Picks and Pans Review: Lying to the Moon

updated 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Matraca Berg

Among the refreshing aspects of this striking debut album is Berg's willingness to fess up to feelings that, while natural, are of a sort seldom expressed publicly—especially in country songs. In "Appalachian Rain," for example, she sings about a young woman with an inclination to murder her father—who had deserted the woman's mother. She has said that "The Things You Left Undone," which is full of bitter gibes at a thoughtless man, is an "ode to my ex-husband." In "I Must Have Been Crazy," she kids herself twice over—for getting all worked up over a man and for going into therapy about it.

Berg writes about these emotions with rare sensitivity. In "Alice in the Looking Glass," a tune about a beautician written with Gary Harrison, she sings of a woman tracking the encroachments of age: "There's a picture on the mirror there of her at 17/ The day that Thelma did her hair when she was football queen/ And, Oh, the years go by so fast/ Don't they, Alice—Alice in the looking glass."

Her delivery is full of spurts and swoops, from the vaguely angry charge of "Baby, Walk On," to the sympathetically gentle "Alice." Yet she keeps it all very musical.

Emmylou Harris sings a little harmony, while Josh (Alabama) Leo and Wendy (Suzy Bogguss) Waldman do a little song-writing and a lot of producing.

Matraca (it's a family name, pronounced mah-TRAY-sah) also enjoys the benefits of experience. If it's a common joke in football to talk about 25-year-old linebackers with 50-year-old knees, Berg is a 26-year-old country singer with 52-year-old emotions.

There was her hard childhood—her mother was pregnant with her when her father left. There were such career ups and downs as a composing credit on "Faking Love," a hit recorded by Karen Brooks and T.G. Sheppard when Berg was 18, backup singing for Neil Young and a bit part in the movie Made in Heaven. There was her divorce and her mother's death from cancer.

This is clearly a young woman whose dues are paid well into the next century. We'll see her around. (RCA)

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