Writers don’t exist in a vacuum, but sometimes we are forced to do so. I struggle with this on a daily basis as stories and press releases and pleas from Africa stream across my desk. In this day and age there is a melding of blogging and journalism that can be quite confusing for those of us raised in the rules of “old school” journalism. The bottom line is that when reporting about the sheer inhumanity of it all, no matter how much one tries to meditate or pray, a deep scar is left on the psyche and compassion can be lost if one does not allow the passion to surface. There is so little independent analysis coming out of Congo that writers end up creating one woman/man news bureaus, with no colleague nearby to deflect the horror of it all through gallows humor or a drink after work. Camaraderie and comfort are nowhere to be found.
Rediscovering a love of music has been my stress reducer and consolation during these past few years. I want to write about the great poet/writers who have become friends if only to share my joy of these new discoveries and friends made along the way. Perhaps I am creating my own conflict by worrying that if I happen to “know” someone who is a wonderful writer and happens to be a musician that I am crossing some sacred line of journalism. Am I? Journalists quote other writers and analysts on a regular basis when examining in-depth stories.
Music touches the soul, so is it wrong to write about a friend or acquaintance who creates wonderful art—art that heals the heart and helps one to put one foot in front of the other while grabbing that cup of coffee and limping over to the laptop to see what is happening to the poor, the beleaguered and the dispossessed? Music can be like a morning prayer, and if the composer happens to be someone with whom you are acquainted or simply admire, should it be off limits to write about it? I am asking you the question while trying to walk that tightrope.
I may never be able to write a music review again, but it feels honest and ethical to explain how someone’s music can give you the courage to face the day. The true artist will impart that universal sense of understanding and speak directly to the observer. Mississippi native Caroline Herring is one of those unique artists who can help this writer get centered in the morning, wipe the tears away, and approach the job that needs to be done. Perhaps by writing about her artistry here, in this simple space, it will encourage those of you who visit this arena to learn about her art and her music and use it as a personal prayer.
Golden Apples of the Sun is Caroline Herring's fourth release and with this stunning compilation Caroline will certainly claim the mantel held by icons such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Buffy St. Marie. In their own way each of them was a freedom fighter for truth and justice in this sorry world—women who inspired me to make my own way.
Caroline’s "Tales of the Islander" is part homage to Mississippi Gulf Coast artist Walter Anderson and part celebration of the wondrous sense of place and nature that inhabits the Deep South. At once highly literate and completely accessible, Herring's original compositions as well as her takes on old favorites like "Long Black Veil" and "True Colors" prove once and for all that folk music is an art form. "The Dozens" is simply amazing and I will not do anything to "explain" it except quote this incredible line, which speaks volumes: "I'm just a white girl, from a segregated town, and I'm looking for some answers that I haven't found."
Herring does not manipulate with words, she simply asks the universal questions, tells the truth, and truth is in short supply these days. Before I had the opportunity to meet her and work through the serendipity of developing a friendship, I wrote several reviews of her work. The line we joke about is one in which I said she had ridden through the southland like Joan of Arc and firmly planted her flag in the red dirt of the Mississippi Delta. The review was about her album Lantana, and I can tell you that with Golden Apples of the Sun Caroline has cemented that flag so firmly into the red delta dirt that there will be nothing, not even a hurricane, which will dislodge it.
As a writer who leans heavily upon finding the correct words to describe the connections between soul, heart and place, I find Caroline to be an inspiration. But more than that, it is the way her music reaches deep into the soul, without effort and without artifice, that is so compelling. Only truth can provide protection and healing, and isn’t that what music is all about?