Houston-born ‘human rights witch’ Lou Ridley makes ‘anti-country’ country music

Country anti-country singer Lou Ridley

Photo: Bethany R. Reed, owner / Bethany R. Reed

Singers and musicians are often quick to turn away from labels. They are always categorized by genre (rap, R&B), sometimes separated by language (Latin pop) and even distinguished by hair color (blonde bombshell, pink-haired rocker).

However, Texas native Lou Ridley embraces his catchphrases. She calls her music “country anti-country”.

“Sometimes to spark that conversation, you have to be a little abrupt. On the contrary, the label made people give me attention that they normally wouldn’t,” she says. “I think it will pique people’s interest, and I really believe the country sphere is way behind.”

Ridley, who was born in Houston, describes herself as a “human rights witch” on his Instagram bio. It’s a reference to his work in Los Angeles with non-profit organizations and advocating for oppressed communities in general. It’s also a twist on a personal insult.

“The last two guys I dated say I’m a witch, so I just added that at the end,” she said with a smirk. “If you keep calling me one, then I’ll act like one.”

More information

‘Angel/Outlaw’ (EP) and ‘Hometown’ (single)

Listen now on digital streaming platforms

instagram.com/louridleyx

Ridley was brought up in Southlakein among the “super-country people”. The first song she remembers singing as a child was Garth Brooks’ “Shameless,” fueled by her father’s love of country music. As she got older, Ridley turned to more soulful voices: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Bill Withers.

Today, she cites three “women with big balls” – Holiday, Lady Gaga and Dolly Parton – as major forces in her life, as much for their stories of struggle and success as for their music.

All of these influences are evident in Ridley’s music, an evocative blend of country, soul and rock. She has a powerful and piercing voice which is beautifully showcased on her EP “Angel/Outlaw”. “Delivered” is a stomping spiritual rumination on a broken relationship. “Blind Eye” has a varnish perfectly suited to the radio. R&B star “Dirt” could easily be a hit for Mary J. Blige or Jazmine Sullivan.

Sometimes Ridley’s voice is reminiscent of Maren Morris. But the songs are much bolder and more invigorating. Earlier this month, Ridley quit her job at the Nashville office and signed with a record label, Good Partners, to expand her reach. She’s been working on new music that she says continues to blur stylistic boundaries.

Ridley garnered considerable attention for her 2021 single “Hometown,” a stark memory from her teenage years in Southlake. She sings that she was bullied by popular girls and admits to feeling helpless when she was sexually assaulted.

“I couldn’t tell a soul, I couldn’t tell my friends/No one helped me, I just asked what I was wearing…”

Southlake has been the subject of a six-part MSNBC podcast, detailing her racist history and current battles over critical race theory in schools. The city has been thrown into the spotlight several times in recent years when videos have surfaced showing high school students chanting the n-word.

The song itself is a hard listen. But it’s also a refreshing contrast to the traditional country’s obsession with a sanitized version of small-town life. Ridley has not returned to Southlake since leaving and even avoids driving through it when she comes to Texas.

“I’m so glad people still have those positive experiences, but it’s just a little (expletive), to be honest,” Ridley says. “So many girls I was with in high school found me and said, ‘I left Southlake because I was sexually assaulted.’ A girl I used to babysit who lived across the street found me on SnapChat and said, “My mom sent me your song, and I couldn’t believe it because I left for the same reason”.

So the label “anti-country country” simply means she refuses to play by the rules set by Nashville and mainstream radio. It’s also consistent with the cultural analysis that country music continues to struggle with today. It’s still nearly impossible for someone who doesn’t fit the mold to be truly accepted.

Orville Peck, a gay man, and Mickey Guyton, a black woman, are prime examples. Despite all the attention they receive, the two have yet to achieve substantial country radio success. Ridley hopes to be a small part of changing that.

“What is this phrase? ‘Well-mannered women rarely make a fuss.’ And I’m not the only artist doing it, which we all know. This is a group of us who aren’t afraid of the unknown and aren’t intimidated by being left out of something we never would have been included in anyway,” Ridley says. . “More than anything, I want to be one of the voices that advances the western world and our culture in general. I want to be part of this conversation.

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  • Joey Guerra

    Joey Guerra is the music critic for the Houston Chronicle. It also covers various aspects of pop culture. He’s reviewed hundreds of gigs and interviewed hundreds of celebrities, from Justin Bieber to Dolly Parton to Beyonce. He appeared as a regular correspondent on Fox26 and served as head judge and director of the Pride Superstar Singing Competition for a decade. He has been named Journalist of the Year multiple times by OutSmart Magazine and the FACE Awards. It also covers various aspects of pop culture, including the local drag scene and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.

Toya J. Bell