Words by Tim Cumming
Caroline Herring was part of the Cecil Sharp Project, re-examining the Edwardian collector’s catalogue of songs gathered from Britain and the southern American states in the early part of the 20th century. Thus she forged some strong Anglo-US relations, chiefly with the wondrous-voiced Jackie Oates. The latter plays fiddle, harmonium and provides backing vocals on tracks including the lovely ‘Black Mountain Lullaby’, with Kathryn Roberts and Leonard Podolak on banjo, reprising a heartrending tune from the Cecil Sharp Project.
Herring has a powerful, keening voice, a southern American lilt allied to a folk song-teller’s clarity and sense of drama. Her core four-piece Nashville band is superlative, with Steven Sheehan on acoustic guitar, Fats Kaplin unfurling swathes of steel guitar, fiddle and banjo, and a rhythm section of upright bass (Bryn Davies) and Bryan Owings, on ‘drums and chains’. Other guests include Mary Chapin Carpenter and British guitarist Sean Lakeman.
These are all original songs, laced with powerful imagery and dramatic juxtapositions. On the bluesy, propulsive ‘Fireflies’ the repeated lines, ‘see that burning building, that’s tradition burning down’ leap into the ears, and there’s a sense of history being mixed with a down-home magic realism. The performances have an compression of urgency and belief laced with folkloric scenes and images, perhaps drawn from Herring’s studies in the anthropology of the American South and her remoulding of its old- and new-world song traditions. There are great, rousing singalong choruses – the title-track or the rolling ‘Maiden Voyage’.
Full of imagination, historical matter and emotion, there’s not a duff song here, and with beautifully lyrical performances throughout, Camilla looks to be an original folk classic.