Album Review

Sarah Pierce's Portrait of Country Life

Sarah Pierce - Barbed Wire

Promotional photo

Country music, like the blues, depends on authenticity to escape the tendency to become its own caricature. Often this is harder to achieve than it appears, especially in country, where the symbols of the everyman have been co-opted by dumbed-down booze swilling party anthems that mock the reality of country living while supposedly celebrating its charms and virtues.

The trouble with symbols is that if they are treated too casually, or too reverently, they become ripe for satire and stereotyping. Walking the line between the two extremes is tricky, and depends more on the messenger than even the message itself. On "Barbed Wire" Sarah Pierce walks the line with skill and finesse.

Thank God for Pierce and her ability to reclaim the core values of country music with her honesty and straightforward approach. Make no mistake, the symbols are all here, presented in their ordinary glory. In this case, the messenger redeems the message within the symbols and delivers a simple, unvarnished look at life in the heartland.

Joining Pierce on her journey is her husband Merel Bregante, a veteran of the country rock scene having spent time in seminal groups like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and a long stint with Loggins & Messina. The two are assisted by several guests, including brothers Cody and Willy Braun of Reckless Kelly, and the Dirt Band’s banjo ace John McEuen.

Bregante and Pierce have produced a no-frills straight ahead record that succeeds in part due to its lack of Music City slickness. Recorded north of Austin, the thirteen tracks feel as direct as a conversation across a split rail fence.

Pierce fearlessly drives headlong into a “Small Town,” perhaps one of the biggest icons of country music, and one that has received its share of misrepresentation. The opening track is wonderfully bereft of any hint of corn. "Small Town" celebrates the people and a lifestyle where the stars and stripes fly from the houses of folks who are proud of what the flag stands for. The lack of a jingoistic approach, the simple acceptance of this important aspect of daily life, is what elevates the song above the radio fodder that passes for country cool.

All the other avatars of rural life are present on the album. Cowboy boots, pickup trucks, barbed wire fences, Saturday night dances are all here, displayed truthfully; neither hokey tokens nor sepia-toned relics, they are in fact merely real, and that is a revelation in itself.

One of the keys to this collection of songs is Pierce’s vocal treatment. In an age when young warblers are wet-nursed on the big label dreams of the singing contest shows, Pierce excels at simply singing the song. By taking this approach she demonstrates that the best way to sing about a simple life is to convey it in a manner that avoids the mythical. This is not to say her voice is plain or dull, it is not. But rather that she knows its strengths and weaknesses and finds the sweet spot the listener immediately recognizes as integrity. It is this integrity that reclaims the symbols of country life and preserves the value therein.

Released last August this one slipped under my radar until recently. Fortunately I discovered a quiet classic that deserves a wider reception. Sarah Pierce restores our faith in country music and ourselves. 

 

Great review Joe.  I really liked the first paragraph...could be at the heart of why the drunken goof balls who show up and fight at Sturgill Simpson's shows would also be at Jason Aldean or Toby Keith...they are too drunk or indifferent to see why one of those is real country, and the other is not.

The other thing I really like about this is, as you noted, the singing is straightforward and in service of the song, at least on the clip you provided here...excellent...this slipped under my radar too, despite Terry Roland having written about her a while back.

Yeah, Jim, she's the real deal !

 

Hey man,

Thank you for this wonderful review. To say that I agree with you without reservation would surely seem self serving. Frankly, it is anything but. 

In my years with Sarah I have always done my best to separate our personal life from our collective professional one. So far, I have done preetty well...I hope. 

As a human, you described her perfectly. As an artist as well. She really is the real deal. The joy, heartache, ultimate redemption found in her lyrics perfectly echo her life. 

Her vocals are really who she is day in and day out. Straightforward. Simple at first glance yet when you really listen they are filled with wonderful nuance.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you. This came as a beautiful surprise.

Sincerely,

Merel

Thank you for your kind words! The album was so good it made the review easy to write.... Joe
Thank you for your kind words! The album was so good it made the review easy to write.... Joe

You are right Merel...one of my favorite songwriters is a Canadian guy named Marc Jordan...his music isn't country, and his voice is a bit odd, but he's a wonderful singer...I remember him saying that his father, who was a jazz musician telling him as a kid that when you are singing, every word counts...make 'em count.  Seems like she does that...I'm picking up the record...

And after all, if you, who is closest to the artist, tells us the reviewer nailed it, I'd say this...I suppose one could look at it as self serving, but then again, who'd know any better than you!  And you can hear it too...

Hey Joe...Jim...

Joe, I'm pretty sure you have the recording...duh.

Jim, I'm not sure if you have heard her whole thing. If so, cool. If not, here is a link to her sound cloud page - https://soundcloud.com/sarah-pierce-music. The songs are 'lo rez' .wav files (16-44.1). Not great and still far better than an mp3 even at 320K. 

If you'd like, I would be honored to send you the recording. You can find me on facebook or mbregante@aol.com (YUP...surely shows that I'm an old guy). 

As well, if either of you are in town for SXSW, let me know. We have three showcases. One totally acoustic and two full on. You will enjoy the band...we played on the recording and pretty much honor the arrangements. 

Y'all take care,

M

 

Merel Thanks for the reply. I do have the whole cd, I wish I could make sxsw, but it doesn't appear to be in the cards for this year. I would love to see you guys for sure and if something changes I will let you know. ... Joe

Hey,

You have my email now and sarah's URL - www.sarahpierce.com Keep in touch and let me know basically where you live. If we get anywhere near there, I will surely let you know. Or, check the gig schedule on her site. 

Take care my friend. Be well,

Merel

Merel, I am in Richmond, VA. If you get to the MD, VA, DC area I would love to connect! Joe

Hi Joe,

We have tried to get into the Birchmere for years. I believe Michael Jaworek books it...or at least he used to. Always spoke as a fan but never got it done...we were booked to play actually a couple times and got bumped both times.

Anyway, maybe with such glowing reviews from No Depression, I can work it yet again. Sarah and band would be a PERFECT fit for that venue as we would be perfect for the Barn at Wolf Trap. If ya know anybody...etc., etc., etc.

I am sure we will get back there this year at some point in time. It has been too long. Shoot me an email so that I can let you know wassup as it occurs. 

Looking forward to being able to say thank you in person.

Be well,

Merel 

 

 

Merel...genereous offer...I bought it off the website (download version) already (actually, just before I saw this post), so I am good, but thanks for the soundcloud link, I'll get that as it is better.  If the CD version is available through you or the website, I'd be glad to pay for it...I too am an "old guy" (and I also have an aol web address to prove it...got it when the kids were little, and now they are 33 and 30 years old respectively...just never changed it), and being old, I have what young people would likely consider a fetish about the hard copy documentation of music...Mp3 is fine except I guess it is just not quite the same for me...no art, no lyrics...I've seen more than a little irony in the vinyl resurgence that has happened lately...

I've been to SXSW before and I love Austin, but I can't make it this year (unfortunately)...but you go ahead and kick butt anyway...

as fate would have i discovered this gem a couple of weeks ago. i believe i saw it listed in the new releases at no depresion and checked it out. this would have made my best of the year end list had i discovered it sooner. anyway i've been playing it every day since and can't get enough of it. the review is spot on and well written. thanks for alerting us to this 5 star album. cheers

Hi Norm,

Merel Bregante here. First and foremost, thank you for your kind words. They are so truly appreciated. Having worked with Sarah for so long, to have my belief in her artistry finally being validated is truly wonderful. 

Question: are you playing it for yourself or are you a radio person? If personal, she/we are honored. If radio, honored as well. Please tell me who and where so that we can, in turn, support you. In either event, play on, my friend, play on. 

BTW...if you are so inclined, Barbed Wire can surely be a part of your best of the year end list...2016 :)

One way or the other, thank you again for your kind words. I will surely share with Sarah and those that played on Barbed Wire...it was cut basically live and the players are, by and large, her band. Its the way we sound...when I am not engineering/producing, I am proudly her drummer.

Be well, my friend.

Sincerely,

Merel

hi merel, sadly, i'm just playing it for myself at the moment. i'm a little off the radar screen up in canada,victoria,b.c. to be exact. i can get to shows in vancouver,b.c., seattle, and bellingham. if you are in the pacific northwest let me know and i will come out and support the band. i was in austin,texas a couple of years ago and plan to go back at some point. when i go again i will try and look you folks up and see where you are playing. one of the many things that sold me on the album was the production. that is exactly the sound i look for. not overproduced,more or less live, and letting the songs stand on their own. you did this in spades,well done! the band has just the right mix of instrumentation to enhance the songs and not overwhelm them. i guess as a drummer you must have a good perspective on the overall sound. i wish you well and continued success! all the best,norm

I agree Norm...I've played it a lot myself since acquiring it...it's a beauty...