Above image: Tiny Horse performs at Crosstown Station for the Murder Ballad Ball in 2009. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
Too often, being a woman in the music industry is treated as an anomaly rather than a norm. Even when it’s not intentional, the subject of gender finds itself embedded in interviews, casual conversations and commentary with or about female/transgender musicians, sound engineers, venue operators, managers, booking agents, and radio personalities, among others.
NPR Music just released a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women from 1964 to today. It encompasses artists from The Bangles to Missy Elliott to Reba McEntire to Beyoncé, and hopes to start a new conversation — one in which the role of women in music is considered historically central, instead of a trend.
While our list is nowhere near as exhaustive, we’ve compiled 10 albums released in the last two decades that owe much of their sound to Kansas City-based female musicians.
Frogpond — “Count To Ten” (1996)
Frogpond released “Count To Ten” in 1996 with its original lineup (L to R): Kristie Stremel, Heidi Phillips, Justine Volpe and Megan Hamilton. | Photo: “Count To Ten” back cover
As a product of the ’90s, Frogpond embodied everything I craved in music: grungy guitars, a catchy pop hook and the perfect balance of angst and wistfulness. What began as a project in Warrensburg between Heidi Phillips and three friends — two of whom couldn’t play an instrument beforehand — became a nationally touring act. While on the “Monster” tour in 1995, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills saw Frogpond at The Hurricane and invited the band to play R.E.M.’s end-of-tour party. Its debut album was picked up by Sony imprint TriStar, and produced by Everclear’s Art Alexakis. Listen to the entire album here.
The Anniversary — “Your Majesty” (2002)
The Anniversary reunited in 2016, with four of its five original members (L to R): Jim David, Chris “Janko” Jankowski, Adrianne deLanda, Josh Berwanger and Ricky Salthouse. | Photo: Zach Bauman
Before meeting an all-too-early fate, The Anniversary released its final album on Vagrant Records, a follow-up to its celebrated debut “Designing A Nervous Breakdown.” Though often classified as emo — largely due to an association with fellow Kansans The Get Up Kids, whose label The Anniversary was on — “Your Majesty” took the band to explore a more power-pop and classic rock-centric territory. If you missed them in their heyday, they reunited for tours in late 2016 and earlier this summer. We’re secretly crossing our fingers for more. Meanwhile, you can also check out Extra Classic, a dub-influenced group from The Anniversary’s keyboardist/backing vocalist Adrianne deLanda (Verhoeven) and her husband, Alex. Listen to “Your Majesty” here.
The Gaslights — “16 Addresses” (2007)
One of Kansas City’s most powerful vocalists and wordsmiths, Abigail Henderson led The Gaslights, Atlantic Fadeout and Tiny Horse. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
If you never got the chance to hear Abigail Henderson sing in person, you missed one of Kansas City’s biggest, brightest and most boisterous voices. Ten years ago, The Gaslights — which she formed in 2003 with husband/musical partner Chris Meck — were at the forefront of KC’s alt-country scene. With Henderson’s fiery voice and personality at the helm, the group kept a full touring schedule across the United States and occasionally Europe. “16 Addresses” was The Gaslights’ final album, a collection of road-worn rock songs enriched by Henderson’s signature twang and Meck’s emotive guitar lines. Listen to the entire album here.
American Catastrophe — “Excerpts From The Broken Bone Choir” (2007)
Amy Farrand has long been a valued member of KC’s music scene; she played bass in American Catastrophe and now leads Amy Farrand and the Like. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
American Catastrophe was one of the most frightening bands to ever come out of Kansas City. The four-piece group cast an imposing, sinister shadow with its debut, released by local label OxBlood Records. The six-track, 33-minute release was the act’s only album, outside of a seven-inch single four years later. It underscored all the attributes that gave AmCat its trademark gothic sound: Shaun Hamontree’s eerie baritone vocals, Terrence Moore’s haunting instrumental orchestrations and an ominous rhythm section from Amy Farrand and Eric Bessenbacher.
Olympic Size — “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone” (2008)
While contributing keys and vocals to Olympic Size, Kirsten Paludan also pursued her solo career. She has continued to work as a solo artist, and as an instrumentalist for a number of other projects. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
Olympic Size was originally conceived as a side project for members of already prominent KC bands, such as Roman Numerals, The Stella Link, Dirtnap and The Belles. But the combined talents of this band — which had upwards of eight members — garnered them plenty of well-deserved attention. Nine years later, there’s still nothing that satiates quite like Kirsten Paludan and Billy Smith’s gentle vocals against a gorgeous astral backdrop.
Schwervon! — “Courage” (2012)
It’s not uncommon to spot Nan Turner doing an impromptu interpretive dance on stage, but she shines as a drummer and songstress in Schwervon!. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
Only four months after Nan Turner and Matt Roth put down roots in Kansas City, they released their sixth full-length album, “Courage.” Schwervon! was established in their previous home base of New York; they had already released five albums and three seven-inch records, and had amassed a respectable fanbase by touring the States and Europe with acts like The Vaselines and Belle and Sebastian. Recorded by Doug Easley — who also worked on albums from Pavement and Sonic Youth — “Courage” magnified the duo’s propensity toward catchy, idiosyncratic pop songs, and helped make Schwervon! one of KC’s most beloved acts. Listen to the entire album here.
The Caves — “Duplexiaville” (2012)
In The Caves, Elizabeth Bohannon’s vocals were a bright and welcome counterpoint to frontman Andrew Ashby’s somber and poignant songs. | Photo: Todd Zimmer
Andrew Ashby’s melancholy melodies have been making Kansas City audiences weep (in the best way) for the better part of two decades, but The Caves might be his most affecting project thus far. Bandmates Elizabeth Bohannon, Jake Cardwell and David Gaumé brought a delicacy and pace to his music — traits that made the tunes on “Duplexiaville” both hypnotic and urgent, dissonant yet congruous. Listen to the entire album here.
The Latenight Callers — “Songs For Stolen Moments” (2013)
For the first few years, The Latenight Callers had two leading ladies — frontwoman Julie Berndsen and guitarist/backup singer Ellen Lind. Lind is also an accomplished cellist who founded The Oread Strings; she was also principal cellist of the Topeka Symphony Orchestra for five years. Berndsen is now a backing vocalist with Brandon Phillips and the Condition. | Photos: Todd Zimmer
About five years ago, a night on the town sometimes meant dressing to the nines, nursing a stiff cocktail and taking the object of your affection to see The Latenight Callers. By the time they released “Songs For Stolen Moments,” The Callers were KC’s most enigmatic and fashionable band. Julie Berndsen’s sultry, jazzy noir voice — with backing vocals from Ellen Lind — cut across the seedy underbelly of baritone guitars, dark synths and cavernous bass lines, making for an addictive experience. Listen to the entire album here.
Heidi Lynne Gluck — “Pony Show” (2016)
Heidi Lynne Gluck’s latest release, “Pony Show,” is only her second solo album, but she’s worked for years as a touring and session musician. | Photo: Dan Compton
Though Heidi Lynne Gluck boasts an impressive musical resume that includes touring/session collaborations with Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos, Some Girls (with Juliana Hatfield) and The Only Children (with Josh Berwanger), last year’s release was only her second outing as a solo artist. As our top KC-area album of 2016, “Pony Show” affirmed Gluck as a sophisticated and self-assured lyricist, a discreetly dominating singer, a proficient instrumentalist and a conscientious producer — she wrote and co-produced all of the tracks and played most of the instruments. Listen to the entire album here.
Krystle Warren — “Three the Hard Way” (2017)
Krystle Warren left KC in her early 20s to pursue music in New York and eventually Paris, where she now resides. | Photo: The Bridge
Rufus Wainwright heralded her as one of the greatest living singers of our time, and she draws frequent comparisons to Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Tracy Chapman. With company like that, it’s hard to believe that Krystle Warren’s forthcoming third album would be anything short of breathtaking. A KC native, Warren left in her early 20s to pursue her music career; she now resides in Paris. “Three the Hard Way” gives her an opportunity to return to her roots with a refined perspective on spirituality, social issues and love. Until the album drops next month, get your fix of Warren’s mesmerizing voice from her Paris-based side project Joon Moon, who released the “Tiger” EP last month.
Check out these acts and a few honorable mentions in our Spotify playlist below.
—Michelle Bacon has had the good fortune to be in bands with several amazing female musicians. Here are at least most of them: Calandra Ysquierdo, Heidi Gluck, Hannah Novaria, Jade Rose, Kassandra Lien, Stephanie Williams, Kimmie Queen, Rachel Jaggard, Havilah Bruders, Danielle Prestidge, Camry Ivory, Nicole Cain, Terra Skaggs and Tracy Flowers.