by Marcus K. Dowling
Country music’s roots in African-American-developed blues and folk music tie country music to America’s Black experience. From this idea, the notion that duos and groups in country music are particularly special develops. Moreover, the church services and community gathering spaces that have birthed and elevated these artists hold within them two sets of twin spirits: love and pain, tradition and innovation. Add to this spirituality an immense level of passion for uniquely celebrating the ability to create within these ideas, and the music from the five acts listed below emerges. Diversely unique by their approaches to popularly considered country music, they are unified in their celebratory Blackness and impressive ability to create music that fosters pride in race and engenders universal appeal.
Chapel Hart Band
Alongside their cousin Trea Swindle, sisters Danica and Devynn Hart form trio the Chapel Hart Band. If looking for rollicking, raucous outlaw-style fun in country music, it’s best served here. Their breakout single is 2020’s “Jesus and Alcohol.” It’s a tightly wound honkytonk stomper that when Danica Hart yodel-howls “pass the Bible, bourbon, and brace for a breakup,” it immediately connects to souls, universally. From here is where the heart of who this trio is at its core emerges. “Danica and I used to hop on our uncle’s lawnmower and ride around up and down the river like it was a car,” Trea Swindle tells the Houston Chronicle. Because we all have these heartwarming aspirational tales in our lives, and their three-part harmony gives their stories such connective power, they’re a noteworthy and vital act.
The trio is a part of the CMT Next Women of Country class of 2021.
The War and Treaty
For just over the past half-decade, husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount have smoothed the gut-bucket grooves that link soul, country, and gospel music. Similar tandems in these genres have a historical lineage with a mountain of vocal melodies as high as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s talents and songwriting as rock-solid as Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s work. It’s in the ability of Trotter — behind the piano — maintaining a steady command of the composition of the production via his playing and sonorous tenor, plus Blount’s soaring operatic vocals, that creates interest here. Their latest album’s lead single (of the same name), “Hearts Town,” adds touches of countrified rock to the previously mentioned soul, country, and gospel influences. Therein lies their template for long-term success.
Our Native Daughters
Across the intersecting veins of country, folk, bluegrass, America, and blues music, there may be no more technically gifted group than Smithsonian Folkways Records’ Our Native Daughters. Similar to, but different than the Highwomen, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell have banded together to “shine new light on African-American women’s stories of struggle, resistance, and hope.” Moreover, if thinking that 17th and 18th century-inspired folk songs that reclaim the banjo’s ancestral lineage as an African instrument would have minimal mainstream appeal, think again. When hearing the plaintively-crooned words “I follow the stars / I carry my scars” and contemplating recent history, the song “I Knew I Could Fly” — like all of their 2019 release Songs of Our Native Daughters, become timeless.
The McCrary Sisters
Hearkening back to The Staple Singers’ era, family-style gospel blended with folk-soul vibes has a long-standing tradition of pop music excellence. Ann, Deborah, Regina, and Alfreda McCrary have excelled at reaffirming this sound that remains essential to music’s progression for the past decade. Gospel fans familiar with McCrary’s name should know that the quartet’s father is the late Rev. Samuel McCrary — famed as an original member of another quartet, The Fairfield Four. Amidst very trying social times in America, take one listen to their cover of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” If looking for inspiration to create the platform for dynamic change, this could certainly be of assistance.
Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
Country and rock’s roots with Louisiana zydeco underpinned a great deal of both genre’s crossover success in the 1970s. Just as Allen Toussaint’s virtuoso skill as a pianist and arranger developed hits for Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, The Pointer Sisters, and more, Dwayne Dopsie’s been described as “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion” by Rolling Stone. Approaching playing his accordion like a guitar, Dopsie’s style blends rock, funk, R & B, and zydeco into what has been referred to as a “blood-pumping” sound. Dopsie’s the son of late zydeco legend Alton Rubin Sr. (a.k.a. Rockin’ Dopsie), and — now a Grammy-nominated veteran having performed since the age of 19, in over 40 countries later — it’s clear that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Songs like 2019’s “Harry’s Creole Bar” are flawless-sounding party-starters that deserve an audience that can’t stay seated.