Matraca Berg is a gifted songsmith whose own recordings generally trump the superstar versions that help her make her car payments (see also Patty Griffin, Lori McKenna). Her first LP in 14 years is haunted country music in an Emmylou Harris vein, shades darker than Berg’s past work: Family farms collapse, relationships cloud over, lovers ache and self-destruct. On "Silver and Glass," a post-mortem letter to a small town beauty gone Hollywood, plastic surgeons cut the desperate girl "like a paper doll." The melodies and hooks remain as irresistible as ever.
Most people know Matraca Berg as an accomplished songwriter who's penned hits for Dusty Springfield, Linda Ronstadt, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Deanna Carter, Trisha Yearwood, Gretchen Wilson, and more. Fewer know her as an unclassifiable but utterly classy singer/songwriter and recording artist who issued a handful of of excellent but unclassifiable albums between 1990 and 1997 on RCA and Rising Tide. The Dreaming Fields, issued on the reputable established indie Dualtone, is Berg's first record in 14 years.
Matraca Berg has crafted a beautiful ‘70s country rock record that would fit in with the classic works of the period by notables such as Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. The only thing is, this is 2011. Music aficionados often label certain records as “timeless”, but what does this really mean? A cultural product always suggests much about the time period in which it was created.
Since the age of 19—when she had her first number one cut—Matraca Berg has rarely been without an outlet for her songs. Sometimes it’s been her own progressive country albums, other times an album of Trisha Yearwood’s, or Patty Loveless’s, or Deana Carter’s, and so on. But if Berg was going to record a song that she wrote or co-wrote, she’d always do it before anyone else did.
Matraca Berg Despite all the country hits she has written — for Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter and Reba McEntire among others — Matraca Berg has kept her distance from the upbeat complacency of the Nashville mainstream. A pensive streak runs through her songs, and she embraces and honors it on “The Dreaming Fields” (Dualtone), her first studio album since 1997. With melodies steeped in hymns and Appalachia, she sings character studies that ponder the inevitability of loss: the end of an abusive relationship in “If I Had Wings” (“We all knew sooner or later/It was gonna be me or him”), a soldier’s mourning mother in “South of Heaven” (“God you gave your only son/Well you are not the only one”), fading beauty in “Silver and Glass,” farms gone suburban in “The Dreaming Fields.