Caroline Herring, Turners Hill House Concert (West Sussex, UK 2/3/13)
Oh the stories she told…Caroline Herring’s latest album CAMILLA draws much of its inspiration from the Civil Rights movement and focuses on the prejudice and hardships experienced by those using non violence and civil disobedience in their fight for equality. Hailing from Mississippi, although now residing in Atlanta, Herring is steeped in the history of the South and immerses herself so poignantly, in tales of tragedy as well as graceful triumphs.
The title track Camilla is the story of Marion King, who suffered a miscarriage after being beaten, in 1962, campaigning for the release of a friend. She later went on to become a lawyer. White Dress the story of Mae Frances Moultrie, a 24-year-old Freedom Rider, who survived a bus firebombing when she stepped out of the bus, dressed in white, to face a mob intent on killing her and her fellow passengers. Her quiet grace saved their lives but the family of a young (white) girl who offered the passengers a drink of water had to flee their home within 48 hours for fear of reprisal.
Black Mountain Lullaby is the story of a 3-year-old child, Jeremy Davidson, who was killed in his own bed when a boulder from a mountaintop crashed into his family’s trailer home; the disaster occurred as workers constructed an illegal road in the early hours of the morning. The song was written for the CECIL SHARP PROJECT where it made its first appearance.
Herring has a wonderful knack of narrating other people’s stories, as if they were her own. She does however tell an autobiographical tale in Maiden Voyage chronicling her and her young daughter’s journey to Washington, DC for Barak Obama’s inauguration. They find themselves locked out in the freezing cold, despite having secured tickets for the ceremony. As the thousands of others around them disperse, she and her daughter are left alone, not knowing quite what to do until a man appears and tells them ‘you are here!’ – she responds by invoking Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, which she sings to her daughter.
By punctuating the songs with hard truths about their context, Herring brought her characters vividly to life and demonstrated what a deep thinker and master storyteller she is. She is one of those artists you have to see live to fully appreciate.
Throughout the two set show, she accompanied herself on acoustic guitar except for the acapella Traveling Shoes a tenderly haunting song based on a Eudora Welty short story.
House concerts are such intimate settings – at one point she lightened the mood by admiring the shoes worn by the people sitting in the front row! A request for the well-known country ballad, Long Black Veil was satisfied at the start of the second set. She put her own twist on it by changing the melody, just as she did for True Colors, the Cyndi Lauper hit. With Herring’s assured touch, it became a completely different song. She wrapped up the evening with the lighter notes of Sam’s Song – a delightful song written for her baby son.
Warm, engaging, poised and friendly, she has one more date left on the current tour; Herring will surely have many fans, old and new alike, hoping that this award winning folk singer makes a return visit in the not too distant future. Jela Webb