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Golden Apples of the Sun

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Album Review

It's not easy being a great folksinger — you've got to walk a tightrope across a musical minefield where the slightest misstep can find you wallowing in post-Joan Baez warble, drowning in affectation à la Martha Wainwright, or perishing in any number of other aesthetic pitfalls. Only a precious few learn to master that high-wire act; Kate Wolf, Linda Thompson, and Iris DeMent are some of the names on the short list, but Golden Apples of the Sun makes a strong case for the addition of Caroline Herring. Pitched at a point equidistant between honeyed and throaty, her warm, measured tones consistently deliver just the right emotional effect whether she's transforming the songs of others or bringing her own to the table. The ominous minor-key strum that introduces her version of the Cyndi Lauper hit "True Colors" is a sonic red herring that makes you certain you're about to hear Nirvana's "Come as You Are," but Herring's takeover of the song is so complete that it scarcely registers as a cover, even by the time it hits the chorus. She performs similar feats even on well-trod territory like "Long Black Veil" and "See See Rider." The law of averages would seem to demand that so gifted an interpreter would stumble when it came to her own compositions, but here, too, Herring beats the odds. As her dedications to W.B. Yeats and Walter Anderson indicate, she's no stranger to poetry, and her own songs stay well clear of lyrical tropes while remaining musically within the basic folk template. On this latter count, the understated production proves to be a boon, placing the emphasis squarely on Herring's voice and guitar, shading it only occasionally with subtle accompaniment. So how long can Herring keep her balance in the rarefied realm she currently occupies? Let's hope the answer is "indefinitely." ~ J. Allen, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Best Folk Album of 2009

Caroline Herring’s fourth album Golden Apples of the Sun is her most intimate and mature to date. Combing haunting originals with some surprising new takes on old standards, Herring has created an album that at once recalls the folk heyday of the 1960s and 70s while also sounding entirely fresh and new.

Herring has built a name for herself by crafting in-depth story songs. Her last release, Lantana, was named by National Public Radio as one of the “Top Ten Best Folk Albums for 2008.” While critics have long praised the purity and complexity of her voice, drawing comparisons to Joan Baez and Kate Wolf, the vocal performances on Golden Apples of the Sun are as comfortable and intimate as any Herring has produced. It is the most true to stage release of her career, and Herring gives credit to producer David "Goody" Goodrich, who crafted the stripped-down sound in the Signature Sounds studio in Connecticut. Armed primarily with just her guitar and live vocals, the finished product has all the marks of a fully developed artist and performer.

Perhaps the most unique and unexpected aspect of the new album is the tribute Herring pays to iconic folk songstresses who influenced her. Herring’s work has always been identified with the traditions of her native South, yet on Golden Apples of the Sun Herring filters the sounds and inspiration of Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins through her own distinctive musical sensibilities. Long-time Herring fans are sure to appreciate her interpretive abilities.

Eloquent... and addictive

Caroline Herring's fourth CD is destined to engage a vast new fan base. As past songwriting proved, her lyrics are poignant and entrancing. In addition to more fresh material, this CD includes covers of classic folk and pop tunes, cast in Herring's inimitable revelatory nuance. Buy it--make sure your friends do, too.

Superb 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, and 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’s, 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]


Born: Canton, MS

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

Contemporary folk singer/songwriter Caroline Herring was raised in a musical family in Canton, MS. Her father played guitar and her mother played piano. Naturally, her parents had her take piano lessons, but she eventually became more interested in guitar and the chance to sing her own songs. She didn't begin writing her own songs until she was a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where she took her inspiration easily enough from a city full of great songwriters....
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Golden Apples of the Sun, Caroline Herring
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