Discerning folk fans have long known that nobody does New England folk like the people at Boston’s Signature Sounds. With a catalog boasting some of the finest efforts from distinguished songwriters such as Richard Shindell and Lori McKenna, Signature is one of the most trusted and dependable names in the genre — a streak that the label continues with Golden Apples of the Sun, the fourth release from acclaimed singer/songwriter Caroline Herring.
Simple, austere, and lovely, the best moments from Golden Apples shine under a classic folk glow, as crisp and clear as a New England fall morning. Herring and her producer, David Goodrich, rely on little more than Herring’s soothing voice and gentle acoustic guitar, evoking classic artists like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Joni Mitchell (whose “Cactus Tree” is covered here). This is both a blessing and a curse — a blessing, because Herring’s deep commitment to simplicity is refreshing, but also a curse, because these songs don’t always hold up to the comparisons they invite. First track “Tales of the Islander” is a gorgeous gem, and opens the album beautifully, and closer “The Wild Rose” is a stunning, piano-led benediction. In between, however, things get a little uneven. In addition to “Cactus Tree,” Herring throws in some surprising covers, including “See See Rider,” “Long Black Veil,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” — and by tackling such an eclectic group of songs in her own style, she inadvertently highlights the limitations of her sonic palette. “True Colors” is a little bland, oddly enough, and although Golden Apples is unfailingly pretty, it has a tendency to run together in one long, 45-minute burst of delicate, sunny guitars and folksy falsetto vocals.
For hardcore fans of the genre’s bygone classic era, Golden Apples of the Sun will be as sweet as its title. For listeners who have come to expect more variation from their folk music, however, it may not resonate as deeply. Visit Herring at her official site to get an early peek at the album, which reaches stores on October 27.