Indies 1, Nashville 0
In the nightmare version of Caroline Herring’s story, she moves to Nashville, signs a big publishing deal and is stuck dumbing down her razor-sharp songwriting for Music Row pod people like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Fortunately, Nashville hasn’t yet sunk its claws into Herring’s immensely empathetic charm. Exhibit A: “Paper Gown” (about convicted child-murderer Susan Smith) has to be the best example of a songwriter getting inside the head of an unsympathetic real-life protagonist since Steve Earle’s “John Walker’s Blues.” And rather than an immaculately auto-tuned robo-singer, Herring effortlessly plumbs the emotional depths of her songs with her evocative alto. Her delivery, along with Rich Brotherton’s pitch-perfect production, makes this song cycle resonant in more ways than a simple, rootsy singer/songwriter album ought to. Lantana comes on the heels of a five-year break Herring took to get married and start a family; her music is all the richer for it.