1994 Written by Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss, and Gary Harrison
There’s a term that has gathered strength over the past decade: the quarter-life crisis. It describes that phase in life where the idealism of what you thought your life would be collides with what reality has in store for you. Reconciling the two is needed to get beyond this point of life, and adulthood completely sets in once such reconciliation has been accomplished.
A significant difference between the major female artists of the early nineties and those of today is that they’re on opposite sides of that quarter-life marker. Take at the ages in which today’s newer female stars enjoyed their first top twenty hit: Carrie Underwood, 22; Miranda Lambert, 22; Kellie Pickler, 20; Taylor Swift, 17.
Now compare that to the women who broke through from 1989-1992: Suzy Bogguss, 34; Pam Tillis, 33; Mary Chapin Carpenter, 31; Wynonna, 27; Trisha Yearwood, 26. Unlike today, there were also several additional female artists who were also on the radio – Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and Tanya Tucker – all of whom were in their thirties.
“Age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” Aaliyah once sang, but the musical output of these two crops of artists suggest otherwise. “Hey Cinderella” was a top five hit for Bogguss in 1994, and perhaps best exemplifies the different perspectives of these two generations of women.
“We believed in fairy tales that day,” Bogguss sings as she reminisces with her friend about the day her friend got married. “I watched your father give you away. Your aim was true when the pink bouquet fell right into my hands.” It sounds like the beginning of the latest Taylor Swift song, perhaps a duet with Kellie Pickler.
But as life goes on, “through the years, and the kids, and the jobs, and the dreams that lost their way,” these grown women are wondering about those fairy tales. “I’ve got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow”, and find themselves wanting to question the legendary princess: “Cinderella, maybe you can help us out?” they ask. “Does the shoe fit you now?”
While the perspective of youth is honestly preserved, these are clear-eyed adults with a wealth of life experiences informing their feelings today. It doesn’t get more honest than the line “We’re good now ’cause we have to be.” It’s not so much we grow up because we want to, but rather because we have to.
I’ve written many times that I don’t find Taylor Swift’s music offensive so much as irrelevant. When I was a teenager, I could listen to country music and not fully understand the intricacies of what the songs were about, but I knew I’d eventually grow into an understanding. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve done just that. What I can’t do is regress back into the state of development needed to find Taylor Swift’s music relevant to me.
Honestly, I don’t think that the world looked like what’s described in “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” at any period of my life. I’ve just never known girls who saw the world that way. The ones I knew have grown up to be women quite a bit like those that Bogguss and her contemporaries sang about. Here’s hoping that this generation is able to do the same. In the meantime, if you like country music by and for adults, this forgotten hit is a great starting point.
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101
#120 “Tonight I Wanna Cry”
A chillingly frank portrait of loneliness, awkward reference to “All By Myself” notwithstanding. Few mainstream vocalists today could pull off something this intense. – Dan Milliken
#119 “Portland, Oregon”
Loretta Lynn with Jack White
Peak: Did not chart
If you can take a healthy dose of dirty rock ‘n’ roll in your country, this is one of the coolest-sounding records of the decade, a classic one-night-stand duet. That it’s a very cross-generational pairing singing it would be creepy if not for the goofy smiles shining through Lynn’s and White’s performances. – DM Continue reading →
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love
The latest album from Trisha Yearwood was one of her best yet, with a surprisingly loose sound and quite a few more uptempo tracks than is the norm for this queen of the ballads. The best moments came from the pens of female songwriters, most notably the poignant “Dreaming Fields” penned by Matraca Berg. – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “This Is Me You’re Talking To”, “Dreaming Fields”, “Sing You Back to Me”
Pam Tillis, Rhinestoned
On Rhinestoned, Pam Tillis demonstrates that she need not limit herself to covering her father’s songs in order to make a stellar traditional leaning album in her own right. The album, co-produced by Tillis, is consistent with accessible melodies, gentle, classic arrangements and impressively nuanced performances. While this is Tillis’ best album of the decade, it’s also possibly the best of her substantive career. – Leeann Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Something Burning Out”, Band in the Window”, “Life Has Sure Changed Us Around” (with John Anderson)
Patty Loveless, Dreamin’ My Dreams
The reigning Miss Country Covers has proven almost ad nauseam that she can re-render a standard with the best of them. But the might of Patty Loveless’ talent emerges more fully in her musically diverse contemporary albums, which allow her powerful voice to flex its complete range of colors and nuances. Those sets also exercise more of her taste, giving opportunity for song selections which, at their sharpest, present an inspiring vision of how country music can evolve without losing its core identity. Dreamin’ My Dreams is an achievement on both fronts, arguably one of the brightest moments in a very distinguished career. – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “Keep Your Distance”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Nobody Here By That Name”
Peter Cooper, Mission Door
Peter Cooper’s Mission Door is an album built around the most country of instrumentation, centered around Lloyd Green on steel guitar. Full of insightful glimpses of troubled lives, it might be considered a throwback, but on the strength of its writing and sound it never seems to try to exist in the past. – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “All the Way to Heaven”, “715 (For Hank Aaron)”, “Sheboygan”
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin’s front man, Robert Plant, are surely an unlikely duo. It turns out, however, that they managed to make one of the most intriguing duets projects of the decade. With vocal styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they find a way to meld together to create an easy harmony that causes the listener to forget their vocal dissimilarities. Moreover, T Bone Burnett’s slow burning productions perfectly compliment this diverse set of songs to make it a legitimately cohesive record. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”, “Please Read the Letter”, “Through the Morning, Through the Night”
Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline
One of music’s most poetic songwriters lays bare his fears, demons and revelations, throwing in the requisite dry wit and some loosey-goosey social commentary for good measure. Snider has rarely sounded countrier, and he’s never sounded better. – DM
Recommended Tracks: “Alcohol And Pills”, “The Ballad Of the Kingsmen”, “Sunshine”
Randy Travis, Worship & Faith
Randy Travis has dedicated most of this decade to his spiritual side. Of all of his gospel albums, this collection is the most traditional both in arrangements and content, which covers several beloved hymns, gospel and praise and worship songs. Travis sings these meaningful compositions with a depth of sincerity that truly makes partaking of this rootsy project a spiritual experience. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “He’s My Rock, My Sword, My Shield”, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” (with John Anderson), “Sweet By and By”
Sugarland, Love On the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)
More so than any act since the Dixie Chicks, Sugarland can fuse mainstream country with roots instrumentation in such imaginative ways that even pop audiences will lap it up. This is the best commercial country album from the tail end of the decade, powered by the Nettles/Bush songwriting chops and the awe-inspiring vocals of Miss Nettles. – KC
Recommended Tracks: “We Run”, “Keep You”, “Very Last Country Song”
Keith Urban, Be Here
Urban is an exceptional vocalist, songwriter and guitar player, but what separates him from his contemporaries is the raw, explosive emotion he throws into his performances. Be Here finds him channeling this passion more vigorously than ever and in new, more revealing ways – like the wrenching confession, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” Urban bypasses the role of interpreter on this album and simply inhabits the material; he’s as complex a person to be able to sing realistically, yet poignantly, of both life’s highest mountaintops and deepest valleys. Even further, Be Here is as accessible as it is personal, a quality that is perhaps what has made Urban one of the most accomplished recording artists in mainstream country music. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Days Go By”, “Tonight I Wanna Cry”, “Live To Love Another Day”
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby
Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby is familiar with its use of reverb and Case’s overflowing voice. What may not be familiar for some is how much Case, who has moved more towards alternative influences with recent albums, draws from country influences on her sophomore album. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “Set Out Running”, “Porchlight”, “South Tacoma Way”
She’s one of the most successful female country artists of the past two decades, and though it was the 2000s that brought her most of her accolades, Martina McBride became a star in the nineties. She also released her strongest music during that decade, and her first three albums remain her strongest efforts to date.
For those of you who know McBride for her AC-flavored work in recent years, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the diversity of styles she explored early on in her career. Here’s where you should start:
Ten Essential Tracks
From the 1992 album The Time Has Come
It predates her breakthrough hits, but anyone who watched CMT back in the early nineties will remember the powerful video clip that accompanied McBride’s stone-countriest performance.
“My Baby Loves Me”
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am
It took this song 20 weeks to reach the #2 position, a glacial pace back in 1993. But the “Born in The U.S.A.”-borrowed power chords still sound cool today, so it’s no surprise that this was a big hit.
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am
“Safe in the Arms of Love”
From the 1995 album Wild Angels
There’s an indescribably unique sound to this record, and it’s still the coolest thing she’s ever done.
From the 1995 album Wild Angels
Her first #1 hit came courtesy of Matraca Berg, who originally intended this to be the title track of her second country album.
“A Broken Wing”
From the 1997 album Evolution
She’d eventually go down the abuse song road too many times, but this is a remarkably powerful record.
“Whatever You Say”
From the 1997 album Evolution
This song was the blueprint for future hits “Where Would You Be” and “How Far”, but “Whatever You Say” is the strongest of her “scream ’til my lungs bleed” trilogy.
“Love’s the Only House”
From the 1999 album Emotion
Everything that Toby Keith’s vocal defenders have been saying he accomplished with “American Ride” was actually pulled off by Martina on this hit, which captures the contradictions of all the excess of wealth and underbelly of poverty that you can find in a diverse urban society.
From the 2001 album Greatest Hits
A love letter to the life that God has given her, done with understatement and subtlety.
From the 2007 album Waking Up Laughing
A pretty darn good code to live by. Heck, it was good enough for Mother Teresa.
Two Hidden Treasures
“Goin’ to Work”
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am
Pam Tillis co-wrote this working woman’s anthem, where a broken heart takes a back seat during the work day. “I’m good at my work,” she sings, declaring that her identity is defined by more than just the man who left her.
“All the Things We’ve Never Done”
From the 1995 album Wild Angels
The most beautiful anniversary song I’ve ever heard. Ever.
For a good stretch in the nineties, women were the dominant creative force in country music. Songwriter Matraca Berg was an indispensable component of that dominance, penning many of the biggest hits and best-loved tracks by signature acts like Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride.
It’s no surprise that this list of Favorite Songs written by Matraca Berg is almost completely composed of female artists. So distinguished is Berg’s catalog that worthy cuts by the Dixie Chicks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Gretchen Wilson just missed the list. Even Berg herself is only present with one performance, despite releasing several outstanding recordings in her own right.
But the beauty of these lists is that these are my own favorite songs, so I don’t have to force anything on to the list just to make it more well-rounded. Add your own favorites in the comments, and read Matraca’s 100 Greatest Women profile to learn more about this stunning songwriter.
“Wild Angels” – Martina McBride Wild Angels, 1995
This was meant to be the title cut of an album that Berg never released. Instead, the cut went to Martina McBride. It was McBride’s first #1 single, and listening to it today, it sounds remarkably rough around the edges for an artist who’d eventually become an AC radio staple.
“Fool, I’m a Woman” – Sara Evans No Place That Far, 1998
Berg’s writing can be effortlessly snarky, as evidenced by this breezy Sara Evans track that was a minor hit in 1999. “Did I say that I’d never leave you behind?” she queries. “Well, just keep treating me unkind. ‘Cause fool, I’m a woman, and I’m bound to change my mind.”
“When a Love Song Sings the Blues” – Trisha Yearwood Real Live Woman, 2000
Trisha Yearwood is Berg’s finest vessel, the only voice elegant enough to equal Berg’s words. This melancholy closer to Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman set finds the protagonist seeking solace in a dusty old piano, playing “Faded Love” and “Born to Lose” so she doesn’t have to cry alone.
“Give Me Some Wheels” – Suzy Bogguss Give Me Some Wheels, 1996
A tense struggle between being herself and living up to an idealized creation formed by her lover leads to choosing the car keys over sticking around. “I’ll never be the angel you see in your dreams. Give me some wheels if I can’t have wings.”
“The Last One to Know” – Reba McEntire The Last One to Know, 1987
Berg’s talents came to full fruition in the nineties, but there are a handful of treasures in her catalog from the previous decade. McEntire’s dignified performance is tasteful and understated, as she asks herself, “I believed you really loved me. Why can’t I believe you said goodbye?”
“Demolition Angel” – Pam Tillis The Collection, 2006
A variety of CD and MP3 albums have been compiled from the live DVD released by Pam Tillis in 2005. She debuted several new songs in that concert, including “Demolition Angel”, a stellar Berg song that has yet to be included on a studio album. She’s asking God to send down a “demolition angel” to tear down the walls she’s built around her heart, which she describes as a “monument to pride.”
“Everybody Knows” – Trisha Yearwood Pure Country, 1992
I once saw Yearwood remark durin a concert that she had to record this song because it included the words “jerk” and “chocolate.” She’s growing frustrated with everyone in her life that has a different opinion on how to get over her heartache. She’s be happy to be left alone with “some chocolate and a magazine.”
“You Should’ve Lied” – Lee Ann Womack Something Worth Leaving Behind, 2002
A deliciously bitter rejection of a cheater’s apologetic confession. “You overestimated me,” Womack seethes, “thinking I would understand. Believing that your honesty would make me see a bigger man. Was that all part of your plan?”
“You Are the Storm” – Dusty Springfield A Very Fine Love, 1995
Springfield covered this evocative track from Berg’s debut album, a weary goodbye to a man plagued by his own inner demons. “I tried to love you, I tried to keep you from harm,” she rues, “but I can’t give you shelter when you are the storm.”
“You’re Still Here” – Faith Hill Cry, 2002
This shamefully overlooked gem from Hill’s Cry collection is painfully poignant. A woman sings to her husband who has passed on, but is still everywhere that she goes. My personal favorite moment is when she sings, “I heard you in a stranger’s laugh, and I hung around to hear him laugh again. Just once again.”
“Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” – Martina McBride Wild Angels, 1995
Levon Helm provides the killer harmony track as McBride finally leaves a troubled relationship behind, content to find her comfort out on the interstate. “I’d rather break down on the highway with no one to share my load, and cry on the shoulder of the road.” I’ve always thought that the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack’s “A Little Past Little Rock” were heavily influenced by this song.
“For a While” – Trisha Yearwood Inside Out, 2001
Another Berg song cut by Yearwood that uses the word “jerk”, though I suspect it was the undercurrent of self-deprecation that truly appealed to the songstress when she cut this song. Watching an old Road Runner cartoon, she notices the “poor old coyote. Someone had a worse day than me for a change.”
“Mining for Coal” – Randy Travis No Holdin’ Back, 1989
This deep and moving performance by Randy Travis makes me wish more male artists would cut Berg’s songs. He’s so surprised to have found a true love while he was just looking for someone to ease his loneliness. “It’s like finding a diamond when you’re mining for coal.”
“Come Back When it Rainin’” – Trisha Yearwood Real Live Woman, 2000
Here, Yearwood is refusing to indulge her rainy day lover, who only seems to come around when he’s feeling down. “I’m just someone to call when you need a place to fall,” she notes, showing him the door.
“You Can Feel Bad” – Patty Loveless The Trouble With the Truth, 1996
Loveless turns the tables on the man who thinks he’s letting her down easy. “Your head is hanging and you look real sad. Maybe you should have called?” Her heart may be broken but her dignity – and biting wit – remain intact.
“Strawberry Wine” – Deana Carter Did I Shave My Legs For This?, 1996
Berg’s signature song of lost innocence is a perfect match for Carter’s sandpaper vocals. For those of us who “still remember when thirty was old”, this remains a beautiful commentary on the passage of time.
The earliest entry in Berg’s trilogy of songs inspired by her grandfather’s farm. I don’t know if this one is as autobiographical as “Strawberry Wine” and “The Dreaming Fields”, but it’s certainly as beautiful. “Calico Plains” tells the story of an older sister sharing her dreams with her younger sister. Little sis ends up making that dream her own when the elder Abilena finds herself with child and must marry and stay at home.
“Nobody Drinks Alone” – Keith Urban Be Here, 2004
A cautionary tale sung to a man who thinks he is at home by himsef, drowning his sorrows and painful memories with a bottle of wine. “Don’t you know nobody drinks alone?” Urban warns. “Every demon, every ghost from your past, and every memory you’ve held back follows you home.”
“Wrong Side of Memphis” – Trisha Yearwood Hearts in Armor, 1992
If there’s a better song out there about chasing the dream of country music stardom, I haven’t heard it. As the opening track of Yearwood’s landmark sophomore set, it announced her arrival as one of country music’s greatest album artists.
“On Your Way Home” – Patty Loveless On Your Way Home, 2003
Loveless earned a Grammy nomination for this confrontation of a cheating spouse who isn’t quite as forthcoming as his spurned lover needs him to be. “The truth is gonna set you free,” she sings, wearily promising, “If you keep on lying to me, I might stay right here just to spite you.”
“Diamonds and Tears” – Suzy Bogguss Something Up My Sleeve, 1993
Berg’s finest philosophical moment, a reflection on how the journey of life is its own destination. Even lost love is a form of “higher education”: “I have said and heard the word ‘goodbye’, felt the blade and turned the knife sideways. But I crossed bridges while they burned, to keep from losing what I’ve learned along the way.”
“The Dreaming Fields” – Trisha Yearwood Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007
A return to the wheat fields of her youth upon the death of her grandfather contains a sprinkle of social commentary, but is mostly a heart-wrenching exploration of grief over “the end of a world I love.”
“My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again” – Patty Loveless Strong Heart, 2000
The end of a first love brings not only the death of that romance, but also of the innocence that dies along with it. “It’s too bad, it’s so sad when your innocence is gone. It’s wasted on the ones that do you wrong.” Thus is the end result of a love “too blind with trust to know the Judas kiss.”
“Back When We Were Beautiful” – Matraca Berg Sunday Morning to Saturday Night, 1997
Berg received a standing ovation when she performed this stunning song on the 1997 CMA Awards, the same night that she won Song of the Year for “Strawberry Wine.” It recounts a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter, with the former confessing to the latter that “I hate it when they say I’m aging gracefully. I fight it every day. I guess they never see.”
The song is not available digitally and the album is out of print, but you can listen to it here.
“Lying to the Moon” – Trisha Yearwood The Song Remembers When, 1993
Berg refused to perform this song for years after Yearwood’s version was released, feeling that she couldn’t do it justice after Yearwood’s flawless rendition. Berg’s poetic style could be too precious in lesser hands, but Yearwood’s ability to be sincere without being schmaltzy makes her the perfect singer for “Lying to the Moon,” a song so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s easy to forget it’s essentially about getting stood up.
“I told the starry sky to wait for you. I told the wind to sigh to like lovers do. I even told the night that you were true, and that you would be here soon, and now I’m lying to the moon.” It’s one of Berg’s finest songs, combined with one of Yearwood’s finest vocal performances, a high-water mark for two of the genre’s greatest talents.
The following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Cory DeStein.
Throughout my life I have attempted to share my taste in music with those around me. More often than not friends and family will show a interest then kindly move onto the next subject. Only one person in my life has shown me that genuine interest in everything I have ever done. I will never know if we really had that much in common, or if she was just that good at making me happy. That’s a secret I never want to know. Though we shared many interests in music, food, television and in life, there was one topic we both we both enjoyed: the music of Trisha Yearwood.
Throughout the years, I had chances to meet Trisha backstage and at a book signing. Each time she kindly agreed to personalize a photo for my grandmother. During a 2006 meet and greet, I told Trisha what a fan my grandmother was of “XXX’s and OOO’s.” Just less than 2 years later, Trisha personalized a cookbook “To Thelma, XXXs and OOOs Love, Trisha Yearwood.” I didn’t think she’d remember that. The woman’s personality is as impressive as her voice.
This past August, my healthy grandmother began to go downhill after complications from minor surgery. I mentioned on Yearwood’s fan site that my absence may be related to that. Sadly my grandmother passed away shortly after that message. It was a sudden and shocking loss that affected me in ways I will never be able to explain. I felt as if I was robbed of any future memories to be made with her, similar to the ones of the past I cherished so much.
A few weeks after her passing, I received a card in the mail. It was a “get well” card from Trisha Yearwood. She had signed “Thelma, Get Well Soon. Best Wishes, Trisha Yearwood” Just when I thought the doors had closed on us, Trisha gave me one last memory to share with my grandma. Country Universe has given me the chance to write my 25 favorite Trisha Yearwood songs, and I would like to dedicate it to all the years we both shared together enjoying the wonderful entertainer and amazing person’s music.
“Georgia Rain” Jasper County, 2005
In 2005, after a 4 year hiatus, Yearwood returned with her version of “Strawberry Wine”….in a truck. She sets the scene perfectly for us. Dark storm clouds looming over the Georgia sky. An old truck parked down on a red dirt road. With lightning illuminating the rusted hood, rain drops begin to penetrate the dried clay. Inside two young lovers embrace in their loss of innocence.
“Dreaming Fields” Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007
I am a city boy; I was raised right outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I can’t exactly understand farming life because I never experienced it. Yearwood narrates this Matraca Berg ballad in a way that places me right on those farmlands, watching modern America taking over the land that families had survived on for generations. Any of us can relate to a song like this, watching the places where we have grown up begin to vanish.
“Down on My Knees” Hearts in Armor, 1992
Linda Ronstadt once sang, “Love Has No Pride.” Yearwood proves her idol right as she contemplates the possibility of her beau ever leaving her. She declares to him, “No one matters more in my life. Oh, makes me feel like you make me feel inside. And I’ve come far enough to know love’s worth never letting go of, and love is not a matter of pride.”
When women became the dominant creative force in country music during the mid-nineties, it wasn’t just on the strength of their vocal talents, but also because of their excellent choice of material. No single songwriter supplied more of that quality material than Matraca Berg, one of the most prominent and successful female country songwriters in country music history.
Most songwriter stories begin with their journey to Nashville, but Matraca Berg was born in Music City. She grew up thinking that she’d either be a lawyer or a songwriter, and she later quipped that once she dropped out of high school, it was obvious that law wasn’t an option.
Not that it mattered much. Berg was only eighteen when she met up with songwriter legend Bobby Braddock (”D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today”), who was very impressed with her self-written songs and suggested they pair up to write on together. The result was “Faking Love,” which went to No. 1 for T.G. Sheppard & Karen Brooks in 1983.
Not a bad start for a young songwriter. But some lean years followed as she honed her songwriting craft, while also pursuing a career as a recording artist. Things began to pick up in the late eighties, when Reba McEntire turned her “The Last One to Know” into a #1 hit in 1987. After she scored more cuts with Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker and Sweethearts of the Rodeo, RCA offered her a recording contract.
In 1990, her stellar debut album, Lying to the Moon, was released. Four singles made moderate dents on the singles chart, and the album sold enough to reach the forties on the album chart. A second album was recorded but never released, and then RCA tried to push her in the pop market with the 1993 album The Speed of Grace. It failed to make an impact, and she was dropped from the label.
These would have been harrowing times, except for the fact that a bumper crop of female artists were looking for smart, contemporary material. Berg’s debut album was mined by several artists. Trisha Yearwood immortalized the title track, Pam Tillis covered “Calico Plains,” Dusty Springfield tackled “You Are the Storm,” and Berg’s childhood heroine, Linda Ronstadt, recorded “Walk On.”
Patty Loveless had a top five hit in 1990 with Berg’s “I’m That Kind of Girl,” and scored a #1 single six years later with “You Can Feel Bad.” Suzy Bogguss, another rising star in the early nineties, cut “Eat at Joe’s”, which had been recorded for that unreleased second album. Berg and Bogguss became friends and songwriting partners, and they wrote Bogguss’ last big hit together, “Hey Cinderella”, which went top five in 1994.
Trisha Yearwood would become the artist most associated with Berg. She had a big hit in 1992 with “Wrong Side of Memphis,” a No. 1 single with “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” in 1994 and a top five hit with “Everybody Knows” in 1996. Meanwhile, Martina McBride had her first No. 1 single in 1996 with “Wild Angels,” which Berg had imagined would be the title cut of one of her own albums.
Yearwood passed on the song that would become Berg’s signature composition, and it was recorded instead by an aspiring new artist named Deana Carter. In 1996, Carter made Berg’s “Strawberry Wine” her debut single, and the slow waltz about lost innocence was a surprise smash, topping the charts for two weeks. Carter repeated at #1 with the follow-up single, another Berg song called “We Danced Anyway.”
All of these hits renewed interest in Berg as a recording artist, and she signed with Rising Tide Records. In 1997, she released Sunday Morning to Saturday Night. She was invited to perform on that year’s CMA awards telecast, where host Vince Gill introduced her as not just a songwriter, but a poet. She performed the heartbreaking “Back When We Were Beautiful” and received one of her two standing ovations of the evening. The other one came when she and co-writer Gary Harrison won Song of the Year for “Strawberry Wine.” She was only the third woman in history to win the award, after K.T. Oslin (1988) and Gretchen Peters (1996).
In 1998, Berg had a popular video hit with “Back in the Saddle”, thanks to a supporting cast of many of the female stars who’d scored hits with her songs: Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Suzy Bogguss, Patty Loveless and Martina McBride. Meanwhile, newer artists also began to embrace Berg’s work. Sara Evans did well with “Fool, I’m a Woman” and Berg earned some big royalties when the Dixie Chicks had a smash with her “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me.” She even caught the attention of another legend, Loretta Lynn, who recorded “Working Girl” for her Still Country album in 2000. Terri Clark followed Lynn’s lead and included the song on her 2002 comeback album Pain to Kill.
More recently, Keith Urban included “Nobody Drinks Alone” on his Be Here album, Pinmonkey revived her Rising Tide single “That Train Don’t Run,” and Lee Ann Womack cut “You Should’ve Lied.” Berg earned a Grammy nomination for “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today,” which was a hit for Gretchen Wilson.
But it’s with those nineties women that Berg remains most closely associated. Patty Loveless earned a Grammy nomination for her performance of “On Your Way Home.” Pam Tillis included “Crazy By Myself” on her 2007 album RhineStoned. Trisha Yearwood’s new album features Berg’s “Dreaming Fields” as the emotional centerpiece.
In recent years, Berg has been touring both the U.S. and Europe with other female songwriters, and while she shares billing with peers like Gretchen Peters and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, the depth of Berg’s catalog is unmatched by any female songwriter of her generation.
With her slate of 11 #1 singles as a songwriter, her recent induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and even a solo stint as a country singer, Matraca Berg would still be hard pressed to recall a more satisfying moment than the 1997 CMA Awards. After fifteen years of penning a number of country music’s defining songs, she had earned a nomination (with Gary Harrison) for CMA Song of the Year. With “Strawberry Wine,” a #1 single for Deana Carter, Berg and Harrison had crafted an innocence-lost ballad with tremendous depth and detail, and no less an expert than Vince Gill proclaimed her as a poet. That poetry lifted “Strawberry Wine” to both the Single and Song of the Year honors, prompting Carter to race to presenter Ricky Skaggs and jump into his arms with delight as she accepted the Single trophy.
“Strawberry Wine”, written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, is a prime example of country radio’s ability to spin an unconventional song, becoming a #1 single despite its subject matter, its length and its distinctive sound and structure. It also exhibits the eloquent quality that marks many of the best songs in the genre. With “Strawberry Wine”, a song about a teenager’s first love and lost innocence at her grandparents’ farm, Deana Carter was able to establish herself as one of country’s brightest new stars in the late 1990s.
My last Trisha Yearwood single review was exactly one word long, so I’ll try to embellish a bit more here. Let’s see. How’s this?
“A well-written, expertly performed and tastefully produced single that showcases Yearwood’s incomparable vocal talents without getting in the way of the song’s lyrics. ”
Okay, that describes nearly all of the dozens of singles that Trisha Yearwood has released, so I’ll have to be more specific:
“A well-written, expertly performed and tastefully produced single that showcases Yearwood’s incomparable vocal talents without getting in the way of the song’s lyrics. The lyrics mention trapeze acts.”