music for the Fourth of July: three songwriters

Flags, fireworks, parades, barbeque, people in Uncle Sam hats: all of these are likely to be part of red white and blue Fourth of July celebrations. There will be a good bit of regional pride mixed too, no doubt, shown in foodstuffs such as pierogies in Indiana, blue corn tacos in New Mexico, cherry pie in Michigan, and fresh sweet corn just about everywhere. As you are getting ready for your Fourth of July festivities.a fine soundtrack would be the music of three songwriters who draw deeply from the roots of American imagination

Caroline Herring is a Mississippi native who has traveled to China, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom with her music, and has lived in Texas, Washington DC, and Georgia. She brings all those things to her music, and to those experiences she brings the eye and heart of a storyteller whose imagination was first formed by the deep south. For your fourth of July listening, I’d recommend her album Wellspring. On it Herring will take you on a journey between connection and independence framed in images of the American West on Colorado Woman, a song she wrote with her husband, Joseph Crespino. There are meditations on love present and past in Magnolias and MGM Grand, and an unexpected story drawn from southern history that resonates through today in the song Mistress. There is a fine contemplation of the connections of people across time, history, and landscape in Trace. Herring sings in a lovely alto with a storyteller’s and musicians sense of phrasing that well supports her songs.

Trains, road trips, late night honky tonks, stormy weather, loss and healing and celebration: Louisa Branscomb has hit on all these things in songs she’s written for bluegrass and country artists across the years. Rather than sing herself on the album I’ll Take Love she invited a range of top singers and players to join in for a celebration of her music. Branscomb and award winning bluegrass bassist Missy Raines co produced the album. Top bluegrass singer Dale Ann Bradley takes the lead on that title track, with back up vocals from a classy pair of singers, Alison Krauss and Steve Gulley. You’ll not have to to know a thing about all the recognitions these three have won to enjoy their collaboration, which well serves the reflective song on work, family, a life well lived, and what may be next. John Cowan lends his soulful country blues tenor to the story of finding faith through obstacles called Stormy Night, and Grammy nominee Claire Lynch considers life’s not always clear paths in Your Amazing Grace. Really fine singing, good stories, a bluegrass bent to the music, and creative musicianship from the backing players, especially Alison Brown on banjo and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. Branscomb herself sits in on guitar, too.

Matraca Berg takes a walk through her grandparents’ farm in the title track of The Dreaming Fields. The farm is to be sold off as building lots, and the song becomes an understated and powerful look at change, change that happens across the long and short span of a life’s time. You and Tequila is likely to be a summertime hit (Kenny Chesney, I think, has recorded it). O Cumberland is a love song to a river, a place, and a time. South of Heaven adds a little heard voice to the costs of war, while A Cold Rainy Morning in London in June is a thoughtful and romantic song of love and distance. It has been more than decade since Berg has released an album, a decade in which she’s written many hits for other artists. The Dreaming Fields has been well worth the wait.

Whatever landscape might be yours this fourth of July time, the words and music of these artists will help you understand it. Give a listen.

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