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MATRACA BERG


Wopat were cutting her songs. This led to her gaining a record deal with RCA Nashville in 1990, five country chart entries and the release of the acclaimed LYING TO THE MOON album. None of her singles were major hits, and it would be true to say that she probably made a bigger impact in Europe with I Got It Bad becoming a chart entry in Holland and gaining extensive radio plays across Europe. At the time Nashville was not ready to open their ears to Matraca and her music. RCA’s pop division decided to direct Matraca toward


alternative rock. Her album THE SPEED OF GRACE found her all at sea as she stepped gingerly into mainstream pop waters. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Stewart Levine (whose credits include Simply Red, Hothouse Flowers and Minnie Ripperton). Once the dust settled after her desertion to Los Angeles, Matraca returned to the Nashville studios and started work on a third album, tentatively to be titled WILD ANGELS, but the project never moved beyond the planning stages. Every song she had written for that album suddenly became hits for others, even songs that she had written years before and had included on her first album. Trisha Yearwood cut Wrong Side Of Memphis and Lying To The Moon, Pam Tillis had Calico Plains, Suzy Bogguss took Diamonds And Tears, Hey Cinderella and Give Me Some Wheels, and Martina McBride scored with Wild Angels. The real big one came with the loss- of-innocence Strawberry Wine, a four-minute waltz that Deana Carter turned into a Grammy-award-winning pop-country smash. Like so many of Matraca’s songs it was partially written from a real life relationship, recalling a summer spent on her grandparents Wisconsin farm during her teens, baling hay and giving her mother a break. “They were my Nashville summers, it was so beautiful my


dad’s parents used to sing songs and it was just so fun you know all the grand-kids together. We would all go over in the summer and run around together, you know play hide and seek and all that sort of stuff. My Grandma was such a character, always singing and she used to make little projects for us, you know and we would sing a little bit and it was just fun having all that activity.” After seeing her two RCA albums fail to generate sales, she


retreated into her songwriting. She resurfaced a few years later on the short-lived Rising Tide label, only to watch helplessly as the label closed its door just after the 1997 release of SUNDAY NIGHT TO SATURDAY MORNING. A seamless blend of skilled storytelling and melodic inventiveness it looked set to propel her to stardom as a performer. The album was named one of the 10 Best Records of the Year in any genre by Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and People. Once again Matraca concentrated on her songwriting,


32 Maverick


occasionally stepping out to perform at songwriters’ nights. After a ten-year absence, she undertook her first UK shows in January 2007 with Suzy Bogguss and Gretchen Peters as part of the Wine, Women & Song concert series and the trio returned several times since then building a sizeable UK following. “Gretchen to me is like a goddess! She’s so female and she’s


got such a sharp wit and mind, she could easily have been a political activist. She’s got this beautiful voice and these songs that make you cry. There’s this whole other side to her brain that’s really interesting, fascinating really. Suzy’s just got so much to her. She’s so down to earth and thoroughly mid- western and such a good girl. She’s got a really crafty side to her.” Those trio tours re-ignited Matraca’s wish to record, so after


a 14 years absence she returned to the studio to record last year’s THE DREAMING FIELDS. The album started out as SOUTH OF HEAVEN, a self-promoted gig release that she sold on the Trio tours and her solo shows in America. Though her songs tend to be highly personal, Matraca has long been involved in co-writing and teamed up with Deana Carter, Jessi Alexander, Marshall Chapman, Ronnie Samoset and her trio pals Suzy and Gretchen for the songs. She counts Harrison as her favourite co-writer … they’ve been writing together for years. “For some reason we click when we write together. It’s like


perfect and it’s special. We don’t write together as much as we used to. He’s one of those whose work ethic is important and he’s like the opposite to me. Gary and I started at the same company, Warner Brothers and I didn’t know what to make of him at first. You wouldn’t think we would write songs together because we’re so different. He’s kind of a jock …you know man to man, sports and kind of mister tough guy, and I’m obviously not that. We were in the kitchen in a little house and we were talking about where we were going with it and we wrote a song in like 20 minutes. It was so fast and easy and it was natural and the same with every song after that for some bizarre reason.” In comparison to Gary Harrison, Jessi Alexander is a relative


newcomer, though she’s been in Nashville for more than a dozen years and released the superb HONEYSUCKLE SWEET on Columbia some seven years ago. Married to Jon Randall Stewart, she concentrates on her songwriting and has seen her songs recorded by Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Miley Cyrus, Little Big Town and many others. Matraca has known Jessi for quite some time as she explained. “I met Jessi before they got together. Gary Nicholson was


producing her and we got together to write for the record and we just clicked. She’s an amazing singer … Oh my God seeing her get better and better. She’s pregnant with twins


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