Herrick – Cottonfields
The second album from the songwriting and performing partnership of Donna and Kerry Herrick, Cottonfields, proves this is a band with staying power. Donna Herrick is a world class singing talent with an expansive vocal range and the band is a commanding musical presence. Herrick’s voice is the emotional center of the album’s ten songs, but the band switches gears often and without any hitch. They push a relatively unusual sound, particularly the combination of mandolin with straight-up rock guitar and drums, but each outing is completely credible and they play with palpable confidence. Guitarist Jefferson Rogers is another notable component of Cottonfield’s overall quality.
The title track’s attitude is battening down the hatches and steamrolling the listener. “Cottonfields” busts out musically as tight as clenched fist. The deceptively simple nature of the instrumental attack actually swings a little and it gives the hard hitting percussion more effect. The no frills approach certainly doesn’t suit Donna Herrick – her singing is as live as it gets and tries to capture something of the song’s initial energy rather than singing too respectfully. “In California” is a much breezier number than the first song and its jangling chords have a nice bounce on this mid tempo number. The lyrical content isn’t entirely unambiguous; it’s difficult to imagine Herrick consenting to revisit clichés without wringing some sort of change from their use.
“Uh Oh” is much more light-hearted fare. Herrick’s pop songwriting instincts are unfailing and neatly dovetail into their rootsier inclinations. The result is distinctly their sound – while others have pursued similar configurations before, Herrick’s surprising bluster and physicality gives them some individuality. They aim a little higher with “Life in a Song”. Herrick’s voice shows complete mastery over the lyric and a deep, internalized understanding of the song’s experience. “Freedom Love” comes at a great point in the album – after musically lighter material during the album’s half way point, its final half begins with a slowly burning blues. Herrick sings like the song’s lyrics are erupting from her and moves with the song’s slinky progression.
“Said and Done” expands on that bluesier side. This is light blues rock, not some slam-bangin’ Chicago homage, but a tough-minded shot in that vein. Herrick is quite up to the challenge. Her vocals have a transformative quality on whatever she sings – otherwise fine material suddenly turns superior and seemingly simple, if not clichéd, moves take on new resonance. The album’s last song, “Together”, drives that observation home. The production’s focus narrows to Herrick’s voice and restrained piano. This, on the surface, is a simple enough proposition – a torch song, of sorts, about relationships. The lyrics, if not good, are quite serviceable for that purpose. Herrick, however, grabs hold of the song and turns it inside out, invests it with heartbreak, and exits with you wondering if there wasn’t just something you missed before about the song. This is an album sure to please, but surprise as well.
9 out of 10 stars.