretta and Dolly and Patsy with their painful lyrics about real life and relationships.

At around this same time, says Moss, three young female singers began making waves in their local Texas hometowns. Twelve-year-old Kacey Musgraves’ grandmother used her contacts and her influence to get her granddaughter’s duo in front of a President and a nation-wide audience at a time when country music wasn’t yet loudly political. Eleven-year-old Maren Morris was appearing on stage with experienced musicians many years older than she, and wowing the crowds. And sixteen-year-old Mickey Guyton was seeing white girls everywhere who were getting breaks and making it big, and she wondered why the genre was largely ignoring Black female singers like her.

Twenty-three years ago, women were making huge inroads in country music, says, Moss, but 1999 was the year that everything changed again. Backlash for Taylor Swift’s “mistakes” made her leave country music. Chely Wright was soon all but ignored for coming out as a lesbian. Tanya Tucker “was turned into a witchy, rebellious floozy instead of a brilliant artist.” And the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed “huge conglomerates” to buy up small radio stations and consolidate them, instituting archaic rules and hosting good-old-boy events that many performers hated.

And the women of country fought back…

Absolutely, “Her Country”will split readers into two categories: fans and non-fans. 

For the latter group, author Marissa R. Moss may as well be diagramming the electronics in a military tank here – which is to say that you can try to follow along in this book but her heavy use of first names infers that you’ll need at least some knowledge of country music to do so. 

If you have none, then, well….

Listeners of country music, though – especially fans of Nashville’s epic female singers and songwriters – will eat up the tales of the struggles of their favorites and the feistiness that they’ve had to use to seize success. Reading about their smart moves and at-all-costs career decisions will make you feel gleefully like an insider; reading about the trade shows they’re forced to attend will make you want to stomp the design off your cowboy boots.

So: not a fan, not your book. If you’re a country music follower, however, what are you doing here? Go. Go find this book. G’wan. For you, “Her Country” will surely strike the right chord.

“Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be” by Marissa R. Moss

c.2022, Henry Holt $28.99 320 pages