Artist of the Week – Caroline Herring

(Blue Corn) Twilight is Canton, Mississippi native Caroline Herring’s debut CD, and what a debut it is. Now based in Austin, Caroline posesses a magnificent alto, a strong and crystal clear voice that also drips with sultry, southern honey, much like what you’d expect to hear if you married the voices of Joan Baez and Allison Moorer. A strong songwriter, Caroline manages to write songs that are uncomplicated and easy for the listener to understand, yet at the same time, are very “visual” and literate gothic vignettes of life in the deep south. Her music  transcends boundaries by heavily incorporating the rich textures of traditional country, bluegrass, folk and acoustic ballads. 

Caroline first caught the attention of bluegrass great Peter Rowan while she was in Oxford, Mississippi hosting The Thacker Mountain Radio Show with her band, The Sincere Ramblers. After moving to Austin, she quickly gained a dedicated following among the best acoustic musicans on the Austin scene for both her great vocal and songwriting talent. On Twilight, Caroline is backed by some of Austin’s finest, including guitarist (and the album’s producer) John Immon, Peter Rowan, Lloyd Maines, Paul Glasse, and Bryn and Billy Bright.

Twilight is a mainly acoustic album that features 10 originals and one cover. In the disc’s outstanding opener, “Mississippi Snow,” Caroline paints the picture of the cotton fields that surrounded her hometown of Canton, starting with a little girl standing on a cold bathroom floor as her mother brushes her hair, which is followed by various childhood images and ends with the almost inevitable proclamation, “Mama, you know I had to go.” Twilight’s most outstanding track is “Devil Made A Mess,” a steel driven, stone country weeper that was inspired by Hank Williams. Written after attending a Hank Williams tribute show, Caroline achingly laments the dynamics of a relationship between a lost soul and an enabler, asking “What’s that spell that makes us want to ride into hell?”

“Ringside Rodeo” uses the analogy of riding a bucking bronc, to describe a woman trying to figure out her way in life. “Wise Woman” tells the tale of a pioneer woman’s hard life, and when she feels she can’t go on, she wanders off to “the mountain” and “the river” to contemplate her life, and realizes despite the hardships, how much she really has. The dark, bluegrassy “Standing In The Water,” finds a woman struggling with her personal demons in regard to the South’s haunted history of slavery. “Emma” is a haunting tale of a relationship between a father and a daughter. “Whippoorwill” is a simple, acoustic ballad, yet Caroline’s voice soars and flutters like a bird, making the song a truly joyous celebration of family. “Carolina Moon” is another outstanding track, using such southern imagery as, “pass the biscuits Darlin’, this supper’s heaven sent” and “and the Carolina moon is rising in the Texas sky,” in this almost intoxicatingly exuberant, ode to being so completely and happily in love. Twilight closes with the disc’s lone cover, a breathtaking rendition of Dorsey Dixon’s dark “Wreck On The Highway,” made famous by Roy Acuff and the Louvin Brothers. An excellent choice as she shows how deep her roots are, while shining a fresh new light on an old chestnut.

Though she takes on heavy subject matter, Caroline’s writing shows her knack for not weighing down the songs by keeping the “songwriter” out of the way, and letting her characters speak for themselves in uncomplicated and simple, yet intelligent and vivid terms. Add to her amazing songwriting talent, her extraordinary voice, and if you look up, you’ll see there’s most certainly a very bright new star (via Mississippi) shining in that old Texas sky.

AnnMarie Harrington Take Country Back January 2003

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