A span of more than three years between releases by singer-songwriter Susan Herndon is too long for many, but sometimes life gets in the way.
While it's been a long wait between albums, the time passed has also allowed Herndon to refine and condense her vision to produce her most precise album to date with All Fall Down.
Don't be mistaken: the songstress still blends elements of pop, folk, country and jazz with a sound that keeps her akin to many of her red-dirt contemporaries. Unlike her 2007 release, 1,000 Pies, however, everything ties together in a more consistent, more focused manner. It's not that Herndon has ever struggled with disjointedness in her music. Even with the sprawling two-disc collection, Peccadillos, or the variety encompassed in her last disc, everything has always come together to make sense. With All Fall Down, however, there's a new maturity and consistency that suggests Herndon has finally found her comfort zone, a place where she can truly shine.
Lyrically, the album is an exercise in introspection, drawing from life and finding greater meaning in the lessons learned. "Land of the Living" sets the tone for the album from its opening line -- "Who knows all the ways of the world and who can know all the ways of a girl?" -- by asking the questions the world sets us up for and finding the answers inside ourselves.
Elsewhere, Herndon reflects on love and loss with the jazzy swing of "Pull," the haunting southwestern vibe of "Dry Bones and Dust" where she's "...living with the loss of you", and one of her most poignant songs to date, the piano ballad "Everything to Me." Even with the reflective melancholy, however, it all flows seemingly effortlessly from the songstress, as if she's unabashedly baring her heart.
Herndon said the lyrics were inspired by "Lots of suffering: death and divorce and despair. It's all there and pretty straightforward."
Although the lyrics may have taken some time to work out so elegantly, they don't overwhelm the listener with a somber tone. Instead, true to her character, Herndon looks for the positive in every situation and her attitude comes through not only in her lyrical turns, but also in the positive vibe of the music itself -- which is what truly toes everything together.
For her latest effort, Herndon changed scenery and producers, recording in Austin, Texas, with renowned producer Lloyd Maines at the helm. Herndon said she was already friends with Bob Livingston (who co-produced with Maines and Herndon) and had been listening to his CD, Original Spirit.
"It's just a great, impeccable-sounding album and I thought that's what I want my next one to sound like," she said. "So basically, I just worked up the nerve and asked him. We have a handful of mutual friends, so I sent him an e-mail and we bantered back and forth a bit before we finally decided to work together."
Once dates were set to begin recording the album, Herndon traveled to Austin to work with Maines and Livingston at Cedar Creek Studios.
"It was really refreshing," she said. "Lloyd has all of this knowledge and experience to draw from and it all came so naturally. He does things exactly how I like to work, recording it all live, except for a few pedal steel overdubs. All of the songs were done on the first or second take and we recorded it all in two days and I went back later to mix and master.
"It was fun," Herndon said. "It's never been so easy. It's usually a long process, where we go into the studio for up to six months, so this really got me to break out of my box and from how I normally work."
Ultimately, you can hear it in Herndon's songs. There's an undeniable Austin stamp on the record, as noted in Maines' pedal steel lines, the mandolin and accordion of Chris Gage, and an intangible quality that whispers "Austin." Even so, Herndon's personality and Oklahoma ties come through loud and strong as well, never being overwhelmed by her new mentors.
Overall, it's an effort that all involved can be proud of. Even Maines gave his stamp of approval, which made Herndon giddy.
"In Lloyd's words: 'It looks great, it sounds great.' He says he's happy to have his name on it as producer, which makes me proud as well. I couldn't be happier," she said.
Although All Fall Down was completed last autumn, Herndon has been holding off on an official Tulsa CD release party, in order to celebrate at the new Blue Rose Café. After a few delays, she finally gets to celebrate this weekend with her band, The Cherry Pickers, on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 8pm. Yes, Blue Rose Café is open for business and Herndon gets to christen the new digs at 1924 Riverside Dr. with a full band show and the chance to finally roll out the new disc for her Tulsa fans.
Not only will drummer Michael Steed and guitarist Stephen Rickey Lee be with her, but she will also be accompanied by a few special guests, including Tom Skinner on bass, Jack Abraham on pedal steel and more who are yet to make themselves known. Although Herndon's sound and influences may not be strictly red-dirt, she definitely incorporates that spirit and fits well with those artists. As a result, you can be sure that a few of those old friends will likely stop in to help celebrate and make it a special evening.
More importantly, however, Saturday night's show is not only the perfect opportunity to pick up Herndon's latest CD, but it's a great night to see her with her band. Always on the go, Herndon's touring schedule has seen her traveling across the state and down into Texas on regular occasion, making full band shows in Tulsa more infrequent. Hopefully that will come to an end and we'll see her take on an even higher profile as she tours behind her latest disc and continues to grow from what she has learned and shared on All Fall Down
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