Caroline Herring is an American based singer songwriter who is currently based in Georgia. Her singer songwriting skills are well respected and she is the only American representative for the Cecil Sharp Project which culminated in an album that was voted ‘best album’ by Songlines magazine in 2011. Whilst it may have been easy and acceptable to compare her vocals to others in the past the release of her latest album ‘Camilla‘ sets her well apart from anyone else I’ve come across.From the opening title track Caroline Herring proves she is not just an extraordinarily gifted singer songwriter but an incredibly inventive woman at bringing back to life the human spirit of the characters she raises from the past. ‘Camilla‘ tells the tale of Marion King of Albany, Georgia who went to see a friend’s daughter at Camilla jail in 1962. She was beaten unconscious by the deputy sheriff for singing and standing too close to the jail. She was six months pregnant, she lost her baby. She later went on to become a lawyer in Atlanta. Caroline connects the listener to the inner-most feelings of the victim and the song and feelings that arise become a powerful lens through which to view injustice throughout the world, subtle yet incredibly poignant. She touches on similar ground on ‘White Dress‘, about 24-year-old Mae Frances Moultrie who was the only African-American female on the original May 4 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Ride (1961). The bus was firebombed passing through Anniston, Aabama (see image right).
Caroline’s songs have a strong social conscience that whilst highlighting the personal plight of many, often at the hands of their fellow human-beings, they also highlight the strength of human spirit, bringing an underlying hope to many of her songs. ‘Black Mountain Lullaby‘ which featured on the ‘Cecil Sharp Project’ tells of a mothers loss of a three year old boy who is crushed to death by a boulder dislodged by night-workers from a mountaintop removal mine site. The mother singing bye bye to her child in the chorus is one of the most touching and moving I’ve ever heard yet within those words there is great strength as well as grieving sorrow.
Caroline clearly takes strength from the subjects of her songs as she demonstrates on ‘Maiden Voyage‘ a personal tale of her journey to Obama’s Presidential inauguration with her four-year-old-daughter when a gate malfunction denied the and several thousand others the opportunity to witness the event.
Caroline has pulled out all stops on this release. She is joined by Kathryn Roberts, Jackie Oates, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Sean Lakeman who lend their support and she got Erick Jaskowiak on board to produce the album who also produced heavyweights such as Alison Krauss, Crooked Still and The Chieftains. Add to this the band she has put together which includes Fats Kaplin (pedal steel, fiddle, banjo) and Bryn Davies (upright bass) both of whom play with Jack White’s band and you begin to get a grasp of the scale of what she was undertaking. The music is rich and layered throughout with Erick Jaskowiak making sure that the whole emotion and feel that Caroline conveys is not swamped but accentuated by subtle emotive lifting tones that also bring forth the hope that underpins many of her songs.
The ability to convey such emotion so sincerely in a song is surely the goal of most singer songwriters. Camilla marks the milestone of one reaching it.