Matraca Berg provides an excellent example of how major labels can ruin promising careers. A Nashville vet at age 18 when she wrote her first #1 for T.G. Sheppard, Berg got a chance at a solo career when RCA Records released her first album "Lying To The Moon" in 1990.
"Moon" became one of the best female country records found in the "new traditionalist" wake left by Yoakam, Earle, and Lovett. Its themes chronicled the unbending spirit of country girls dealing with the complications and heartbreak found in a more cosmopolitan world. Reflecting influences from Loretta Lynn to Bobbie Gentry, the record generated four top 20 country hits.
Unfortunately, the increasing depth of her material flummoxed RCA's Nashville division. Unsure of how to market her second album, they rejected it and banished her to LA hoping for another Bonnie Raitt. The resulting album bombed, drowning in studio slickness. RCA then dropped her.
While RCA was derailing her recording career, Nashville was catching up to Berg. Female artists like Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, and Deana Carter started hitting with Berg's songs. Finally, she got another recording chance when Rising Tide released "Sunday Morning to Saturday Night" in 1997. The record was a successful return to form, but Rising Tide went under right as sales were picking up.
Ironically, RCA has jumped back on the bandwagon it previously destroyed by releasing this retrospective which thankfully allows a portion of her recordings to remain in print. Eight of the twelve tracks here come from "Moon" showing the strength of her original vision.
Since she has already reaped financial rewards through her songwriting success, one can only hope that Berg will follow the example of Lucinda Williams by maintaining a sense of discretion and independence in her recording career. Like Williams, Matraca Berg is a compelling and unique voice that should never be compromised.
- Jim Markel