An Oklahoma native with a voice to prove it, Kaitlin Butts is one of country music's most exciting emerging songwriters.
Butts released her debut album, Same Hell, Different Devil, in 2015. Since then, the singer-songwriter has continued to hone her craft, releasing a series of singles (including her most popular track to date, "Marfa Lights") and a seven-track album, What Else Can She Do.
Listening to Butts, one can hear hints of early Kacey Musgraves and the influence of country veteran Miranda Lambert. However, Butts clearly has something of her own to add to the genre — her skills as a storyteller.
Butts gives careful attention to the lives of women: not just the beauty queens and the heartbroken that often populate country music, but the everyday women just trying to get by and survive life's ups and downs.
"I don't think that life is all that pretty sometimes," Butts has said, "and it comes with pain and pushing through hard times, or being stagnant, going through the motions, and not knowing what to do, or just being flat-out angry with whatever life has put on your plate."
This awareness shows up in nearly all of Butts' music, and it's what makes her records so compelling.
Keep reading to discover The Boot's Top 10 Kaitlin Butts songs, so far:
"She's Using"'What Else Can She Do' (2022)
Butts has an exceptional talent for writing true-to-life characters in her songs, and "She's Using" is a shining example. At the song's onset, we meet a mother grieving a daughter even though she's still alive. Butts sings, "She walked through an open door that said welcome all lost souls / Mama said it's like losing a child without the flowers or the casseroles."
She astutely captures the realities of addiction but also makes room for recovery in this narrative. In a clever turn-of-phrase, Butts points us towards redemption: "She's using anyone that'll hold her and help her to getting straight."
"A Life Where We Work Out" with Flatland Calvary'Humble Folks' (2016)
In 2016, Butts collaborated with Lubbock group Flatland Calvary for a bittersweet duet. Upon first listening, one could easily mistake "A Life Where We Work Out" for a simple love song: Lines like "Our love's still hotter than a Texas summer day / You still bite your lip when I look at you in that way" are traded back and forth. However, in a cruel twist of fate, it's revealed that this bliss belongs to an unlived sister life. With melancholy in her voice, Butts sings, "Lord knows I can't keep losing sleep dreaming about a life where we work out."
"It Won't Always Be This Way" 'What Else Can She Do' (2022)
The track's title, "It Won't Always Be This Way," invokes a feeling of hopefulness that bad times will pass. While this element does exist in Butts' song, she dares to make hope a bit more complicated than that: For the character in Butts' lyrics, "It won't always be this way" is a mantra that's kept her in an abusive relationship for far too long. Butts pushes listeners to consider that hope is most powerful when paired with action.
"Gal Like Me"'Same Hell, Different Devil' (2015)
For all of Butts' complexity as a songwriter, she also finds room to savor the simplicity of a free-roaming spirit. On her 2015 track "Gal Like Me," Butts sings about her nonconformist ways over fiddles and tambourines. The song is a small taste of delight and self-acceptance.
"Wild Rose"'Same Hell, Different Devil' (2015)
One of Butts' most streamed songs, "Wild Rose," tells an endearing story about how "you can bloom no matter where you are." Like the characters in beloved country songs like "Wide Open Spaces" or "New Strings," Butts' protagonist leaves behind what she knows to find something better. However, Butts diverges from the formula, and the young woman realizes she already has everything she needs to thrive within her.
"Blood"'What Else Can She Do' (2022)
"Blood," the lead single from her 2022 album, What Else Can She Do, is a heartwrenching portrait of all the ways we wound one another when a relationship dissolves. There's a palpable ache in Butts' voice — and in the steel guitar she sings over. "Blood" is one of Butts' best vocal performances to date.
"White River"'White River' (2019)
Released as a stand-alone single in 2019, "White River" taps into primordial energy, with visions of coyotes and smoke lingering around a white river that's turned red. On this track, a rage-filled daughter remembers years of watching her mother suffer at the hands of her violent father. Along the way, the song is barreling like a train toward revenge: Butts sings, "You can beg forgiveness but I know you all too well / You acted like the devil so I'll send you straight to hell."
"Jackson"'What Else Can She Do' (2022)
"Jackson" is one of the most irresistible songs Butts has written thus far. The song depicts a woman on the cusp of recognizing she's in a dead-end relationship. She uses Johnny Cash's classic song to help paint the picture: "I thought we'd be married in a fever / I thought we'd ride off like Johnny and June / But I don't think we'll make it to Jackson / No I don't think we'll make it that far." Somehow, there is beauty in the sense of disappointment.
"How Lucky Am I"'How Lucky Am I' (2021)
Another stand-alone single, "How Lucky Am I," stands as one of Butts' most popular songs to date. The song sounds like one big smile and holds close to its center a sense of gratitude and serendipity. Lyrics like "Saying I love you is all I want to say / Oh, how lucky am I for you to feel the same" bring joy to those who listen.
"Marfa Lights"'Marfa Lights' (2021)
With "Marfa Lights," her 2021 single, Butts introduced herself as a true cosmic cowgirl. What makes the track so successful is Butts' ability to recognize that, even for the proverbial "two lovers on the run," there is always that unattainable something just out of reach "like the Marfa lights." Still, the lovers grasp anyway — and thankfully, so does Butts.