Caroline Herring: Golden Apples of the Sun

CarolineHerring_GoldenApplesOfTheSunSuperb folk album from Austin-based vocalist

Though Herring has come to prominence in Austin music circles, her music has veered away from the bluegrass with which she began, as well as the country with which she rose to prominence. Her voice has always harbored a singer-songwriter’s intimacy, but starting with last year’s Lantana, she stepped further in front of her band and dropped the drums and steel in favor of acoustic guitars and bass. This fourth album pushes even further in that stripped-down direction, with hard strummed and rolling finger-picked guitars providing the dominant backing, augmented by bass, piano and touches of banjo and ukulele. The minimized backings reveal additional depth in Herring’s voice, an instrument that mixes the vibrato of Buffy St. Marie, crystalline tone of Judy Collins, and several dashes of Lucinda Williams’ emotional poetics.

Herring’s latest album splits its twelve tracks between originals and covers. The latter includes a brilliant conversion of Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 hit “True Colors” into a dark spiritual. Lauper’s sung this song live with guitar, piano and zither, but it was still infused with the original single’s optimism. Herring pitches the vocal ambivalently between worry and reassurance, with a moody rhythm guitar that dispels Lauper’s upbeat mood. The oft-covered murder ballad “Long Black Veil” provides Herring another terrific opportunity for reinvention, stripping the instrumental to a drone, the song is more of a distraught first-person confession than the folksy story of Lefty Frizell or Johnny Cash. Even the Big Bill Broonzy standard “See See Rider” is reborn amidst the vocal trills Herring adds to edges of her performance. Similar high notes and tremolo decorate a tour de force cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Cactus Tree.”

The original songs, five solo compositions and a co-write with Wendell Berry and Pablo Neruda, are even more closely attuned to Herring’s vocal charms. The lyrics are filled with questions of uncertain relationships, longing for escape and understanding, distant destinations and brave faces. Singing to low acoustic strums, Herring jabs with the lyrics of “The Dozens,” demanding engagement in the guise of a game of insults. The assuredness with which she sings adds weight to every word, and the emotion-laden quality of her voice can bring tears to your eyes. Though she can conjure the ghostly images of earlier times, the clarity of her tone and the forthrightness of her style are more in the folk tradition of the 1960s than the 1860s. Herring is a critical darling whose work outstrips the plaudits of even her most ardent admirers. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Long Black Veil
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