In this article, I’m going to present you with my thoughts on the best indie female singers—many of which you can purchase on vinyl record, if you’re so inclined (if not, well…at least check them out on your favorite streaming service).
Now, before I dive into my list, let me answer a question you might have: what exactly do I mean by “indie singers?”
Well, let’s dig into that. I define “indie” (or “alternative”) as being any artist who more or less fits into a given genre, but has enough audible influence from other genres and her own unique qualities as a musician to stand out sonically from other artists in the parent genre.
Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Female Indie Folk Singers
Let’s begin with the singer Sandy Denny.
My first choice is 60s/70s songstress Sandy Denny. Perhaps best known for her time in English folk rock band The Fairport Convention, she wrote the famed and oft covered song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, and is also the voice duetting Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin’s 1971 song “The Battle of Evermore”.
And, of course, she released four solo albums before her tragic death at age 31. To me, the standout album is the first: 1971’s The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Her voice at once possessing strength and fragility, she embodies a beautiful melancholy in songs “Late November”, “Next Time Around”, and “Wretched Wilbur”.
All have strong roots in folk rock, are undeniably, uniquely Sandy, and you can hear hints of her personal struggles seeping through in her vocals. Similarly, I am taken away by her in “Crazy Man Michael”, released in 1969 while with Fairport. Detailing a folkloric tale of magical prophecy and tragedy, it showcases Denny’s, at times, heartbreaking voice, a legacy continued through her solo career.
Sadly, she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years, racked with poor mental health and insecurities, despite her wonderful talent and recognition within the contemporary musical community.
Due to such substance abuse and two major falls, she passed away far too soon in 1978.
Known most for her time with Irish Celtic folk band De Dannan, artist Dolores Keane stands out with her soulful, deeper voice, tinted with a slight huskiness. Having grown up with the Irish sean nos musical tradition, or unaccompanied Gaelic singing, Keane embarked on a solo career in the late 70s, and has released five solo albums.
My personal favorite tune is “Aileen’s Lament” off her 1997 album Night Owl. It features traditional Irish instrumentation, and her soulful, lamenting voice just about brings me to tears. Another stand out song is 1993’s “The Finer Things”, which departs more from her Celtic sound, and shows her ability to traverse genres. Having struggled for years with alcoholism and depression, as well as a now remissed breast cancer diagnosis, Keane has overcome much, and remains a beloved gift to the music world, and last toured with her brother in 2015.
One of my absolute favorite artists of all time is Suzanne Vega. Starting out in the 80s, she has a knack for intricate, thoughtful, and poetic lyrics, and possesses a softer, warm, and melodic voice which molds beautifully to the moods of each song.
Initially drawing heavily from her folky roots, throughout the 90s to the present she has continued to honor this background while ever evolving her sound. There are so many, many great compositions to choose from, but one of my favorites is “Ironbound/Fancy Poultry” from the 1987 album Solitude Standing.
Lyrically the song seems to be a melancholic observation of an immigrant neighborhood, and the sound of it is a gorgeous, flowing testament to the feeling of longing. Another great one is “Penitent” from the 2001 album Songs in Red and Gray, which has hints of more electronic pop sounds, and, like much of the album, deals with very personal themes of hurt and resilience, especially related to her divorce.
However, there is so very much more to experience when it comes to Suzanne Vega, and I wholeheartedly recommend a thorough listen to her catalogue of albums.
While Jewel has branched out to the country genre more in the 2000s and 2010s, I am going to talk about her more folky sound. After her debut album in 1995, Jewel she became known for her distinct singing style. I believe her best song is “Kiss the Flame” off of 1998’s Spirit album.
The chorus is just beautiful and ethereal, describing being open and brave in whatever type of love comes your way, with a backdrop of longing and societal disappointment. The 2015 album Picking Up the Pieces references the style of her debut album Pieces of You.
The standout song to me is “Nicotine Love” with its clever and dramatic sound and lyrics. The song was actually written around the era of Pieces of You, and details the life of a sex worker with a history of trauma who takes matters into her own hands, for better or for worse.
Australia’s Grace Cummings is a pretty new addition to the indie folk scene. her first album Refuge Cove coming out in 2019. She stands out among her counterparts with her gorgeous husky, deep, and bluesy voice, at times reminiscent of Romani influenced Spanish flamenco singing with her powerful intonations.
“The Look You Gave” from Refuge Cove features classic folk acoustic accompaniment including harmonica, which lets the instrument of her voice take the stage. So far my favorite of Cummings’ is “Heaven”, which explores the abstract idea of heaven and the divine, not necessarily a traditional place in the sky.
The song is a single from her next album to be released in January 2022, Storm Queen; an intriguing title if I do say so myself.
Female Indie Rock Singers
Let’s begin this section with the talented Kate Bush.
Imaginative and wild jewel Kate Bush will always have a special place in my heart, and I believe her to be a creative genius. Her high pitched vocal style earlier in her career can either be iconic or ear splitting to those that listen, but whether appreciative of her “screech” or not, one has to admit how unique everything is about her: lyrics, music, and singing voice.
As with all consistently inspired musicians, her sound has evolved from the late 70s into the 2010s, and her voice along with it. In representation of her early work, “Symphony in Blue” from 1978’s Lionheart, has a stream of consciousness type flow to it. “Mother Stands for Comfort” from 1985’s Hounds of Love, shows Bush at her more melancholy, has a fantastic drumline, as well as shattering glass sound effects, and features the liltings from low to high of her layered voice.
From the 1989 album The Sensual World, the namesake song shows a transition to a more soft, and deeper register in Bush’s singing. It is a sensual, flowing, and dreamy masterpiece that features deep syncopated drums and a captivating chorus backed by Irish pipes. Kate Bush is an experience I consider myself lucky to have had.
Tori Amos is another of my absolute favorites, an ever evolving musical enigma, and her entire catalogue is so poetic and intricate that you are transported by word and melody alike. Her voice is so very distinct and versatile, from her ethereal soprano stretches, her funky and wild refrains, to her resonating, rhythmic vibrato.
It is truly hard to pick just a couple songs to represent her whole, vivid repertoire, as all of it deserves a listen. She of course came to prominence with her 1992 debut album Little Earthquakes, which features many jewels.
Perhaps the best track on the album is “Crucify”, which is a whole journey in itself, describing the pressure to conform in religion and society at large (having grown up a minister’s daughter), and finding freedom and ecstasy in the truth within oneself.
Similarly, analyzing the lyrics, “Pancake” from 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk, can be understood to be a commentary on religious hypocrisy and the apathy of society to do better, that day to day “normal life” is sometimes incredibly blind. Always eloquent, and known for her astute and poignant social and personal commentaries, Amos continues to make music, having just released two songs in 2021.
Born in New Zealand and raised between there and the US, artist Tamaryn has been releasing music for a decade. She was raised by a mother and godmother, both of whom were Jungian psychologists, and credits them with helping her understand how creativity is therapy, and that there are no limits, no boxes.
Tamaryn’s sound is unique, drawing heavily on synthwave, dream pop, and the like. “Keep Calling” from 2015’s Cranekiss has a baseline reminiscent of the post punk sound, and a dreamy chorus featuring a clapping percussion.
So far, I think her 2019 album Dreaming the Dark is her best accomplishment, featuring moody, synth heavy songs like “Angels of Sweat” and “Dreaming the Dark”, and the fantastically post punky“Path to Love”, featuring an intoxicating baseline and drum beat.
Originally part of wave band Them Are Us Too, solo project of Kennedy Aslyn, SRSQ, (pronounced like seerskew) is a fantastic newer addition to the alternative scene. Described as “griefwave” and dreamgaze, she released her first and only album to date, Unreality, in 2018, and two singles in 2019.
From the album, “Mixed Tide” and “Permission” stand out. The former is a moody, drum heavy song featuring SRSQ’s soprano vocals and wavey synths. The latter uses heavy distortion of her voice throughout the entire song for an interesting effect, is very somewhat dark, synth heavy, and very danceable in parts. Single “Unkept” is dreamy and drum heavy, once again showcasing SRSQ’s gorgeous vocals. Here’s hoping she releases more in the future!
The late great Dolores O’Riordan deserves a spot on any of my “greatest” lists, solo or with her band the Cranberries, and was quite formative for me in my younger years. Known for her unique and powerful lilting, “yodelling”, and keening voice, she released two solo albums in 2007 and 2009: Are You Listening? and No Baggage, respectively.
I personally connect a lot more with the first album, which features melancholic songs “Ordinary Day”, “Ecstasy” and the harder, powerful “Stay With Me”. I do also like “I Want You”, which was not released with the No Baggage album as a whole, but only as a vinyl B-side to the album’s song “Switch Off the Moment”.
The song is a somewhat simple, yet beautiful sad love song, which holds even more emotional weight when listening to it now she’s passed on. Similarly, to the above sentiments, O’Riordan did a heartbreaking, one off song in 2003 with composer Angelo Badalamenti called “Angels Go to Heaven” for the Evilenko soundtrack.
Lene Lovich, like Kate Bush, is a rather cult taste, as her voice and style, too, is unusual. But just like Kate Bush, you also have to admit her sound and artistry is so different, it deserves recognition. Born in Detroit, Michigan and later raised in England, Lovich released four albums from the late 70s to the late 80s, and one in 2005.
One of her softer songs is, “Too Tender to Touch” from her 1978 debut album Stateless. Her second album Flex from 1979, gave rise to two of her classics: “Bird Song”, which shows her insane soprano abilities, and “New Toy”, which is catchy and new wave. Her 2005 album, Shadows and Dust, shows a bit of a shift stylistically, edging toward a more dark sound, such as with her song “Remember”.
Geneva Jacuzzi’s experimental, synth dominated sound sort of sits in between and, yet, outside of rock and pop, in my opinion. Not only are her sound and words experimental, but so are her accompanying performance art and music videos, and her approach is very DIY and often lo-fi. “Do I Sad”, from 2010’s Lamaze is quite 80s synthpop inspired, while “Runaway DNA”, also on the album, has a more experimental and eerie sound.
From her 2016 album Technophelia, “Cannibal Babies” is at once catchy and strange, given the lyrics, and is delightfully unique. In 2021, she released a darker sounding single with singer Patriarchy, “I Don’t Want to Die”, and she has a lot of interesting demos you can only find on Youtube.
Female Indie Pop/Folk/Soul Singers
For this section, we begin with the great Joni Mitchell.
Joni Mitchell is hard to pin down, genre wise, after she departed from her folk heavy era, as she incorporates elements of jazz, pop, rock, r&b, and world music, and, of course, is just very unique herself, both sonically and lyric wise.
This may be blasphemy to some, but I’m not a big fan of her earlier folk days; it strikes me as a bit twee, and honestly she became a divine, creative explosion once she let go of the strong hold folk had on her style. With the exception of a few really good songs, like “A Case of You”, and “The Arrangement”, in my opinion, her music from 1972’s For the Roses and onward is much more interesting, as her sound qualitatively changed.
All of Her whole catalogue deserves a listen, but one stand out is her album Court and Spark from 1974, such as her song “Car On a Hill”, which a sort of moody, jazzy stream of consciousness experience.
“Song for Sharon” from 1976’s Hejira album is a fantastic example of Joni at her jazzy best, featuring ethereal backing vocals, also by Mitchell. From her later 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, I particularly love “Number One”, a moody and catchy tune commenting on societal obsession with “winning”.
Mitchell seems to be pretty much retired from music now, but will always have an essential place in the history of song making.
Nigerian-English artist Sade is one of my all time favorites, as I love her deep, expressive voice, her presence, and blend of genres: pop, rock, jazz, r&b, and soul. Her sound has at once a sensuality and a catchiness with the rhythms.
I think my favorite of hers’, which is hard to choose, is “No Ordinary Love” from 1992’s Love Deluxe. It’s absolutely sensual, but also relaxing, and melancholy at the same time. Just like the music video which depicts Sade as a mermaid, the song makes you feel as though you’re swaying and flowing underwater.
As much as I love the previous song, I actually prefer the more jazz based albums, as a whole, that precede it. For example, from 1985’s Promise, “The Sweetest Taboo” stands out as a clever, syncopated masterpiece. All of her albums are worth a listen, and it is interesting to hear her sound shift to a more r&b base into the 90s and beyond.
English artist Laura Groves is an indie female singer who has been releasing music since 2013. Possessing a clear soprano voice, her music has a complimentary dreamy element to it, with sprinklings of synths, and a little bit of a chill 80s vibe.
To me her best song is 2020’s “Foolish Game” from the EP A Private Road, which has an ethereal quality, especially in the chorus, among it’s soft, alternative pop melody. Keeping with the dreamy theme, but with more of a melancholic edge, is “Inky Sea” from the 2013 EP Thinking About Thinking.
Her most recent release, in 2021, is the song “the sea the sea”, which delves deeper into the dream wave genre, with distorted echoey vocals and gentle synths.
Christine and the Queens
One more recent indie musician is Christine and the Queens, a deceptive moniker as it’s really the solo project of French artist Heloise Letissier. She is sometimes also referred to as “Chris”, as in the 2018 album Chris. Chris does identify as genderqueer, yet doesn’t divorce herself from her womanhood either.
My personal favorite song is from the 2020 La Vita Nuova EP, “La Vita Nuova”, featuring singer Caroline Polachek. The tune is very catchy and interesting with several lyrics in Italian, and showcases the beautiful voices of both Chris and Polachek, which often harmonize. Another favorite is “Girlfriend” from the above mentioned 2018 album, which has sort of chill, retro 80s/90s pop feel.
Ionnalee, also known for her project iamamiwhoami, is a Swedish artist. I would best describe her sound as electropop, as you can hear in “SOME BODY” from 2019’s REMEMBER THE FUTURE.
I enjoy the chord progressions and her catchy singing style. The previous year she released the album EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN, from which “NOT HUMAN” stands out, with a powerfully rendered chorus and intriguing melody. Interestingly, in 2021 she released “MACHINEE” under both of her project names, and has a heavy electronic/synth feel.
Bat for Lashes
Bat for Lashes is the musical project of English artist Natasha Khan. Khan has described her moniker as a nod to her love of Halloween, the night, and the supernatural, which is expressed in her most recent album Lost Girls especially.
Off her first album Fur and Gold from 2006, I love “What’s a Girl to Do?”, which has a sort of darker and more mysterious 60s girl group pop sound. 2016’s The Bride” is a concept album about a bride whose fiance dies in a car crash en route to the wedding.
My stand out song is “Widow’s Peak”, which is an ethereal, beautifully eerie tune featuring cryptic, fantastically rhyming lyrics, which could be a grief spurred dream/nightmare, and/or a supernatural visit or vision. Khan’s most recent album, Lost Girls from 2019, is also a concept album, about a female vampire biker gang, and is inspired by retro horror and fantasy films. Though there are so many great songs from this album, I particularly like “Kids in the Dark”, a synthy love song with more than a little 80s influence.
Alison Goldfrapp, known as Goldfrapp along with synth player Will Gregory, is an English electronic pop artist. Every one of her albums has its own intriguing personality, and her distinct ethereal, at times breathy and sensual, voice speaks for itself.
From the 2000 album Felt Mountain, “Lovely Head” is smooth, slightly eerie and retro feeling song which shows influences from 60s pop and cabaret. 2013’s Tales of Us is my favorite album of hers, which is influenced by English folk music, and centers each song on a different imaginary, dramatic character.
One favorite is “Simone”, with its beautiful melancholy and sense of lament. Off of 2018’s Silver Eye, I particularly like the collaboration with Dave Gahan, “Ocean”, and its dramatic delivery.
Who doesn’t love an amazing female vocalist? Well, that’s exactly what you get with the exquisite Niia Bertino—better known simply as Niia.
Niia was born in the 1980s, but has such a mature and alluring sounding voice. Jumping into the music scene just a few years ago in 2017, Niia has released just three studio albums:
II: La Bella Vita
If I Should Die
Despite having a relatively small music catalog, Niia is already making a musical impact. It’s difficult for me to pick a standout track, although I’m probably always going to be partial to “Hurt You First,” a brutally honest slow jam that features pretty hard hitting lyrics centered on the messy (and sometimes sabotaging) aspects about love and relationships.
Female Indie Country Singers
Let’s kick this section off with Patsy Cline.
Patsy Cline was perhaps one of the first in indie country, as she made several hits that appealed to both country and contemporary pop fans, gaining widespread popularity after “Walking After Midnight” came out in 1961. Her voice is iconic and strong, and yet can possess a captivating fragility.
Other classic songs are Crazy (1961), I Fall to Pieces (1961), She’s Got You (1962), and Always (1963), and every listen is a transporting experience. Sadly, Cline passed away far too soon at age 30 in 1963 in a plane crash.
Lisa Marie Presley
Though most of her career was not spent anywhere near the realm of country, to me Lisa Marie Presley’s 2012 album Storm and Grace is good enough to peg her as a significant force in country/roots rock. The whole album has a somewhat retro and smoky feel to it, and I always appreciate a darker take on country.
Presley’s husky voice fits the genre perfectly, unlike her previous attempts in commercial pop.“Over Me” has a classic reverberating, jangly guitar backing, and my favorite, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, has an intoxicating melody and rhythm that rocks back and forth, and gives a shadowy, earthy feel.
Bobbie Gentry is most known for her self-produced, 1967 southern gothic themed hit “Ode to Billie Joe”, a commentary on indifference, and which interestingly knocked the Beatles’ ,“All You Need is Love”, off the number one spot in the music charts.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Gentry mixes pop, soul, folk, and country, as well as her own somewhat husky and endearingly raspy voice, to create her own sound. From 1970’s Fancy, the title song details a sex worker’s rise out of poverty, and mixes soul and country pop.
From her final 1971 album, Patchwork, “Beverly” tells the story of a lonely factory worker, and her sad nostalgia. After a succession of albums in the late 60s and early 70s, she accomplished an amazing number of things, including being the first woman to host a variety show on the BBC, DJing on Armed Forces Radio, and spent a decade in Las Vegas starring in her own flamboyant choreographed shows.
However, in the early 80s, she disappeared from the public eye and remains very private to this day.
Rachel Brooke has been actively releasing music since 2009, but to me her standout records are 2012’s A Killer’s Dream, and 2020’s The Loneliness in Me. She blends country, with 50s style rock/pop and big band sounds to create an intriguing retro experience.
From the 2012 album, the key song to me is “Late Night Lover” with a distinct sultry atmosphere. From the 2020 album the stand outs are the slow “It Ain’t Over ‘til You’re Crying” and the upbeat “The Loneliness in Me”, both possessing a rockabilly quality.
English singer and model Karen Elson blends folk, pop, country, and cabaret influences to produce her unique sound, apart from her melodic, clear voice. I consider “Hell and High Water” from the 2017 album Double Roses her best song, a rhythmically marching tune that features beautiful harmonies reminiscent of country.
From the same album, “A Million Stars” possesses a more clearly country and soft pop sound. Elson also released album The Ghost Who Walks in 2010, which has a heavier folk and country influence, like “Mouths to Feed” and “Lunasa”, about the end of summer.
In songs “100 Years from Now” and “Stolen Roses”, you can definitely hear a heavy cabaret influence.
Yola is a female indie singer from the UK, blending country sounds with pop, r&b, and soul. She possesses a powerful voice that adds another layer of depth to all her songs. Her 2019 album Walk Through Fire features a lot of great songs, like “Faraway Look”, which I describe as her version of a power ballad, and definitely has a 60s inspired sound.
Also from this album, “Rock Me Gently” is a country soul beauty, and “Lonely the Night” features a hint of twang and a 60s inspired chorus that showcases Yola’s soulful vocals. Most recently, she released album Stand for Myself, from which “Dancing Away In Tears” shines, heavily influenced by 70s soul and disco.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please “like” my Devoted to Vinyl Facebook page!
You might also enjoy: