Ever wonder what happens to the artists who win Best New Artist at SXSW? If they're Caroline Herring, they release a strong second album and then disappear, putting their recording career on hold to focus on marriage and motherhood. Now, after a long hiatus, Herring returns to the forefront of the folkworld with Lantana, a stunning, intimate collection which I've already shortlisted as one of my top ten folk/roots/Americana albums of 2008.
Taking time off for family is an especially risky move in today's music world, where momentum is king -- bloggers, who constantly seek "the next big thing", share no small responsibility for accelerating this process. But with true genius, Herring turns her time out of the limelight to her advantage, treating it as both subject and sustenance, crafting a strong, polished set of tunes which speak to the the complex balance between traditional family roles and career ambitions which women are asked to internalize in modern society.
The result is a revelation. Herring's five years out of the studio only intensified what was already a stellar ability to create and deliver poignant, powerful songs about the world around her in a pure, rich southern-twanged voice reminiscent of some of the the best female folksingers of the past thirty years. The songs on Lantana are simultaneously authentic and new, applying traditional folk storytelling and verse structure to stories of women in today's rural South who, like Herring herself, have struggled to find their place between the demands of the heart and post-feminist possibility.
At its best, this album is haunting and beautiful, combining strong songwriting with solid, effective production and stunning vocal delivery. Paper Gown, a murder ballad of the finest order which retells the chilling story of Susan Smith, is especially gorgeous example of Herring's ability to create song of the first order: catchy, thoughtful, sympathetic, and deep, the song roots itself in your soul, lingering long after the music has faded from the ears. Even in her quieter, more peaceful numbers -- including a deceptively simple cover of traditional lullaby All the Pretty Little Horses and a beautiful, wistful version of Kate Wolf's Midnight on the Water, both of which we feature below -- Herring brings a depth of emotion which few contemporaries can muster
Universally accessible yet rooted deeply in the sounds of Herring's native south, Lantana is the best singer-songwriter CD I've heard in a very long time. Let's hope it's the first of many more to come from this up-and-second-coming talent.
- Caroline Herring, Midnight on the Water (orig. Kate Wolf)
- Caroline Herring, All The Pretty Little Horses (trad.)
Lantana doesn't come out until March 4th, but you want more of Caroline Herring as soon as possible, so pre-order Lantana over at Signature Sounds today. Act now, and you can pick up this magnificent album for under ten dollars -- a real steal in today's market.
Still not convinced? Check out Paper Gown over at fellow folkblog Here Comes The Flood. Their description of Caroline Herring's sound as "gothic country" is right on the money.
Today's bonus coversongs include another take on Kate Wolf, and a set of songs which used to be my favorite versions of the slave lullaby All The Pretty Little Horses before Caroline Herring hit it on the nose: