Herrick’s sophomore effort, Cottonfields, represents a consolidation of the virtues heard on their debut. This is a band thoroughly committed to recording and releasing modern music that, nonetheless, draws from the deep well of the past without ever merely regurgitating it. Invoking traditional forms can be a cul de sac. If a band doesn’t have a certain amount of distance from the material and/or their own fiercely guarded identity, pastiche results. Herrick straddles that line with a great deal of success.
The above point is perfectly illustrated in the opening song. The album’s title cut is a traditional recast here as light hard rock. Herrick’s members keep the car between the lines – the music pushes towards its conclusion with a great deal of velocity. Vocalist Donna Herrick rips out a stinging lead vocal over the top. Those familiar with this traditional song might initially quibble with the approach, but as the album deserves repeated listens, so do individual tracks like this. This cover is a good example of how bands the caliber of Herrick can bring their own personalities into other material. “Hurt like Heat” is an appealing guitar/mandolin propelled rave up with an exuberant Donna Herrick vocal. Kerry Herrick’s supporting role has a second vocalist should never be underplayed. It’s wholly unique to find two voices so well suited for one another, but more importantly, they demonstrate time after time that they understand how to best use their shared gift.
The band’s rambunctious, rock and roll heart beats strong on “Uh Oh”. Donna Herrick’s voice veers between a foot stomping bluesy bray and softer, almost shirking passages. The band doubles down on that bluesy feel with brief slide guitar flourishes, but the track’s fundamental underpinning remains Herrick’s mandolin and Jefferson Rogers’ taut guitar. Jeff Bradshaw’s drumming, however, deserves mention for its superb job of maintaining a steady tempo while also adding more drama to the track. “Like a Disease” isn’t a particularly cheerful lyrical take on matters of the heart, but the band sets a brisk tempo from the start and doesn’t dawdle. There’s a quasi-punk rock attitude here – replace the mandolin and acoustic guitar with two distorted guitars and you have a mean, brief rock and roll song. The lighter touch that the band’s instruments bring does diminish its attitude.
“Your Love” is a cut of rustic pop bliss. The lap steel lines and other smaller affectations never change the track’s indelible truth – this is a highly accessible ballad aimed for mass market success. This fact doesn’t necessarily sabotage its sincerity or merit. Donna Herrick, once again, redeems any deficiencies with a heart-wrenching vocal and the band, especially guitarist Jefferson Rogers, acquits themselves admirably. The album’s penultimate track “Said and Done” is a final outright blast of blues rock and, arguably, the best example on Cottonfields. Rogers shines on slide guitar again and Herrick’s vocal seems to draw inspiration from his often snarling guitar lines. Drummer Jeff Bradshaw and bassist Kerry Herrick drop the final ingredient into this track with their authoritative swing.
Cottonfields establishes Herrick as one of the best Americana pop/rock bands today flying under mainstream radar. It’s a shame. There are a number of songs included on Cottonfields tailored for mass consumption from first note to last, but there’s more, thankfully. There’s honesty to this music coming off every song and the band’s lead singer delivers them with a passion few can match.