Rock and Reprise.net
When Caroline Herring's last album came across my desk, I thought, okay... she's back (I unfortunately did not know she'd been gone until then)... but she can't do better than this. Which proves the age old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I mean, why do I think these things?! Lantana had a certain Americana flair that had Herring's name all over it, but 'can't do better'? Will I never learn?
Evidently not. Allow me to state uncategorically (but with reservations, of course) that she will never top Golden Apples of the Sun! Yeah, that's what I meant to say. Honest. In spite of the fact that Golden Apples was two years distant. Hey, it happens! Can I use another 'honest' here? No? Fair enough, but hear me out.
has never sounded better. Her voice, somehow both strong and delicate, wraps itself around each song, each phrase, laying it down with a soft waver which falls short of vibrato and sounds so right. She has never had a better touch with songs, either hers or others', picking and choosing with unerring taste and arranging with a simplicity they all warrant. She sequences like a pro, and though many of the younger music fans out there think this hardly important, having been weaned on the individual track, the flow of an album (or in the old days, side) can create a whole much stronger than the sum of its parts. Change 'can' to 'does' and you get my drift.
What parts, though! It is as if she found each song and said, 'perfect', then dragged it back through time to the beginnings of the modern folk era to record it in the proper way. Naturally the traditional Long Black Veil would thrive with that treatment, and Cactus Tree, so Joni Mitchell that it could hardly sound like anyone else's. But Herring also turns back the clock on her own compositions like The Dozens and Tales of the Islander, virtually made for those post-Beatnik Hullabaloo days of coffeehouse ambiance when a beautiful voice and an acoustic guitar was sometimes all you needed. Her take on See See Rider, for instance, belies the blues and rock base we have become accustomed to over the years and makes it a light and airy folk song of equal distinction.
My real favorite, however, is none of those. My heart beats a little faster every time I hear the underlying acoustic guitar of True Colors and the understated tremeloed guitar on the bridge because it captures every emotion I ever felt toward a girl during my junior high and high school years. Herring's version whispers of everything from The Four Preps' 26 Miles (Santa Catalina) to Barry & the Tamerlanes' I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight to The Lettermen's When I Fall In Love to the Beach Boys' In My Room. It is not the sound but the feel that grabs me and it feels completely different than Cindy Lauper and even my heretofore favorite version by Gabrielle Gewirtz on her overlooked but excellent album, Wide. I don't know why it is, but it has that late fifties and early sixties folk/pop feel I've never outgrown.
I've already learned to play this album between certain others during my marathon listening sessions. Sometimes you need to cleanse your palate to rejuvenate the taste buds and Golden Apples of the Sun has that effect. After hearing this, I can listen to almost anything...
Frank O. Gutch Jr.