CAROLINE HERRING – CAMILLA
2012 – Signature Sounds
An album as slow in tempo and moodily reflective as this must present huge challenges to all involved in the making, not least the singer songwriter whose name is attached and who is putting their reputation at stake with the release of the recording. In my experience,
although it is a huge generalization, the majority fail, with the album descending either into or knocking on the door of dreaded blandness. This stunning and possibly career definingly beautiful recording never comes close to those depths, even on the songs that are perhaps not up to the stratospheric quality of the best on the album. And those best on the album stand comparison with some of the best of this twenty first century so far. The incredibly
evocative and poetically descriptive stories take the emotions through numerous ups and downs with a realism that few can even contemplate approaching. There is often an old timey as well as a folksy atmosphere and yet it is at the same time a modern album that comes very close to generic ‘country music,’ including as it does in the sparse instrumentation, the mellow beautiful steel guitar, fiddle
There is an assuredness and a maturity to Carolines vocal performance that gives the listener a feeling of belief that in many ways the singer has experienced life and all it’s myriad foibles with an
almost sad resignation. An incredible achievement particularly when you consider that the most powerful songs on the album come from the stories of other people rather than Caroline’s own experiences. Her vocals are not sweet and cloying but are beautiful, imbued with a tremendous character that gives every song a powerful impact and an air of believability.
This is Caroline’s sixth album and whilst the two that I have experience of were impressive, they were not up to the quality of this recording that is so good it is difficult to imagine how she is going to top it in the future. Even equalling it will be a huge achievement! All of the songs were written by Caroline except for Black Mountain Lullaby and Joy Never Ends which are a blend of her writing and traditional songs. Caroline plays acoustic guitar and is lead vocalist on every song and a hint at how well regarded she is in the Nashville music world can be provided by the band, consisting of Steven Sheehan on acoustic guitars, Fats Kaplin,pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, Bryan
Owings on drums and chains and Bryn Davies on upright bass. As if these tremendous players are not enough, she has people such as Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Claire Holley and Kathryn Roberts, amongst others helping out on harmony vocals.
The album opens with the title track Camilla. It’s not difficult to work out why this is the title track, being up there as one of the most powerful songs about racism since the incredible Strange
Fruit, bravely sung by the late great Billie Holiday many decades ago. This true story of an actual event that happened in 1962 seems to draw in more power by being told in a matter of fact way, as if the outcome was inevitable, and is an incredibly hard hitting heartrending story of racism and conversely it’s inspiration in making people more determined to become decision makers and work
to stamp it out. It is folksy country, beautifully sung and with a hauntingly lovely steel guitar courtesy of Fats Kaplin. If ever a song painted a picture it’s this one! An impossible song to follow in so many ways but as the listener delves deeper into these powerful songs Caroline proves this is no one off effort. It’s immediate successor on the album Black Mountain Lullaby, whilst being one of the two songs that are‘Herring/Trad.’ has as much power and relevance in todays society as when the song was originally conceived. She actually sang it on the incredible 2011 album ‘The Cecil Sharp Project,’ and was the only American to be invited to join that project. Caroline has dedicated her version to the 3 year old child killed in an avalanche in a mining community in Virginia in 2004. It includes some lovely evocative banjo and fiddle playing on this heartrending tale that is told from the mothers perspective and in many ways is a kick against the money men who are incapable of considering the cost to others of their greed. More powerful stuff. Just when the gloom is deepening a light is switched on with Fireflies, a stomping banjo led chanting tale with eerily sawing fiddle that evokes the old time mountain music with it’s atmosphere. White Dress is mellifluous of tone with it’s lovely steel guitar and smooth acoustic guitar, but is actually another incredibly powerful tale of racism,
with another well known event, this time from 1961 and relating to Mae Frances Moultrie, the only African-American female on the original ‘Freedom ride.’
It would be ridiculous to claim that every song on this album has the power of the title song but it is certainly true to say that every song has it’s own immense quality that increases with repeated listens. Although the four above songs are the only ones described, don’t think there is nothing else comparable because there is and with several more coming close to the title song this is an album that will almost certainly be mentioned in most year end lists. It definitely will in mine!