The Dreaming Fields

Matraca Berg

(LP - Dualtone Music #1531)

Review by Thom Jurek

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. She wrote or co-wrote everything here. It showcases all of her strengths -- as a songwriter and as a vocalist. It was self-produced and recorded with a small group of friends, who understand the plaintive power in Berg's voice; they empathetically underscore her lyrics with only what is necessary. It's so refreshing to hear guitars -- acoustic, electric and pedal steel --and drums sound like nothing but themselves. The sound here is somewhat reminiscent of Emmylou Harris' Pieces of the Sky in its sonic footprint; its songs are poetry with light and shadow in equal but uneasy balance. Check the lonesome shuffle in "If I Had Wings," with its lilting country gospel undertones and the depth of loneliness in the grain of Berg's voice. The heartbreak in the acoustically framed "You and Tequila" is the Nashville equivalent of Don Henley's, Bernie Leadon's, and Glenn Frey's finest early moments (the comparison is made more poignant because Berg is writing about Hollywood). She evokes total surrender to the thing which is greater than we are: poison love, but her protagonist will survive because she can walk away. The sultry minor-key blues of "Your Husband's Cheating on Us" is a unique perspective on infidelity from the "other woman"'s point of view. The title track is a piano and cello-driven ballad that suggests a modern paean akin to Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More." (That's as high a compliment as anyone can pay a 21st century song.) "Fall Again" is a searing, naked love song made all the more powerful because its protagonist is singing to an absent beloved. The late Lowell George would have been proud to sing and play on "Oh Cumberland." "South of Heaven" is the finest antiwar song to come from the Afghanistan/Iraq War era because it refuses to preach. Ultimately, The Dreaming Fields is a deeply moving, gloriously articulated album that should not only reawaken the interest of fans, but should win Berg a multitude of new ones.