"With melodies steeped in hymns and Appalachia, she sings character studies that ponder the inevitability of loss. She's her own producer, making sorrow & longing luminous." -The New York Times
"Whether etching the landscapes of emotional uncertainty or revealing how people find their strength, Berg's gift lies in her ability to convey stories from the inside out." -NPR's All Things Considered
"A writer more concerned with making tradition her own than who might follow her." -Rolling Stone
Matraca Berg didn’t set out to write five #1 hits in a single calendar year… to be nominated for Grammys in each of the past three decades… to have her seminal Sunday Morning To Saturday Night named one of the 10 Best Records of the Year in any genre by Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and People, as well as myriad daily newspapers… or to end up in the Songwriters Hall of Fame at such a young age. All the woman born and raised in the shadows of Nashville’s famed Music Row wanted to do was reach into her own soul and shine a common light.
Along the way, her exhumations have pondered the exultance of love, the strength in troubled times, the sass of knowing one’s mind and the waves of sorrow that are so much a part of life. While the Dixie Chicks, Gretchen Wilson, Patty Loveless, Deana Carter, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood have always gone to the woman with the deep-set cocoa eyes for emotions served straight, it is in her own voice that the songstress’ stories ripple with the most nuance.
But getting the introspective songstress to come forward is not always easy.
When one bares their emotions, offers pain and falter without flinching, there is a natural gap that most be braved – and Berg would rather write the truth than throw herself out for the mass to consume. But when you love the people you write about, know the songs from the inside out the way the CMA Song of the Year winner does, there comes a point where being a good steward takes precedence.
Fourteen years since the release of Sunday Morning, Berg is poised to return with The Dreaming Fields, a melancholy rumination on the state of women today. Like Joni Mitchell, Berg is very much about the depths of the emotions, the trigger points of the conflicts and the lightness of letting go – and her upcoming record celebrates those truths in a way that also reflects her growing up and coming of age in a Nashville which is no longer.
“There were all these great kinda hippie country records,” she smiles. “You’d just put’em on and sink in, and keep sinking! Pieces of the Sky and Harvest, a lot of what Willie Nelson was doing… and Blue. Those records were just around, were just… what everybody who was cool was talking about and going for, and as a little girl, that left quite a mark on me.”
To know the fringe of country music, the hippie poets from the inside out is a perspective few people in today’s world can access. And while it informs the essence of Americana today, Berg’s grasp is far-flung and common to people working jobs unseen – or even fading away.
The title track looks at her grandfather’s farm -- where her award winning “Strawberry Wine” was also set –and his dignity in working the land, what was lost and what she hopes to find upon return. It echoes in “Oh, Cumberland,” included on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol 3 and echoes for the aging beauty traumatized by the thing that sustained her now revealing a horrible truth of “Silver & Glass.”
“It was time,” she says of the decision to release a record. “I think that the women in these songs… their songs needed to be heard. I’d been doing some touring with my friends Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss, and I realized how much people are looking for their own lives in songs. I know these women feel, and I know they’re not unique.
“The mother in ‘South of Heaven…’? She’s terrified for her child sent overseas in a war that he was never really equipped for, but now he’s in the middle of it. The helplessness, the bravery… It’s something so many people suffer with and no one realizes. I wanted them to be seen.”
Berg, who wrote her first #1 at the tender age of 18, found herself spending more and more time in the basement of Universal Music Publishing, listening to her demos and realizing the common threads in her songs. Emboldened that knowledge – and session musicians who kept asking for copies of the songs they were playing on – she agreed to allow DualTone Records, known for their work with seminal writer/artists Guy Clark, June Carter Cash, Bobby Bare and Brent Dennen to put out The Dreaming Fields.