The Wonder Women of Country Are Here to Save Us

The original Wonder Woman character was created for comic books during World War II, and offered as a Nazi-fighting badass at a time when women in the medium were usually relegated to damsel-in-distress status. It's the perfect inspiration for the three female artists who just put out an EP called Wonder Women of Country.

The group is made up of Kelly Willis, a ‘90s country music sweetheart and Texas songwriter great; Melissa Carper, the Nebraskan with an enthralling bygone voice dubbed “Hillbille Holiday” (a moniker given by Chris Scruggs); and Brennen Leigh a masterful songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist who the late Guy Clark proclaimed, “plays guitar like a motherfucker.”

Artistic collaboration can be challenging, especially for three accomplished songwriters skilled at crafting their own perfect creations. That was not the case for the Wonder Women of Country, a result of music being the center of the artistic process, not egos. “Each of us is song-centered,” Leigh explains via a 4-way Zoom call on an early Thursday morning. “We all care about the songs.”

With an emphasis on dreamy harmonies, tasteful instrumentation, warm production, and thoughtful restraint – this EP will make you wish you were alive during a time when The Andrews Sisters were the biggest name on the marquee.

Less Andrew’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and more Tubb’s “Boogie Woogie Baby” (the trio are proud Ernest Tubb fans), the Wonder Women of Country channel their hero’s honest simplicity. With a near-obsessive appreciation of roots music, including classic country, jazz, and blues, their sound blends into something modern, unique, and beautiful. With so much songwriting and musical ability, they don’t need to hide behind heavy-handed production. When asked about the process of creating the EP, they noted ease with which it all came about. “We produced it ourselves and came up with the arrangements right then and there in the studio,” Carper shared.

Leigh echoed the relaxed energy: “I love the songs. It’s easy to feel inspired and play on things that you love.” Their light-heartedness isn’t feigned; even in a brief conversation with the Wonder Women of Country, their shared respect and chemistry are palpable. The three of them together feel, quite frankly, natural. Each singer looks not to flaunt their own abilities but instead to bolster each other’s talents.

Their mutual admiration spurred the supergroup, which was steered by Kelly Willis, a pillar of the Austin music scene with a fascinating background. Willis reads sweet and lowkey at first glance, but make no mistake—she is a powerhouse. Her pedigree is impressive; she was an ACM award nominee, her voice is featured on two songs in the cult classic Thelma and Louise,  and she even had a cameo on Dwight Yoakam’s “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” music video. With a storied career and deep respect in the music community, she has the freedom to be selective with her projects.

For Willis, that meant working with Carper and Leigh. After a run of shows together last summer, Willis proposed the trio idea via email. Carper and Leigh were thrilled by the invite. “We joked the email must be spam,” Leigh recollects with a smirk.

“I’d been listening to Kelly’s music forever. I shared some bills with her. I was so excited, and I remember watching Kelly and Bruce [Robison] and being nervous the first time I met her,” added Carper with a laugh.

Willis was impressed with Carper and Leigh’s musicality, songwriting abilities, and tastes. Indeed, the two have collaborated frequently. Independent of her astounding guitar and mandolin picking, and honey-smooth vocals, Leigh’s songwriting credits are notable, penning songs for artists including Lee Ann Womack, Rodney Crowell, and Charley Crockett—along with her own catalogue of highly regarded albums.

Carper provides an important sound to the trio. An upright bass player with a childhood love of Jimmie Rodgers, Carper pulls Wonder Women of Country’s sound closer to country music influenced by jazz. Her distinctive vocals are inspired by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, and her mid-Century sound has garnered her praise from Rolling Stone as well as from peers, including Chris Scruggs (whose brilliant C6 steel playing sparkles on the EP’s “Fly Ya To Hawaii”) and Dennis Crouch.

For Willis, Wonder Women of Country has been more than just the catalyst of quality music; it has also been the catalyst of a powerful friendship. “They’re both very generous people and performers. It’s wonderful to be on stage with both of them. It feels like a really safe place; everyone has each other’s back. And I’m really inspired by their talent, their songwriting, and their fearlessness. I have learned so much from the two of them in the last few years. It was an unplanned and unexpected thing to experience at this point in my career. It’s just been incredible.”

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