Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Dreaming Fields: Matraca Berg

In her song The Dreaming Fields, Matraca Berg walks through her grandfather’s farm, finding memory of brighter days and childhood love, strength and courage and hard work, and loss and grief . The farm will no longer be a farm; it’s being sold off for building lots.

Berg handles all those facts and the emotions that come with them with the heart and hand of a songwriter who knows that songs have their own lives, and that in the joining of ideas, music, and voice there is need for space. Space for the listener, and room for ideas and questions which rarely have neat and tidy and once and for all answers.

Questions and change are themes which run through the album of which The Dreaming Fields is the title track. That will not surprise anyone who has followed the Nashville based writer’s work. Those who have include Patty Loveless, Marina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood, and the Dixie Chicks, who have all recorded Berg’s work. Fellow award winning writers and singers Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss, who join up with Berg for concerts they call Wine Woman and Song are two more.

matraca berg dreaming fields coverIn the fourteen years since her last album, Berg has chosen to stay behind the scenes, writing the songs that have earned Grammy nominations, Country Music Association Awards, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She has mostly played her songs at the Bluebird and other listening rooms, and with her friends Bogguss and Peters. “I did a tour of the UK with Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss, which I did for the fun of it mostly,” Berg says. “I’d not had a record out in forever, but it seemed like I could go see some cool places with friends, and I was stunned to see lines of people everywhere we went who were wanting to buy my record.” So she decided it was time, and she also decided to make the recording on her own terms, producing the project herself.

The listeners waiting in those lines, and the artists who have recorded Berg’s music over the years, have heard the voices of people who you know have lives beyond the moments of the song, from the bleak reality of the woman in If I Had Wings to the simmering desire of the one in You and Tequila to the wry and telling humor of the conversation in Your Husband’s Cheating on Us. They have heard the deep and vividly rendered honesty of grieving in Racing the Angels and South of Heaven, of holding on to place and home in O Cumberland, and of finding your way through love in A Cold Rainy Morning in London in June. .

Berg is a master lyricist, that’s true, and she’s also a master musician, pairing her words with melody and arrangement that serve the words and enhance them without ever getting in the way. She’s unafraid to be spare about that, too: the title track, for example, is just Berg on piano and John Catchings on cello, to back up Berg’s voice -- and that’s just exactly enough, as she evokes her grandmother’s kitchen, her grandfather working the fields, and rain on the rusted plow.

“Making an album was important,” she says. “ ... not a checklist of singles and themes, but something that was a piece of work where you’re going through a part of people’s lives. I wanted the listeners to pass through those lives, those moments, and understand what was going on, because, like lot of people, I’m in a place in my life where life is a big deal -- a lot of grief, aging people, trying to keep a marriage together, all kinds of family things going on, things you can’t escape because that is life. That’s what life is really made of, and hopefully, this album too.”

The Dreaming Fields is a master class in songwriting -- any sort of writing, really. It’s also just plain good listening. filled with songs that will have you thinking about their stories long after the music is done

follow this link to see Matraca Berg singing South of Heaven from that UK tour with Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss

you may also wish to see

Music Road: Gretchen Peters: Northern Lights
Music Road: lead and harmony
Music Road: Carrie Newcomer: Before & After
Music Road: Cathie Ryan: Songwriter

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger Anjuli said...

when someone is able to write about the difficult times in life- and it sounds beautiful- when they are able to sing about emotional passages in life and it sounds melodious- they are indeed a great song writer and singer!!

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Alexandra said...

Thanks for writing up this album. I had never heard of Berg, but I like the idea behind her new work and will check it out. We had a concert in town this week with Settie, who no longer is in the industry but Lord, can she sing!

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Oh what a beautiful tribute to this artist. I definitely need to hear this album. Thanks so much for brining it to my attention.

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

This certainly sounds like a real find; not only for the voice but for the messages behind it.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Living Large said...

This sounds beautiful. I know it is heart wrenching to see the family property sold off.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

What a talented songwriter! I had no idea she was the "voice" behind all of those stars.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Jane Boursaw said...

Love her thought about making an album as opposed to individual songs that are all different. Having grown up on a farm, I know it'd be difficult to see it sold off..

11:15 PM  
Blogger MyKidsEatSquid said...

I may be way off but when I first read through some of the inspiration of Berg's music--selling off the farm it reminded me of the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. I'd like to look up this album.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous ruth pennebaker said...

Thanks so much for writing about this artist, Kerri. I'll be watching out for her in the future.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Kris @ Attainable Sustainable said...

She sounds amazing. It's such a skill to write lyrics that speak to listeners.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous merr said...

I love it when the lyrics really truly tell a story...and somehow that story takes on new facets with every listening. This is how it seems this album would be.

12:14 PM  

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