Sunday Morning To Saturday Night

Matraca Berg

Rising Tide, 1997

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Time to play another round of Why Haven’t You Heard Of This Person?

After all, by the time this album came out in 1997, Matraca (rhymes with mesa) Berg had already written Top Ten country singles for Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Suzy Bogguss, Martina McBride and Deana Carter.

One big reason you might not have heard of Ms. Berg is the dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks RCA execs who demanded, after Berg had produced a sharp, interesting set of contemporary country-folk tunes in her 1990 recording debut Lying To The Moon, that she give pop a try.  Her second and third albums for RCA (a label that now seems to specialize in American Idol finalists – nuff said) promptly tanked and put her back to square one as a performer, even as her songwriting career continued to prosper.

As if to prove that you can’t keep a good writer down, though, Berg returned four years and at least three #1 songwriting hits later with Sunday Morning To Saturday Night, the best album of her career and -- if you ask me -- one of best albums of the decade by a female country artist.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Freed from the clutches of RCA and recording for indie label Rising Tide, Berg was finally able to realize her full potential as both a writer and a performer.  Sunday Morning is the perfect showcase for Berg’s knack for pairing her writer's eye for sharp lyrical details with a singer's ear for catchy melodies.

Form the start, Berg  mixes smart, upbeat country-folk tunes like "Along For The Ride" and "Some People Fall, Some People Fly" with more traditional contemporary country fare like “This Train Don’t Run” and the sin-and-redemption-themed title track.  The latter are consistently goosed to the next level, though, by Berg’s sassy sense of humor and gift for clever yet insightful rhymes.

The latter traits are on fine display when she cuts loose with the country grrl anthem "Back In The Saddle," featuring a giddy background chorus of Bogguss, Loveless, McBride and Faith Hill and a whip-smart, rib-tickling lyric about a city girl ready to try something new: “Well, it must’ve been the burned out new age coffee house / So called sensitive guys / I never thought a leatherneck suckin’ on a long neck / Could make my temperature rise / But you’re so sweet baby, you’re so fine / You bring the barbecue and I’ll bring the wine / We’ll dance all night ‘til your belt buckle shines...”  (Interesting footnote – Berg’s co-writer on this one was ex-Heartbreaker and sometime Don Henley collaborator Stan Lynch.)

Midway through the album, “Here You Come Raining On Me” offers a nice change of pace with an intense country-blues.  Berg’s songwriting chops shine the brightest, though, on the delicate, wistful "Back When We Were Beautiful," a gorgeous piano ballad she brought down the house with at the 1997 Country Music Awards.

The last third of this album isn’t quite as special as what came before, but cuts like the mid-tempo “Give Me Tonight” and the contemplative country-rocker “The Resurrection” are still impressive for the emotional nuance and detail Berg pours into them.  There are no weak tracks here, only good ones and even better ones.

Sunday Morning To Saturday Night is a triumph, and should have been Berg’s big breakthrough.  But working in a genre largely driven by formula and dominated by a few big names, it didn’t sell.  For the past decade, Berg has returned to writing for others.  Let’s hope she steps up to the mike again one day soon.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rising Tide, and is used for informational purposes only.