Suzy Bogguss Returns to Her Folk Roots
Suzy Bogguss may well need a warning label affixed to her next album. No, the country singer-songwriter whose voice propelled her from a singing gig at Dollywood to a CMA Horizon Award hasn’t crossed over so much that her music needs a parental advisory. But just as her 2007 album, ‘Sweet Danger,’ warranted a cautionary note — “This music is not what you expect! Listen with Open Mind” — so, too, may her next.
Suzy has released a 10-song sampler called ‘Wildwood Flower,’ which is now available at her concerts. Once you hear Suzy — who’s routinely hailed as having one of the finest voices in contemporary music — sing her renditions of these American folk songs you’ll never listen to ‘Red River Valley‘ or ‘Ol’ Dan Tucker‘ quite the same way again.
“It’s different. It’s kind of a palette cleanser,” Suzy tells The Boot of the songs. “When I was first starting this project, I thought, ‘I know so many [fellow artists] who would like to do this.’ But then I thought, ‘That’s not what this is for, to get every person I know to sing along with me on it.’ I guess, selfishly, it’s how I like to sing the song. I don’t like decorations. No decorations. Just give me the melody.”
That was clearly the mood of those who attended Suzy’s standing-room-only concert in Alexandria, Va., last weekend. In a set mixed with Suzy’s classic hits, including ‘Outbound Plane,’ and ‘Letting Go,’ songs from ‘Sweet Danger’ including the jazz-blues infused ‘Chain Lover,’ and the fan favorite ‘The Bus Ride,’ and spine-chillingly beautiful renditions of her newly recorded folk material including ‘Shady Grove‘ and ‘Red River Valley,’ the often-on-their-feet crowd couldn’t get enough.
“Do you know her? Are you a friend of hers?,” one woman in the crowd unknowingly asked Suzy’s husband, Nashville songwriter Doug Crider – as the crowd cheered. “I have never heard her sing before. She’s just great. I will not miss another one of her shows.”
Although music industry insiders work to slot Suzy and others into the formats in which they grew their fan bases, Suzy has not followed that path. ‘Sweet Danger’ was a mix of blues, jazz, Americana and alt-country songs, many a reflection of the music she enjoyed growing up. The new album and sampler ‘Wildwood Flower’ dips further back in her musical affections thanks in part to Suzy’s work with Garrison Keillor on his Rhubarb tour.
“He would do these beautiful singalongs in the intermission and 5,000 to 10,000 people would stand up, stretch their legs, and sing songs together with no accompaniment,” Suzy says. “It was absolutely beautiful. It really inspired me and made me think about my own growing up days.”
Looking back, Suzy recalls her fifth-grade songbook that provided the basic foundation for what later became her career.
“That was the point where I learned to sing harmony and learned the other basics,” she says. “Thinking about that was when I got the idea to do [a 17-song CD with an accompanying music book that will be out at the beginning of the year] and dedicate to both my childhood music teachers, who are … both living in Arizona. I dedicate it to them for changing me.”
Accompanied by the two main players on the new recordings — stand-up bass player Charlie Chadwick and guitarist Pat Bergeson (who adds a mean harmonica to many of the songs) — Suzy says she wanted to keep all the songs “very stripped down. I want to be reverent to the old folk songs.”
That way, she hopes others will pass them down to the next generation. “It was just the three of us a lot of the time recording this, the same as during the concerts. It was all just really loose and we didn’t work anything to death. We were just having fun. We do that in the shows, too.”
By the end of the concert, which was filled with good-humored banter among the Suzy and the other two players, sometimes with asides to those in the crowd, the audience didn’t seem to want the evening end. During the second standing ovation of the night, which brought the players out for a second encore, the ever modest Suzy thanked the audience, adding: “We keep coming here and you keep coming back.”
With concerts such as this, it’s a fair bet that won’t change.