By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Photo by Jeanne Rice> "My parents moved from Oklahoma dirt farms to California before I was born. I grew up listening to country music—the real stuff. Loretta Lynn was the first singer I started identifying with after I left home and started my own family. Her songs paralleled the situation I had gotten myself into: she sang about cheating husbands and raising kids. I don't know what I would have done without Loretta."
> "Merle Haggard. I haven't found anyone who can say it better and with more feeling than this guy. He writes songs like 'Always on a Mountain When I Fall' and then turns around and gives you a helping of 'Rainbow Stew.' It's real. It's good. It's hard. It's soft. It's fucking life."
> "Tracy Chapman is not country, but she's real, and that's really the basis for country music. People get so mixed up about what country music is; they forget it's not so much a particular sound as real people singing about their hard times and life. They do that with what they know, what they've learned so far. Tracy sings, 'The whole world's broke and ain't worth fixing' [from 'New Beginning'] and 'Heaven's Here on Earth.' Definitely country."
> "Jann Browne and her Count Me In CD on Cross Three Records out of Nashville. This girl don't belong in Nashville; she's got way too much to offer a world with an open mind. That's why her songs last more than three minutes."
> "The Dixie Chicks' Fly CD. My favorite song, 'Good-Bye Earle,' is about two best friends who finally take care of an abusive husband. I don't usually listen to pop country, but Ms. Browne said they were good, and she was right again."
> "Lucinda Williams. Listening to her CD Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is like entering the forest: there's some scary shit in there, but it's also the most beautiful place you've ever been. There's nothing like the truth."
> "Iris DeMent is a woman who doesn't try to be; she just is. Merle Haggard covered a song of hers called 'No Time to Cry'—but you will cry if you hear this song. Her songs are probably too honest for most people."
> "Ray Price. I picked up his Very Best Of CD the other day. I've always liked Ray, but I haven't listened to him in a long time. His songs are timeless, and his voice is incredible."
> "Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders is incredible. I love her lyrics. One of my favorite songs is 'Human' from her Viva el Amor CD. She's talented, and she rocks."
> "Patty Booker (that's me). I Don't Need All That, and I don't. It's the fightin' side of me. Jann Browne and Matt Barnes (the producers) made it kick ass. What do I know? I'm just a little hillbilly girl, once removed. But it's my world."