It's getting rarer - at least outside of coffeehouse flyers and the Dirty Linen orbit - to encounter music-world references to "folk" that don't also sport a qualifying prefix like "neo," "acid" or "gangsta." Make no mistake: this latest release from Austin-based Caroline Herring is a folk record, no modifiers required.
And beyond that, it's a folk record for those people who don't realize they like folk records. The opening pair of Tales of the Islander and A Turn Upon the Hill start things off quietly and, in a couple senses of the word, slowly. Both are elegantly voiced and hyper-literate, but they are presented so delicately that they don't leave particularly deep impressions when they hit. But from there, most everything else sticks, originals and interpretations alike. Leading the way in that latter camp are True Colors, put on the map by Cyndi Lauper, and the oft-covered Long Black Veil. Herring puts her stamp on both by way of interesting arrangements: anyone who's not a lyric scholar probably won't recognize either song until the chorus. Also memorable is a take on the trad See See Rider that suggests what Guy Clark might do with it.
Herring's compositions, most notably A Little Bit of Mercy (which, compared to its hushed neighbors, all but roars) and the gorgeous and gorgeously detailed Abuelita, impress as well. And the highlight is her The Dozens, which plays like a short story from a Best of Modern Southern Writing anthology that just happened to look in the mirror and discover it was a folk song. An honest-to-goodness folk song.