When Sarah Pierce began her journey in the music business, she didn’t intend to be a songwriter. The Nashville music establishment was grooming her for success as a performer – she was expected to sing and make hit songs. Her first album, West Texas Wind, included only one of her originals, but the pull of the songwriting muse proved irresistible for the talented country vocalist.
In the '90s, she moved to Austin, Texas with her husband, veteran drummer Merel Bregante of The Dirt Band. “Moving to Austin inspired me to write songs,” Pierce explains. “There are great songwriters here. And if you’re a girl and you don’t play guitar and write songs, you just don’t get in.”
The first song that came was called “Another Last Chance,” and it was about her experience of falling in love with her husband. “I had just left a bad relationship,” she recalls. “I had been in a lot of them. But, falling in love with Merel really changed my life for the better. I still feel it today.-
“I’ve [also] had mentors like Matthew Cartsonis,” she says, of the talented multi-instrumentalist she met in Phoenix, AZ. “It is writers like [him] who really helped me get started as a writer. He was very frank and helpful.”
Over the 20 years since that move, her songwriting muse still sings to her at her home in the country outside of Austin. It is a place she and her husband call heaven. Pierce has released a string of well-received albums. Her latest, 2011’s Bring It On, demonstrates insightful songwriting and her exceptional voice. The album carries insights about lost and found love, tales of personal redemption, and colorful cowgirls (her father was a cowboy). It’s an album of well-produced and finely crafted songs – the kind that lift the spirits, because she sings about life with a perspective that is full of hope. There is a brightness to her lyrics supported by the undertow of sweet country-rock complete with electric guitars, pedal steel, dobros and fiddle. Her portraits and insights about the ordinary magic of life in the country are full of light and positivity.
This hopeful worldview is something she’s taken some flak for from critics in Europe. “An Italian critic remarked to me that he liked a song, ‘Love is the Only Way,’” she says, “but [he thought] it would be much better if I suffered more.”
She laughs, then adds, “The music I’ve been writing lately is a bit darker.”
Her new album, for which she’s raising funds on Pledge Music, is titled Barbed Wire. “It’s about getting older,” she explains. “I hadn’t done an album in a couple of years. I was in a writing rut. I hadn’t written anything for a long time. We had just moved from the city to the country, outside of Austin. We were on our land and I found an old piece of barbwire that was from 1876. I thought, ‘This looks like me.’
“It was really beautiful, even though it was a bit twisted." She continued. "I cut off an 18 inch collector's cut and brought it home. It occurred to me [that] this is what life makes of us. From that moment I started writing and the songs for the album were finished in two weeks. The album really spring from that moment.”
Barbed Wire will include a song by Reckless Kelly’s Willie Braun as well as Pierce’s originals. Braun will also duet with her on a song she wrote about her grandparents, called "I'm Sorry." And there’s also a song about her mother. The song, "Daughter of a Cowboy's Wife," is like a bookend to Ian Tyson's classic romantic cowboy song, "Someday Soon." The story describes the struggles of a wife of a hard-drinking cowboy and her personal redemption after he leaves her. It's a stark portrait of the wreckage too often left behind by those we love, while, in this case, the mother and daughter vow never to show their tears. If this song represents quality of production and material on Barbed Wire, we're in for a treat.
While Pierce and her husband dig their roots deeper into the Texas soil, the change of location appears to have been good for her songcraft and inspiration. As a veteran with several albums under her belt, she has a style that is seaasoned and original. As an artist she is the distinctive kind singer-songwriter who should be visible in the world of Americana music today. Even though she was first groomed to sings for other songwriters, her voice is so strong today, it would be a crime for Sarah Pierce not to experience the kind of success she so deserves. It might just be that 18 inches of antique barbed wire will do the trick.