In 2015, a powerful Music Row radio consultant dismissed the notion that there should be more gender diversity on air by likening women in country music to tomatoes. No joke, an analogy was made where the Luke Bryans of the world were big handfuls of lettuce in radio salad, flavored by little cherry tomatoes named Carrie and Miranda. One of the loudest and most visible protestors of “Tomatogate” was early-aughts hitmaker Sara Evans. The “Born to Fly” singer was justifiably frustrated that current talents aren’t allowed to build on her airwave-driven success, just as she had followed in the footsteps of Georgia’s own Trisha Yearwood and others.
It’s hard to not view Evans’ new album Words as another counter-punch to “Tomatogate.” There are 14 women with co-write credits, including Evans, Pistol Annies member Ashley Monroe, accomplished songwriter Caitlyn Smith, and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott.
The album itself is as tasty as a literal homegrown tomato – what self-respecting Southerner longs for fried green lettuce anyway? The stripped-down string band sound of opener “Long Way Down” makes it clear right out the gate that Evans isn’t beholden to yesteryear’s pop country. Other highlights include the powerful “Like the Way You Love Me,” which needs to be recrafted by an R&B vocalist, and the gorgeous, storyteller-driven title track.
Recent developments prove that Music Row backing doesn’t always dictate chart success. Chris Stapleton just netted a double platinum album with minimal airplay, and Words topped the iTunes country albums chart hours after its release. Further, Evans issued Words on her own Born to Fly Records, ending a 20-year run with RCA Nashville. Existing on the mainstream’s fringes isn’t hurting Evans too much, even if it’s still bogus that women without the benefit of past hits are passed over in favor of “bro-country” knuckleheads (of lettuce).
[Born to Fly]