Herrick – Cottonfields
It’s wise to be a little weary when young bands start talking about “roots records”, particularly if you’re aiming for respect as a songwriter. Including traditional folk or blues music on your second release and adopting it as an album title might mean you follow your Muse wherever it leads. On the other hand, it could mean the songwriting impetus behind your first collection has dimmed. Herrick’s fans are spared that fate with the band’s sophomore release Cottonfields. The ten song collection explores traditional American music, but builds off the band’s debut and extends their reach as well. The album production reflects that vocalist and mandolin player Donna Herrick is the album’s indisputable sonic heart, but Herrick isn’t a glorified solo act. The remaining three members are obviously top notch talents in their own right and give Herrick the best possible vehicle for reaching global acclaim.
Herrick doesn’t mess around and starts off with the title song. The cut, popularized by blues artist Huddie Ledbetter, is an audacious choice for an opener. Instead of lulling novice listeners into the band’s musical world, Herrick opts for a statement of purpose. Listeners over a certain age are likely to know this song, but outside a relatively small coterie of people, most under thirty years old are likely unfamiliar with the song. Herrick doesn’t care. They plunge over the cliff with a charging, white-knuckled reinvention of the song Donna Herrick tears into with force and deep emotion. Herrick steps away from the rock posing back into something much more traditionally minded on “Hurt like Heat”, but even the mandolin can’t hide their steady aiming for airtight pop structures, melody, and memorable choruses. Herrick’s rousing vocal is the spark that lights up “In California”, but the accompanying guitar and mandolin, the tempo’s assertive mid tempo stride, and strong lyrics are ideal matches for her. It’s obvious “Life in a Song” aspires to the album’s most thoughtful track and, in a number of ways, the gambit succeeds. Pairing Donna Herrick alone, sans mandolin, with Jefferson Rogers’ acoustic guitar gives this selection a rare intimacy. The lyrics reach a little too far at some points, but the ambition to say something more is laudable and, even if it isn’t entirely successful, it’s one of the album’s indisputable highpoints.
The band’s ambitions return to earth with “Like a Disease”, a relatively simple straight-ahead rocker with some clever songwriting. Herrick really tears into tracks like this with unbridled rock and roll zest which makes the contrasts all the stronger when she shifts gears for songs like “Your Love”. The soft but undeniably deep yearning she conjures with her performance supersedes formula. The album’s closing cut, “Togetherness”, ends the album with a Donna Herrick showcase seconded only by piano. The loping lyricism of the piano playing provides excellent counterpoint for Herrick’s range and powers of dramatic interpretation. It finishes the release on a decidedly classy note that emphasizes the band’s artistry rather than their commercial intentions. They deserve to make lots of money and there’s a lot here worth pushing. Herrick second album, however, establishes beyond doubt that this is a band hoping to write and record quality music capable of standing the test of time.
8 out of 10 stars.