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 prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame at such a young age. But here she is; one of the most consistently successful songwriters in America and she’s also a great singer, though only rarely makes her own albums.
Folking are therefore thrilled to get behind the latest release of the new Matraca Berg album, ‘Love’s Truck Stop’ on Proper Records.
Maybe it was the deadline. Maybe it was the notion that she was making “a record.” Maybe her critically acclaimed 2011 album The Dreaming Fields (her first album in 14 years) that inspired the lithe songstress to keep reaching and writing.
For whatever reason, Love’s Truck Stop – a collection of songs that celebrate the spark of the human spirit, the resilience of women and the joy of being alive even when it’s difficult – is easily, in our opinion, the most engaging record of Matraca Berg’s career yet
“There’s something to the notion that creativity seeks creativity,” says Matraca, “The right people – the writers, musicians, even co-producer just lined up when I needed them. I had no idea who they were, no master plan, but there they were!
“It was a very small group of people, so there was this very special cohesion: it was like everyone was moving in the same direction, all moving towards the same thing. And I’m not sure if it was working at such a fast pace or the fact that I was working towards something I didn’t quite know, but could feel. It made me wanna get in the studio every day, to chase these songs to see where they were going to take us.”
The “group of people’ were Jason Goforth, a former missionary/activist turned roots musician who plays just about anything that makes music. Berg saw him backing co-writer Angel Snow at a gig at a tiny, out of the way room and the response was visceral.
“I literally chased him into the parking lot to ask if he’d work on this record,” she says with a laugh. “He probably thought I was mad, but he showed up. So it was him, and David Henry who came in as a friend and wonderful cellist/violinist/vocalist and ended up as co-producer… and me! The three of us, coloring in the songs, trying to figure out the best way to bring them.”
After Goforth and Henry (who is a veteran of the Cowboy Junkies) came David Mead, Over The Rhine, Mindy Smith and Yo La Tengo. Berg also drew on her myriad group of friends. Emmylou Harris, Kim Carnes, Pat McLaughlin, Pistol Annie’s Ashley Monroe and husband Jeff Hanna are among the vocalists.
“Emmy? Pat? Jeff Hanna?” laughs the eternally young old soul. “They’re just friends. It’s one of the beautiful things about Nashville – you call your friends, then they open their mouths! Suddenly, it’s ‘OH! That’s EMMYLOU…’
Harris’ appearance on the chilling “Magdalene,” inspired by Berg’s work with Becca Stevens’ Thistle Farms and Magdalene Project, which helps get prostitutes off the streets and give them skills to become a part of mainstream society, is stunning. Emmylou, during the recording, said, “This hit me the same way Patty Griffin’s ‘Mary’ did when I went in to sing on that…”
A diverse cast of characters, truths and locales, Love’s Truck Stop covers a lot of ground. From the scalding Cajungrass “Black Ribbons,” with its post-Gulf of Mexico oil spill bite, to the Ghandi graffitied bathroom of the “Love’s Truck Stop,” the all over but the good-bye “We’re Already Gone” and the languid flow of the girl stuck in California missing that sweet boy back home in “Sad Magnolia,” there is compassion for the downtrodden, the long gone and the outcast – all strung across lean tracks that evoke the mountains, the coffeehouses and those cracks in the walls and sidewalks where lost souls often find themselves.
That esprit de corps has always given Berg’s songs an incandescence and sparkle. Not one afraid of the gritty or the real, she finds pretty in the worst possible places. There is the elegiac piano-strewn confusion of an alcoholic’s child “Fistful of Roses,” the tautly plucky get-over-it-or-else “Buried Your Love Alive,” the against all odds folk of “Foolish Flower” that find the heart of resilience and thrive in spite of the odds.
Those get it girls… the woman who has no idea what comes after leaving in “Waiting On A Slow Train,” the 20 year old waitress with the Bible verse tattoo in “Her Name Is Mary”… survive against the odds, sowing love and light in their wake. You might not notice them, but Matraca Berg and her co-writers do.
“It’s the stories most people miss that’re most inspiring. Not the great big stardom stuff, so much as the woman making it work in spite of the odds. Sometimes just surviving that break-up, losing someone you love is everything. We’ve all been there, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone – even when it feels like no one else could ever hurt like this.”
“I just hope this record gets to the right people,” Berg says of her aspirations. “The people, who like me, who like the girl in ‘Her Name Is Mary,’ who find their truth and their strength in the songs. I’m always humbled by the stories people tell me about what music means to them – and if anything here does that, well, then, it was worth everything.”