Hailing from Florida, for her third album Orange Blossom Child, Van Plating announces a new country genre she terms Orange Blossom Country, a coming together of Southern Americana, bluegrass and folk-rock with nods to Gram Parsons, Tom Petty, and fellow Florida country star Elizabeth Cook in a personal exploration of her family’s journey and the concept of home in rural Florida during the latter half of the 20th century.
John Lum’s drums kicking in, it’s the title track that gets the ball rolling, a memory of a now passed teenage friend, Jenny Lee, and nights back in 96, wandering the Florida countryside imagining their future lives, the refrain recalling her mother’s words “Good girls have edges that the boys can’t break”. Dave Coleman on lap steel and Bryon White of Oklahoma’s The Damn Quails on harmonies, the driving momentum’s maintained on ‘They’re Gonna Kill You Anyway’. Inspired by how, back in the 80s and 90s, child kidnapping was often in the headlines, it’s a song of defiance (“Born in the eye of a hurricane/Bo in my hand/A fist that could bend the blade/I was my momma’s resurrection babe”) and the resolve to take no shit summed up in the words her father would tell her every time she left the house, “Fight til you’re dead cause they’re gonna kill you anyway”, she describes it as drawing on idea of a feud with the devil, her fiddle doing the fighting.
Elizabeth Cook joins her to duet on the keeningly sung (a hint of Dolly Parton), chorus catchy slide, steel and mandolin-coloured The Heron’ (“the ageless, timeless high priests of earth and sky” as she describes them), a longing for home, even if one that now only exists in the heart, the opening line “the soul of country rock ‘n’ roll lives/Down the street from me”, a reference to Jon Corneal, the original drummer with the International Submarine Band and The Flying Burrito Brothers who contributes on two of the album’s tracks. Van Plating’s old time violin in evidence, the collaborations continue with Cody and Willy Braun from Austin country-rock outfit Reckless Kelly on the standout slow walking ‘The Hard Way’, which, the chorus melody suggesting a mix of ‘Poncho & Lefty’ and Kristofferson’s ‘Breakdown (A Long Way From Home)’, a red dirt country number that speaks of a loss of faith (“We’ve given up on peace on earth/Built our palaces of dirt”), tragedy (“I lost a baby in my bed/the sheets were bathed in blood-stained red”, a reference to how she suffered a ruptured fallopian tube) and resilience (“I’ve recaptured fearlessness/Put away my pride/I’ve walked through every unlocked door/In hopes I’d stay alive”).
The whisperingly sung, brisk waltzing strummed ‘Hole In My Chest/Big Feelings’, with poet Kirby Brown and Stephano Intelisano of BoDeans on the accordion, is a Covid-spawned number about the pain of being apart or locked down together and, as she puts it “sitting with your big feelings and being willing to let them wash over you… admitting you really can’t see a light but you’d like to”, while Nashville duo Boys Club For Girls (Amie Miriello and Vanessa Olivarez) guesting, the every word is true swaggery Southern chug ‘Big Time Small-Shot’ where Johnny Cash meets Jennie C. Riley, digs into the familiar theme of cheating men, here someone with whom she wrote a song (“I thought I’d made a friend of gold/But you were just enjoying attention/From another man’s wife”) who turned out to be “a heart stalkin’ double crossin’ crooked walkin’ …shit talkin’ man” who couldn’t keep his mouth shut (“How could you think it wouldn’t get back to me”).
Inspired by an essay by Annie Dillard titled “Teaching the Stones To Talk” , the first of the three final collaborations comes with Nashville singer Crystal Bowersox on the fiddle-grounded ‘Jesus Saved Me On The Radio’ which asks questions about the internal versus the external and touches on domestic abuse (“The sheriff took Jacob away…Jesse got her ticket to ride/..her body was broken/Her baby was safe”), the lyrics referencing Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, the line about “cold spring water running down our skin, met the Holy Ghost down at the river bend…Mad man screaming at the whippoorwill” a reference to the Wekiva River where she grew up .
Tennessee’s Shelby Lowe is the first twangy voice heard on the swaggering Stonesy strut intro to the duetted ‘The Sugar Palm Club’, a stomping barroom live set rouser with cowbells and a spoken verse from Van Plating that pays homage to the place where she and her husband courted in their teens. The final guests, with Jon Corneal on drums, are Nathan Mongol Wells (on electric guitar as well as vocals) and Billy Law from Ottoman Turks on the fiddle waltzing and scratchy banjo ‘Joel Called The Ravens’ on which she traces her mother’s lineage, breaking free of expectations in a story of tragedy and resilience, of poverty, hope, sharecropping and music, opening with bluegrass (featuring clawhammer banjo by Joe Newberry) as a nod to the music she was reared on and taught her daughter before the band join in for a rockier vibe.
The remaining two numbers are on either side, rooted in faith and a love song to love; ‘Zion Is A Woman’ with its shuffling brushed drums from Corneal has a dreamy, hushed feel while the closing ‘Joshua’ with its weeping fiddle and upright bass, and further references to rivers may prompt thoughts of the Old Testament but is about encouraging someone to take the plunge (“Joshua was scared/He never knew/That love’s like a river running straight to the ocean”). An orange blossom special indeed.
Artist’s website: www.vanplating.com